There are plenty of upcoming events to occupy the mind of Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ron Hextall before the off-season officially starts. There’s the expansion and entry drafts in June, the current World Championships where he’s serving as GM of Team Canada, and analyzing the free agency crop.
But maybe the biggest and most complex entree on Hextall’s plate is figuring out a new deal for Shayne Gostisbehere.
The Union College product’s entry-level contract comes to an end this summer and between unrestricted and restricted free agents, he’s the biggest name from the Flyers.
However, Gostisbehere’s first two years in the league doesn’t make finding a salary number easy.
If the defenseman had needed a contract after the 2015-16 season, there is probably no way the new deal would have come in at less than $4 million a year. If this past season is looked at in a vacuum, he’s probably not cracking $3 million.
After scoring 46 points in 64 games, revitalizing the Flyers’ power play and helping the team to the playoffs in his rookie year, Gostisbehere struggled this past season. He missed the net frequently and didn’t display quite the same dynamic skating ability he often showed during his rookie campaign.
A lot of those issues can probably be attributed to hip and abdominal surgery him and both captain Claude Giroux had last summer. The surgeries seemed to have a slowing effect on both of them.
The benchings courtesy of coach Dave Hakstol also seemed to take a toll on Gostisbehere mentally. When a player has the skillset of the defenseman’s, you want him unafraid to be creative with the puck.
The danger of sitting a game — or three in a row — certainly didn’t build a confident atmosphere. On the bright side, though, Gostisbehere improved toward the end of the year and he said he “was going to make plays” and not care if he was yelled at.
That end-of-year improvement should help in contract talks, but before even getting into contract value, contract term has to be considered first. That opens up a can of worms involving “bridge” deals and long-term contracts.
A bridge contract typically comes after the completion of a player’s ELC at a 2-3 year term and a more favorable cap hit for the team. The logic is that the team saves a few bucks, while the player doesn’t have any of his UFA years eaten up and if he delivers, can expect a big pay raise after the contract is over.
However, ever since the infamous P.K. Subban bridge deal, which ended with the team and player in arbitration and the souring of a relationship, bridge deals aren’t as common anymore.
Aaron Ekblad, Nikita Zaitsev and Hampus Lindholm are just a few recent examples of defensemen that went straight to a long-term deal after an ELC. All signed a contract six years or longer and at $4.5 million a year or higher.
But bridge deals still exist. Cody Ceci, Dmitry Orlov and Jacob Trouba were signed to two years and $3 million or less over the last calendar year.
The pattern is obvious. The defensemen signing bridge deals are ones with something to still prove and on teams with salary cap concerns or in smaller markets. The ones signing the big deals are safe bets to contribute for years.
It’s easy to make a case that Gostisbehere should contribute for years and the Flyers aren’t in their usual cap crunch this offseason, but he also has something to prove. If he signed a long-term deal he’d also be selling himself short after the year he just had. For the player, a bridge deal may be better.
That should also work for the Flyers, who have young defensemen working their way up the organization. It’s too early to tell, but it’s certainly possible that Gostisbehere is the odd-man-out in a few seasons.
Flyers fans agree, though, that the decision isn’t that easy:
— Philly is Flyer (@PhillyisFlyer) May 12, 2017
Assuming both sides agree on a bridge deal, either at 2 or 3 years, the money shouldn’t be too hard to hash out. Trouba is an easy comparison for Gostisbehere as an offensive defenseman who has struggled at times. The Jets’ blueliner is earning $6 million over two years.
But the years aren’t done being problematic yet. A three-year deal takes Gostisbehere to UFA status. A two-year deal leaves him with a single year left as an RFA.
In the past, the Flyers have signed all of Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds to bridge deals with RFA status left. That gives the team leverage again in negotiations since an RFA can only sign with his current team.
Given that, a two-year deal worth $6.5 million or $3.25 million annually (give or take a few thousand) seems like a perfect deal for both sides. That gives Gostisbehere a little padding if he continues to improve, and if he doesn’t the deal is still short for the Flyers.