In case you missed it, Brady Skjei signed a new contract with the Rangers, inking a new one that’ll keep him on the team for 6 years with an AAV of $5.25 million per. It’s an interesting deal on a lot of levels, and although there seems to be a general consensus that it’s a fair contract for both sides, the vague scent of controversy still wafts through the air, with some people disagreeing to that point. All of that is totally fine – reasonable people can always disagree, within reason, and anyways what we’re going to do here today is simply unwind what’s what, at least a little bit, with Brady Skjei and how that new contract looks.
The thing that needs to be said about this contract is what it’s not: a bridge deal. Brady Skjei, not unlike his former compatriot, a similarly smooth-skating Minnesotan, Ryan McDonagh, got the big one straight off his entry level contract. Skjei is 24 right now, with means this new deal will run him right until he’s 30. We’ll get to the bottom of the McDonagh comparison in a little bit, but this is pretty notable, as the Rangers have, or I guess now had, a history of bridging players regardless of the promise showed on their entry level. Now, Jeff Gorton has evidently recognized that in this new era, you need to bet on upside and see if you can get a guy for below market value, at least if not initially then later on, as both the player and the contract attached to him mature.
It’s a tricky game to play for sure – you don’t want a Nikita Zaitsev situation, but if you could end up with a contract like say, any of Nashville’s defensemen not named PK Subban (who’s still worth his weight I think, but that’s a debate for another day) then you’re really looking good. That kind of steal deal is what helps makes good teams great; players under team control on team-friendly deals really help set them apart. Do you think Toronto could’ve constructed their current forward corps without having Nazem Kadri on a dirt cheap deal ($4.5m AAV until 2022 coming off back-to-back 32 goal seasons)?
Obviously things change when those star rookies need their next deals, but that’s kind of my point – if you can have both players on sub market value contracts in addition to guys firing on all cylinders right out the gates, then you’re set for a few years at least. So what we have here is Jeff Gorton betting on upside, and whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, he wouldn’t have made this deal if he didn’t think things were more likely to be Mattias Ekholm than Tom Wilson (the other best thing on the internet today, for different reasons).
The big comparison that proponents of this deal are going to bring up is of course our recently departed captain, Ryan McDonagh. The newly re-upped Lightning defenseman stood out among the Rangers roster of yore for having arguably the best contract on the team, which was as I mentioned earlier, signed right off his ELC, that one for six years and a $4.7m cap hit per year. Now you might say that McDonagh’s deal was markedly better than Skjei’s new one, both at the time and now.
It’s worth pointing out a couple of things, dollars and cents wise, before we get to whether Skjei will follow a similar developmental track. First, is that at the time of McDonagh’s signing, his contract was worth 7.31 of the salary cap, while Brady’s will be worth 6.6% next year. Along those same lines, McDonagh’s contract at the end of the deal, which is next year, will be 5.91% of the $79.5 million dollar salary cap, which was $64.3 million in 2013-14. Let’s say there’s a similar increase in the salary cap over the course of Skjei’s deal as there was over the course of McDonagh’s – if my math is right (please call me out if it’s not) then the salary cap will be a whopping $98.3 million dollars at the end of Skjei’s contract, which means the $5.25m deal he just signed will be 5.34% of the cap. That’s not bad at all for the kind of player Skjei might turn out to be.
The crucial question is of course whether Skjei will live up to the hype and actually turn into Ryan McDonagh. The general vibe around Rangerstown seems to be that no, he probably won’t hit that high, but that he’ll at least be a solid second pairing dude. This is where the disagreements start.
To start with the basic counting stats, McDonagh had 9 points in 40 regular season games his first season, 32 in 82 his second, and 19 in 47 his third ELC year (the shortened lockout season). Those same three seasons, he logged 639.72 minutes at evens, 1612.8, and 939.07, respectively for the 2010-11, 2011-12, and 2012-13 seasons. Brady Skjei, who only played 7 regular season games his first NHL season, went on to put up 39 points in 80 regular season games in the 2016-17 season and 25 points in 82 games this past one, with 1193.53 TOI and 1418.45, respectively. So that’s what we’ve got just in terms of putting the biscuit in the basket and how much the team leaned on him, but let’s dig deeper no?
For starters, the shooting percentages McD had in each of his first three seasons, were 4%, 6.12%, and 4%, which suggests he actually could’ve scored more than he did, while for Brady it was 4.85% and 2.48% in his 39-point and 25-point seasons each. Now, both of these numbers are only at even strength, so PP goals are not included here. In terms of pure scoring (which is at a premium these days, and considered much more valuable when evaluating defensemen than it once was) it seems the advantage is to Brady Skjei.
Expanding on this, two seasons ago Skjei was on ice for 3.75% more shots attempts than his average team mate, 4.86% more goals, and 0.84% more scoring chances. This past go around he really did have a sophomore slump, because those same numbers were 1.57% (ok, fine), -9.33% (yikes), and 2.33% (actually, that’s better). This year he got about 200 more minutes, and certainly more competitive ones, leading to worse numbers.
McDonagh’s same numbers for his first three seasons? Year one was a 0.47 relCF%, an astounding 17.43 relGF% and a 2.09 relxGF%, year two a 2.31, 3.55, and 2.07 relative CF, GF, and xGF%, and for the last year of his entry level contract a 3.36, -2.32, and 4.62 percent score in each of those categories. It seems both Skjei and McDonagh actually have kind of similar tracks, and that they both had one weird stat in their contract years, which is a neat coincidence. The point is not to say here who’s better, as that’s hard to really decide because it depends on how you weight things, but these are the facts, and they’re not too divergent in the case of this comparison.
As far as partners go it’s important to remember that both have been dragged down somewhat, or at least it’s possible to make that inference, given that Skjei was mostly paired with Kevin Klein his first season (imagine for a second if he were paired with McDonagh?) and a one-kneed Kevin Shattenkirk for most of this past season, and Marc Staal otherwise. You can weight that however you like, but I think it’s safe to say that we can’t 100% say how effective they were, as players because the lens through which we’re looking at them is so smudged and dirty. Obviously you’re almost never going to have a pure look at a guy’s talent and numbers, but it’s an important thing to consider is all I’m saying.
Between the change in mindset this shows with regards to Jeff Gorton (it would be cool if he did the same thing with Buchnevich next summer, or even this winter), the dollars and cents of this contract, and that statistically Skjei is a bit more than the eye test might imply –and certainly not John Moore– I think we’ve got a real good deal on our hands. Jeff Gorton is betting on talent, and I’m betting he’s got it."Unpacking Brady Skjei's New Contract",