Jim Rutheford continues to make hockey headlines this summer as he announced that the Hurricanes are close to announcing that they are close to signing Jeff Skinner to a contract extension. This was something I was hoping the team would get done this off-season because this is arguably the best time to get Skinner re-signed. Why is now a good time to do it? Because he has one year left on his entry level contract and the Hurricanes are in position to have him locked up for the next few years at a decent value. This isn't to say that waiting until next summer to re-sign him is the worst thing in the world, but he will likely come at a lower cost if the Hurricanes do choose to extend his contract now instead of later. The cap might be at $70.3 mil., but the Canes are still a small market team and need to get the most value out of their players, and they have a good chance to do that with Skinner right now. It is also possible that the CBA might restrict teams from locking up players long-term, so getting Skinner's contract out of the way now would be a good option.
Just how much is Skinner worth, though? He has 146 games of NHL experience, which isn't a lot in the grand scheme of things, but he has produced a lot during his two seasons in the NHL. Skinner took home the Calder Trophy his rookie year with a 31 goal, 63 point campaign and had a fairly successful sophomore campaign where he missed 18 games with a concussion. He still scored 20 goals and 44 games despite the injury and produced at a higher rate at even strength than any other Carolina forward. Not only that, but he was one of the Hurricanes best players at controlling scoring chances, so he has brought a lot of value to the team during his short time here.
Skinner is obviously worth a lot to the Hurricanes, but figuring out how much he is worth in actual dollars is somewhat of a tough challenge. Players who are coming off their ELC's usually do not get big, long-term deals unless they are a potential franchise player and even then it sometimes doesn't happen. Most Hurricanes fans would agree that Skinner is a franchise player and should get a long-term contract that at least spans his RFA years, so there shouldn't be much of a debate there. His cap hit and salary however, is tougher to figure out because you would ideally look at the contracts of comparable players to find out how much someone is worth and there haven't been that many players in the league who had the impact Skinner did when they were his age, at least in the salary cap era.
That being said, there have been plenty of forward who had productive seasons while they were on their ELC's and were rightfully rewarded with big contract extensions. Comparing what Skinner has done so far to what other players have done during their ELC's will give us a better idea of what kind of contract Skinner might get if Carolina decides to extend him now. Although, it is worth keeping in mind that the salary cap has changed a lot during this time period so it's likely that Skinner could get a bigger contract than some of his comparables did.
Information courtesy of Capgeek
These are the 20 players who had the highest point-per-game rates during their entry-level contract years, how much money they made in their ELCs and the cap hit of their new deals. You can see that Skinner ranks around the middle of the pack and has scored at a rate similar to what Patrice Bergeron and Claude Giroux had during their ELCs. Bergeron might be the most comparable player to Skinner because he was also a teenager when he entered the league. He played the majority of his first two seasons, scored 16 goals and 31 points the first year and broke out with a 31 goal/73 point performance the next season. Boston rewarded him with a five-year, $23,750,000 mil. contract with a cap hit of $4,750,000 per season. Bergeron's fantastic two-way play may have earned him some more money on top of that, but if we're looking at just scoring rates, he makes a good comparable to Skinner and I can easily see Skinner getting that kind of contract for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, the Hurricanes will likely want to sign him to a deal that spans his RFA years, which would be four seasons after his ELC runs out, so the contract will have to be at least four years. The Canes are also going to want to keep Skinner around for a couple more years on top of that because of his age, so it's not out of the question for him to get a deal that's in the 4-6 year territory. That way, you have Skinner under team control for most of his prime years and can possibly look into extending him again once that deal runs out. He will be in his mid-20's when that deal runs out, so they probably won't look into anything long-term after that but that's another issue for another day.
The money Bergeron got also sounds roughly in-line with Skinner's value right now but it's very possible that he could make more than that because the salary cap is so much higher now than it was back then. A $4.75 cap hit is roughly 9% of a $50.3 salary cap and 9% of the current salary cap would be about $6.6 mil. Now, it's doubtful that Skinner will get that much, but the point here is that Skinner receiving big money isn't out of the question with the salary cap being as high as it is now. I don't think Rutherford will be that extreme, though because Skinner is getting a long-term deal and the cap can always go down once the new CBA kicks in. Him getting $4-5 mil. per year is the most likely scenario, especially when you look at the contracts given to Jordan Staal and Tuomo Ruutu.
Now is the best time for Skinner to receive an extension for a number of reasons. The Hurricanes can likely keep him under team control at somewhat of a reasonable price and get a deal set in place before the new CBA gets finalized. If they were to wait until next off-season, they could run into a situation where they might have to pay him more than they would right now. It's a good thing that Rutherford recognized this and was proactive about the situation.