Cap comparables: How Noah Hanifin’s contract impacts 3 unsigned RFAs

Darnell Nurse talked about having personal success last season, but the Oilers heading home for the summer left a bad taste in his mouth.

The Calgary Flames put the final touches on their 2018-19 payroll Thursday evening, signing RFA Noah Hanifin to a six-year deal that comes with a $4.95-million cap hit.

Acquired in a draft weekend blockbuster trade, Hanifin replaces Dougie Hamilton on the depth chart. And while the former Flame is the more proven player at this point, Hanifin comes in four years younger and with immense upside. Picked fifth overall in 2015, Hanifin crossed 30 points for the first time last season, was one of 30 defenceman to score 10 times and was one of the more dependable blueliners in Carolina.

Hanifin’s new deal runs twice as long as Hamilton’s and comes in $800,000 cheaper.

Of course, Hanifin isn’t a direct comparable to Hamilton. The former is a second-pair defenceman at this stage of his career whereas the latter made up one-half of one of the league’s top pairings last season. If all falls into place for Hanifin he could one day become what Hamilton already is, and if he develops to that point, the Flames will get great value over the life of a deal that buys two UFA seasons.

Rather than compare Hanifin’s new deal to other contracts signed under a smaller salary cap, this signing could influence what comes next for three young defencemen who remain unsigned.

Boomer in the Morning
Brad Treliving on Noah Hanifin's deal, the defeceman's potential and Calgary's offseason
August 31 2018

DARNELL NURSE, EDMONTON OILERS

After falling well short of expectations and missing the playoffs in 2017-18, the Oilers had a quiet summer that also came with the bad news that Andrej Sekera will be out long-term. That loss opens up more questions about the shape of the Oilers blue line and perhaps makes it more likely first-round draft pick Evan Bouchard graduates straight to the NHL.

In lieu of making a big splash, the Oilers need Nurse to continue on his upwards trajectory to quell these concerns. Edmonton scored 54.4 per cent of the goals when Nurse was on the ice, the highest among all team blueliners, despite him getting fewer offensive-zone starts than all Oilers defencemen other than Adam Larsson.

As important a Cam Talbot bounceback is to Edmonton’s fortunes, Nurse’s ascension towards No. 1 status will be a huge contributing factor as well. Two years older than Hanifin, but similarly coming off his entry-level deal, Nurse would be looking at a higher AAV on a long-term extension. Brady Skjei’s $5.25-million deal with the Rangers might be a good starting point.

The Oilers could go another direction and wait-and-see with a cheaper bridge deal, which Nurse told Sportsnet’s Luke Fox he’d be open to considering. Givne the Oilers have less than $4 million in cap space at the moment, this may be the only route available. If Nurse fully arrives in 2018-19, that avenue could end up being wildly expensive in the long run.

SHEA THEODORE, VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS

If you’re looking for a young breakout candidate whose name isn’t as well known right now, Theodore might be your guy.

A casualty of Anaheim’s deep defence core, Theodore didn’t even crack Vegas’s lineup right away but it’s important to note that was because of the surplus of defencemen the team had from the expansion draft and the fact the 23-year-old could freely pass through waivers.

Once he made it up, though, Theodore steadily improved as the season played out and is the odds-on favourite to be the team’s No. 1 before long. After starting lower on the depth chart, Theodore ended the season solidly as Vegas’s No. 2.

Picked 26th overall in 2013, the same draft as Nurse, Theodore is also coming off his entry-level deal and might be a good bridge contract candidate. Because of the situations in which he’s started his career, Theodore has played only 114 games across three seasons, far less than comparable talents, but his 0.48 points per game ranked 37th among all NHL blueliners who played at least 41 games last season, tied with Cam Fowler and Zach Werenski.

As the most leaned upon defenceman on the Vegas power play, Theodore’s usage comes mostly towards the attacking end, so the circumstances may finally be falling in his favour.

JOSH MORRISSEY, WINNIPEG JETS

Even though Winnipeg has one of the better value contracts in the league on its books (Mark Scheifele’s $6.125-million AAV) it still has a cap crunch on the horizon. Nik Ehlers and Connor Hellebuyck are starting $6-million-plus AAV deals in 2018-19, while Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor and Jacob Trouba are up for extensions a year from now. Veterans Bryan Little and Mathieu Perreault combine for a $9.4-million cap hit for another couple years, while a decision needs to be made on pending UFA Blake Wheeler.

Only two blueliners are signed beyond 2019-20: 33-year-old Dustin Byfuglien and 25-year-old Tucker Poolman. Given the history with Trouba and that he was awarded a one-year deal through arbitration rather than agreeing to an extension with the team this summer, Kevin Cheveldayoff could choose to go all in on the 23-year-old Morrissey.

Like Nurse, Morrissey’s point totals don’t jump off the page, but the underlying numbers paint a picture of a top-pair blueliner on the rise. The 13th-overall pick of the 2013 draft, and fifth defender off the board, Morrissey’s usage was spread fairly evenly across all three zones and he wasn’t at all sheltered, playing high-quality opponents as Trouba’s partner.

Morrissey is a solid two-way player who at this point is highlighted more as a defensive gem. He doesn’t receive much power-play time, but is capable of filling that job if needed, and logs big minutes at even strength and on the penalty kill. The Jets would feel comfortable locking in the kind of security Morrissey brings for the long-term, but to get the player to agree to that kind of deal would likely require going into the $5.3-$5.5 million AAV range.

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