How Much Will the Flyers’ RFAs Cost?
With the season coming to a (merciful) conclusion, we can finally look fully into an offseason. The hope for the offseason will be that something positive happens, which will set up the team for either current or future success. That has often been too much to ask for with inaction being relabeled as “retooling” or “stabilizing” in a bizarre example of 1984 doublespeak that would make Orwell himself shiver.
Will the Flyers’ embrace of the term “rebuild” mean action is ahead? Will the team position themselves for either current or future success under new GM Danny Briere?
That remains to be seen, but regardless of whether it happens or not… we should talk about an element of house cleaning that will come up. No matter how active or inactive the Flyers are in the offseason to come.
The restricted free agents. Most of them are sure to be resigned. The question is what contract they will sign. Will they go with a bridge deal? Or with a long term agreement?
The Flyers don’t have a wealth of cap space that they can leverage. By my cursory perusing of SportRac, the Flyers will have 7.9 million dollars of cap space heading into next season. This is obviously assuming that nobody gets traded.
The three biggest restricted free agents coming up this offseason are: Morgan Frost, Noah Cates, and Cam York.
Using comparable players and contracts from around the league, we’ll attempt to deduce what a contract for each of these players could look like. In both scenarios, we’ll review two options. A long-term extension, and a bridge deal.
There’s two things that get you paid in the National Hockey League today. Points and ice time. After December of this season, Frost started amassing both points and ice time in a big way.
Since December 8th, Morgan Frost has led the Flyers with 40 points in 55 games played. Prorating that production through an 82 game season would get you a 60 point season. Even a Cup contender would take that kind of production from their 2C.
That’s for over half a season as well. The truth is that Morgan has been highly productive for much longer than he was… well… not productive at all. Any competent agent would be able to argue–fairly successfully–that the guy we got from December onwards was the true reflection of the player.
Of course, that doesn’t mean October and November didn’t happen. And any hope of Morgan getting truly paid went out the window with his first 2 months of minuscule production.
One option for a short term bridge would be to follow a model set by the Hurricanes with fellow 2017 draftee Martin Necas. There’s some humorous elements to signing two speedy and skilled centremen who have occasionally earned the ire of their demanding head coach to the same contract.
But it also makes sense.
At the end of the 2021-2022 season, Martin Necas produced 40 points in 78 games for the Carolina Hurricanes. He played an average of 16 minutes and 11 seconds per game.
He signed a 2 year contract worth 3 million per year.
Morgan would be in line for about the same amount, and perhaps even a tad more.
At the end of the 2022-2023 season, Morgan Frost produced 46 points in 81 games for the Philadelphia Flyers. He played an average of 16 minutes and 20 seconds per game.
Frost produced more points even if you prorate for games played with a 47 point pace compared to Necas’ 42 point pace. They played roughly the same amount, with Frost only averaging 9 seconds more time on ice.
Necas did this last year, which makes him several months younger than Frost is now at the time of signing this contract. That affects the projection, and drags down the bottom line.
All in all, using the Necas contract as a model…
2 years x 3.5 million seems like a fair number.
The Hurricanes didn’t trust that Martin Necas would break out and be worth any more than 3 million when they revisited his contract situation in two years’ time. In their defense, the Hurricanes aren’t a trusting sort. And Necas’ development had been rocky that entire time.
Because of that, they went short-term. But what if the Flyers have more trust in Morgan Frost than the Hurricanes had in Martin Necas?
The Flyers’ new GM has long been a Frost apologist. Hey, Danny, welcome to the club. What if he decides to put the team’s money where its mouth is?
Well, a long term contract ultimately means more money. It perhaps means overpaying a player until they grow into the contract and turn it into a bargain. What does that number look like for Frost?
Based purely off the Necas comparison, the contract would look something like this:
6 years x 5 million.
The Flyers are no stranger to this strategy.
After the 2018-19 season, Travis Konecny signed a 6 x 5.75 million dollar contract. Konecny was 21 at the time, 2 years younger than Frost is now. He was coming off of a 47 point season in 81 games (remarkably similar), but he only played 15 minutes and 16 seconds a game.
Frost should get less than Konecny, but that’s what makes the 5 million number so obvious. Perhaps 4.75 or something like it?
Either way, I think we have our neighborhood.
Conclusion for Frost:
A bridge deal of 2 years x 3.5 million dollars.
A long term contract of 6 years x 4.75 million dollars.
Noah Cates might be the perfect opposite to the Morgan Frost situation. As far as points are concerned, his asking price should be demonstrably less.
Noah Cates had 38 points in 82 games. He accomplished this while playing 17 minutes and 46 seconds a game, and being the Flyers’ third most utilized forward.
At first glance, that would suggest he’s extremely cheap. After all, less points than Frost in more ice time? Give him a million and call it a day, right?
But anyone who has watched the Flyers–or even just seen some Flyers related content–knows that the source of Cates’ value is in his defensive play.
And he’s very good defensively. In fact, if you let advanced stats tell it, he was one of the best shutdown defensive forwards in the league. And the minutes he accomplished these defensive results in were primarily against the best players in the NHL.
