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What Does the Market Suggest For Ryan Johansen’s Next Contract?

Ryan Johansen did not file for arbitration. Determining the value of his next contract is just between his agent and David Poile, but the market will play a significant role.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Anaheim Ducks at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Johansen, the first first-line center in Nashville Predators franchise history, is a restricted free agent due for a new contract. One might even say that at this point he’s overdue for a new contract. As other players re-sign with their clubs, the question of what each deal means for Johansen’s next contract keeps coming up.

With a reported asking price of at least $8.5M/year on a long-term deal, Johansen clearly doesn’t suffer from any false modesty about his value. His skillset is vital to this team’s success. However, it’s likely that the asking price is still a sticking point. An AAV of just that minimum $8.5M would be the highest David Poile has ever given any player, even though Poile and the Predators have never had a player like Johansen before.

To make it even harder, the contract landscape of the NHL is changing. Young, promising members of a team’s core are increasingly getting locked down on long-term deals as soon as their ELC ends—there aren’t as many top-six, let alone top-line, centers signing extensions in their primes anymore. Hockey-related revenues, and thus also the salary cap, are plateauing as individual AAVs continue to climb—which means that teams can no longer offer a star a huge deal and rely on the cap increasing enough to give them more room to build around that player, as they could even just a few years ago.

Johansen’s Comparables (sort of)

There aren’t any other unquestioned first-line centers who signed an extension as a RFA coming off of a bridge deal within the last couple of years. Instead, there are some first-line centers who signed extensions off their ELCs and some second-line centers who signed extensions off of bridge deals.

I’ve gathered some stats for players with contracts broadly similar to what Johansen is asking for, looking at the two seasons before they signed their extensions.

Here we can look at the players’ production in total and by minute (looking at both 5v5 and all strength situations) over those two years, as well as their 5v5 on-ice shot rates (what percentage of the shot attempts were taken by their team with the player on the ice, whether that was because the player was generating offense for his team or suppressing offense by the other team, and how much better the player was than his team was without him) and how their coaches were using them in special teams situations.

Seasons Player Points P/60 5v5 P/60 5v5 CF% 5v5 CF/60 5v5 CA/60 5v5 CF%Rel Avg TOI Avg ES TOI Avg PP TOI Avg SH TOI
Seasons Player Points P/60 5v5 P/60 5v5 CF% 5v5 CF/60 5v5 CA/60 5v5 CF%Rel Avg TOI Avg ES TOI Avg PP TOI Avg SH TOI
2015-17 Ryan Johansen 121 2.46 1.71 53.4 60.18 52.45 2.3 18:12 14:55 2:50 0:28
2015-17 Tyler Johnson 83 2.05 1.62 50.9 55.88 53.95 -1.9 17:57 13:55 2:44 1:18
2015-17 Evgeny Kuznetsov 136 2.9 2.32 52.2 57.63 52.81 0.3 17:11 15:05 2:04 0:02
2014-16 Nathan MacKinnon 90 2.2 1.81 47.5 56.43 62.36 4.1 18:01 15:08 2:34 0:19
2014-16 Sean Monahan 125 2.39 1.79 46.9 53.49 60.51 0.5 19:22 15:37 2:58 0:47
2014-16 Mark Scheifele 110 2.32 1.98 53.5 59.61 51.8 2.3 18:34 15:38 2:31 0:24
All statistics are from Sorting is enabled!

Most of these players have similar usage and generally similar results, and Johansen is consistently among the better players in most of the categories (though his 5v5 production isn’t great compared to the rest).

Money Earned

Tyler Johnson

Contract Year: 2017

Age: 27

Term & Total: 7 years, $35M, NTC for the second through fourth years and modified NTC for the final three years

AAV: $5M

Notes: Johnson is the unquestioned 2C on the Lightning, which also employ Steven Stamkos. Also, his production this year suffered as a result of injuries to most of the roster, Johnson himself included. Even a GM who negotiates less sharply than Yzerman probably wouldn’t have gone much higher.

Evgeny Kuznetsov

Contract Year: 2017

Age: 25

Term & Total: 8 years, $62.4M, modified NTC after the first two years

AAV: $7.8M

Notes: Although he is currently below Nicklas Bäckström on the Capitals’ center depth chart, Kuznetsov reportedly threatened to return to the KHL if he didn’t get the contract terms he wanted. Also, unlike the other 2Cs discussed here, Kuznetsov is likely to take his place as his team’s 1C before this contract ends.

Nathan MacKinnon

Contract Year: 2016

Age: 21

Term & Total: 7 years, $44.1M, modified NTC for the last three years

AAV: $6.3M

Notes: MacKinnon, the centerpiece of the Avalanche’s rebuild, was extended off of his ELC.

Sean Monahan

Contract Year: 2016

Age: 22

Term & Total: 7 years, $44.6M, modified NTC for the last three years

AAV: $6.375M

Notes: Monahan was extended off of his ELC. He and linemate Johnny Gaudreau caused some tension to Flames fans last summer with their contract negotiations—Monahan’s extension was signed in late August, Gaudreau’s not until later.

Mark Scheifele

Contract Year: 2016

Age: 23

Term & Total: 8 years, $49M, modified NTC for the last four years

AAV: $6.125M

Notes: Scheifele, in a blissfully low-drama move, was extended promptly off of his ELC.

Johansen’s Contract

Honestly, I don’t see a way that Johansen’s next AAV starts with anything smaller than an eight. If Poile had traded for Duchene or signed Joe Thornton—both players who the Predators were linked to in discussions during the last week or so of June—team management might have had a little more leverage, but the dropoff after Johansen is drastic. And with so many other team-friendly deals on the books in Nashville, the Predators can afford to pay Johansen.

They’ll probably have to.

Johansen’s last contract negotiations dragged on agonizingly; he is not going to suddenly decide to take a team-friendly deal. We’ve already seen more recent examples of some RFAs doing the only thing they can to increase their negotiating power under the current CBA: just refusing to sign a contract they don’t like. Johnny Gaudreau and Nikita Kucherov both finally agreed on their 2016 extensions in October, days before opening night. Hampus Lindholm didn’t re-sign with the Ducks until the end of October. Jacob Trouba, who had asked the Jets to trade him, refused to sign an extension with them until November.

After last summer, there’s a discussion about the limitations of restricted free agency and the resentment talented young players without options might be experiencing. Several well-respected reporters expect it to come up in the next CBA. This makes it a challenging environment to try to bargain down a RFA in.

But right now, the market makes it hard to say Johansen is asking for too much. A long extension for Johansen will take more UFA years than for the younger 1Cs who signed long extensions instead of bridge deals. And unlike Johnson and Kuznetsov, Johansen is by far his team’s best center. The Kuznetsov deal probably pushed the floor on Johansen’s up a little, but the reports of what Johansen was asking for weren’t absurd even before Kuznetsov signed his extension.

Then there is Connor McDavid’s eight-year, $100 million deal, which sets the historical ceiling of any deals made for the foreseeable future. At $12.5 million AAV, we shouldn’t discount the effect the highest paid player has on Joey’s deal, especially because of proximity in time. Can the gravity of Planet McDavid pull in a few extra hundred thousand for Joey? According to Elliotte Friedman, it just might.

If Poile is determined to bargain Johansen down significantly from his original request, we’re likely to be waiting a long, long time for this to be resolved. It’s a fair price for what Johansen brings and how irreplaceable he is.

(Player stats are from HockeyAnalysis; player contract information is from CapFriendly. Thanks also to Alex for giving me the framework for this piece with his look at possibilities for Arvidsson’s upcoming contract back in February.)