Thoughts on Rumoured Kassian Contract

Sportsnet’s Mark Spector has reported that the Oilers and Zack Kassian are close to reaching a contract extension. It will reportedly be a 4-year deal with an AAV between $3.25 and $3.5 million.
It has been the hot topic on Twitter for the last few days!

Many fans feel that Kassian is undeserving of that kind of a contract because his success in the last calendar year has come while playing on a line with Connor McDavid and that the Oilers should not expect that level of production to continue, especially if Kassian ends up playing on a lower line in the future.

Last season, Kassian only had 3 points before the new year! Ken Hitchcock placed Kassian on McDavid’s line on January 2nd, 2019, and he got 23 points in their next 43 games together to close out the season.

This season, Kassian has 28 points in 44 games entering the All-Star break. That is one off of his career-high of 29 points, which he got in 73 games with the Canucks in 2013-14. It’s hard to argue that Kassian hasn’t benefitted from McDavid!

The fact that Kassian has fit in so well with McDavid is one reason why a lot of other fans would be alright with signing Kassian to this type of deal. He can contribute offensively, and he is physical, which is a rare combination in today’s game. He’s the type of player that can be important in the playoffs.

There are so many factors to consider when trying to figure out how much a player is worth in a new contract. A player’s most recent performance is certainly a big factor. His performance throughout his career is also relevant, although what a 29-year old did in his rookie year (2011-12 in Kassian’s case) doesn’t mean diddly squat while negotiating his new contract in my opinion. A player’s reputation and playing style factor in as well. The role that he plays on his team is important. His age is important too.

Kassian is mostly known for his physicality on the ice. He loves to hit guys, and he won’t back down from any challenger. He has spent the majority of his playing career in a bottom 6 role where he has been in a checking role. He’s a great skater with a lot of speed for his size.

We have to remember that Kassian was drafted 13th overall in his draft year. His draft position means nothing in terms of negotiating his new deal, but his draft position tells us that he does have a bit of skill somewhere in that big body of his! It’s why he was traded for Cody Hodgson (who was a highly touted prospect at the time), it’s why he had chances to play with the Sedin twins in Vancouver, and it’s why he has done what he has done playing with McDavid in the last calendar year.

Kassian is on pace for 47 points in 74 games this season. His 0.64 points per game this season would’ve been good for 52 points over 82 games. He is certainly not going to get paid like a 50-point player, but he will definitely get a raise from his current $1.95 million AAV.

Kassian will turn 29 years old before he returns from his suspension on January 29th. I have talked about this in past articles, but NHL forwards typically start declining approximately at the age of 32. With a 4-year term, Kassian’s contract would expire when he is 33 years old. That term is a bit long for my liking because he will likely decline before it expires, but I also feel like the cap will have gone up by enough in that time that his contract won’t be awful enough for me to really be upset about it. Even at $3.5 million, it would never feel like the Lucic contract.

For those readers that are unfamiliar, CapFriendly has a great Contract Comparables tool that lets people compare a player’s contracts to other similar contracts. I wanted to see if there were any good comparables for Kassian that would have signed for a similar deal to the one that is being discussed by Spector. Michael Ferland signed a 4-year contract with an AAV of $3.5 million this past summer at the age of 27. I used that as my starting point for this list.

Kassian will be 29 years old when his next contract kicks in. He has 171 points in 510 games (0.34 points/game). That takes all of his career production into consideration. Here is a list of contracts signed since 2016 by players with similar performance that have similar AAVs and terms to what Spector has reported. I also included how they fared in the season before signing their new contracts:

Michael Ferland (2019, Age 27): $3.5M x 4 yrs, 0.40 ppg, 40 pts in 71 GP
Richard Panik (2019, Age 28): $2.75M x 4 yrs, 0.37 ppg, 33 pts in 75 GP
Brett Connolly (2019, Age 27): $3.5M x 4 yrs, 0.36 ppg, 46 pts in 81 GP
Antoine Roussel (2018, Age 28): $3M x 4 yrs, 0.34 ppg, 17 pts in 73 GP
Zack Smith (2017, Age 29): $3.5M x 4 yrs, 0.31 ppg, 32 pts in 74 GP
Cal Clutterbuck (2016, Age 29): $3.5M x 5 yrs, 0.30 ppg, 23 pts in 77 GP

Panik’s deal sticks out to me as one with good value in this group. He had the 2nd highest points/game rate and the cheapest deal in the bunch. Panik had even been producing at a consistent rate over the previous 3 seasons.

Clutterbuck definitely has the worst contract in this group. He got that 5th year as a 29-year old, and he was 5 years removed from his career-high of 34 points in 2010-11 when he signed the contract. Yuck!

Zack Smith got the exact contract that Spector has reported (the highest reported value anyway) at the same age as Kassian is now. Smith had lower career production at the time he signed the contract, and he did not have as good of a season in his contract year as Kassian is having this season. Point in favour of the reported Kassian deal there.

If we compare Smith’s contract to what Ferland and Connolly got, it seems like a bit of an overpay though.

Ferland and Connolly were both 27 years old when they signed their 4 x $3.5 million contracts. Ferland had two seasons at 40 or more points prior to signing his deal last summer. Connolly had similar numbers to those of Kassian prior to his contract year, and he broke out for 46 points in 81 games last season. Kassian is having a similar breakout in his contract year.

Ferland and Connolly both hit their strides offensively at younger ages than Kassian, and they should be able to keep it up for a larger percentage of their contracts than Kassian will likely be able to based on their ages. Point against the reported Kassian deal there.

A lot of Oilers fans on Twitter are worried about paying Kassian based on his play with McDavid rather than based on what he has shown he can do without McDavid. $3.5 million is not what a top line winger makes people!

I went on CapFriendly and counted how many forwards on each team that is currently in a playoff spot or damn close to being in one are making $3.5 million or more this season. Here are the numbers for the 18 teams that I checked:

VGK- 8
TB- 7
FLA- 6
WSH- 6
PIT- 6
PHI- 6
STL- 6
COL- 6
VAN- 6
CGY- 6
TOR- 5
CBJ- 5
ARI- 5
BOS- 4
EDM- 4
DAL- 4
CAR- 4
NYI- 4

I think it’s fair to say that paying someone $3.5 million is paying someone like a borderline top 6 forward or a good 3rd line forward. That’s basically what Kassian is! If you’re worried about paying Kassian $3.5 million to play on the 3rd line, just stop! Rogers Place will not explode if that is the case. It’ll be okay people!

I don’t think that signing Kassian will be the thing that stops Holland from getting an additional top 6 forward next season. There are expendable pieces that Holland can play with to get more cap space like Russell, and there are a lot of variables such as expiring contracts like Nurse and Bear, and how high next year’s salary cap will rise.

I think that 3 years x $3 million for Kassian would be a great contract for the Oilers. I wouldn’t lose sleep over giving him that extra year to make it 4 though. I think $3.5 million is a little bit high, but I wouldn’t be outraged by that number. I would have no quibbles with the 4 x $3.25 million that Spector has reported could happen either.

I’d question the contract if it were any more than $3.5 million and/or if the term were to be more than 4 years though.

I’ll wait to pass judgment on it until it actually happens!

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