Cates is no less valuable than the Frost. In fact, on aggregate, he’s more valuable than Frost. Will he get paid accordingly? I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Defense gets paid, but only to a point. Jared Spurgeon isn’t the highest paid defenseman in the league, after all. He isn’t even close.
So what kind of deal can a shutdown center expect to get offered?
Well, the Flyers have had one of those before. So why don’t we see what kind of money he got offered?
Sean Couturier grew into more than a shutdown center during the life of this contract. But that’s exactly what he was when he originally signed a 6 year contract worth 4.33 million dollars a year.
Now, Couturier had already spent years in the NHL and earned his reputation as a shutdown center in the league. Beyond that, he was a fairly high draft pick that was projected to be more than this.
All of that was baked in to Coots’ original contract.
It isn’t that Cates isn’t supposed to take an offensive leap or that he can’t, of course he can, but he won’t be paid like that is the expectation.
As luck would have it, there’s another Hurricane comparison to be made here. Particularly, Jesperi Kotkaneimi.
Kotkaneimi signed an 8 year offer sheet with the Hurricanes (which the Canadiens didn’t match) worth 4.82 million dollars.
The comparison isn’t 1 to 1. Kotkaneimi was the 3rd overall pick, so like Couturier, some more is expected of him down the line. And some overpay was required to keep Montreal from matching the number.
But they are both feature world-class defensive results in top-6 roles. They produce similarly offensively.
3 years x 3.2 million dollars.
Cates’ projection as a shutdown 3C is more secure than Frost’s projection as a 2C. That gets him an extra year on his bridge deal. But under that projection, Cates isn’t supposed to be playing in the top-6 of a good Flyers team. Therefore, some gets trimmed off the top.
At the end of the day, defense is every bit as valuable as offensive production (other than in extreme cases), but it doesn’t get paid that way.
8 years x 4.8 million dollars.
A similar story exists when signing Noah to a long term deal. You’re comfortable with giving him extra years from his offensive counterparts. The bottom won’t fall out here. But defense only gets paid to an extent.
Let me tell you something right now. This kid is about to get scammed. Like many playdriving defensemen who came before him, he is going to get fleeced.
I’m partly kidding. If you think Noah Cates isn’t gonna get paid his worth because defense doesn’t bring in the bucks? Boy, wait until you see what kind of dough a playdriving defenseman who can’t point to exorbitant totals commands.
Mackenzie Weegar is the epitome of this trope and a true #1. His teams succeed while he’s on the ice, seemingly no matter the situation around him. He tilts the ice for his team based only on his presence, and he commands… $6.25 million a year. As a UFA and a right shot d-man.
He got Sanheim money as a righty.
Jared Spurgeon has had years to form a reputation as one of the premiere defensemen in his league, but his shutdown defense and reliable puck moving only commands 7.5 million.
These are 9 and 10 million dollar defensemen in terms of their value easily, and they don’t get paid that way. Which brings us back to York.
York isn’t going to make 6 or 7 million dollars, and he hasn’t earned the right to call himself either Weegar or Spurgeon.
All of his playdriving value–which I’ve covered before, and will cover again–will be ignored here. Because they tend to be ignored at the negotiating table.
A lot of York’s value comes from how the Flyers perform while he’s on the ice, but not all of it.
He was the Flyers’ third most used defenseman at 5v5 with 16 minutes and 40 seconds of time on ice at average. Overall, he was their fourth most used defenseman (leapt by DeAngelo with PP differential) at 19 minutes and 38 seconds a game.
Being solidly in an NHL top-4 at 21 (he turned 22 in mid January) is no small feat. Doing so while playing predominantly on your off-side with no prior experience? It makes it even more impressive.
Being 2nd among defensemen on your team in 5v5 points per 60? That’s another feather in the cap. Only DeAngelo’s 1.98 points per 60 were more than York’s 1.92 at 5v5.
His power-play production lagged behind, though. And that will come up in negotiations.
2 x 2.4
If York wants to bet on the point production becoming undeniable as he spends more time in the league, then this is the contract to do it under. Two and a half million is fair value for what he is now, even an underestimation. It’ll be a discount over a short amount of time, and if York takes it, it’s because he feels like he’s going to play his way into a significantly bigger deal.
6 x 4.5
You remember that absolute beauty of a contract Jakob Chychrun signed? If York did choose to extend long-term, it would be very easy to see him accepting a similar contract.
It’s more than fair value for the team (Chychrun’s contract is an absolute steal)
And if security is more important for York than squeezing our every dollar? The 6 years would make him happy. Besides, maybe he’s like Noah Cates, and wants to provide more than the contract he’s under.
If the figures that I’ve laid out here are anywhere close to correct, it will take between 14 and 15 million of cap space to lock up all three RFAs to long term deals. Is that important to Danny Briere?
If it is, expect to see some trades around draft day. He’ll have to clear around 7 million dollars of cap space to make it happen.
Mandatory Credit: Credit: James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports
I love how you called the end of the season “merciful” when you were one of the many idiots who wanted them to be worse.