With the mid-summer quiet still in full force, there isn’t a ton going on around the NHL, but a couple of future, expected events elsewhere could be of interest to Penguins fans. Restricted free agents William Nylander (TOR) and Sam Reinhart (BUF) are still awaiting contracts from their teams, which could come later this month.
What does this have to do with Pittsburgh? Well, in part, to help set the market for its top free agent for next season, Jake Guentzel.
Guentzel is on the final year of his standard three-year entry-level contact in 2018-19. As of July 1, he’s now eligible to re-sign with the Penguins at any time for the 2019-20 season, but Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford told Josh Yohe of The Athletic in June that he was in no rush and not expecting to negotiate with Guentzel this summer.
“We’ll get to that,” Rutherford said. “We have other guys to worry about this summer.”
Well, the worrying is done. Conor Sheary and Matt Hunwick were traded off, and lower-line grinders Carter Rowney and Tom Kuhnhackl found greener pastures in free agency. The Penguins added Jack Johnson and Derek Grant, and welcomed back Matt Cullen. They gave new contracts to retain Bryan Rust, Riley Sheahan, Jamie Oleksiak, and Tristan Jarry. Their offseason is more or less complete now still five weeks out from the start of training camp.
At Pensburgh, we broached the future topic of Guentzel in May, pointing out it’s advantageous to do that now.
If I’m the Penguins this summer, I show Guentzel’s camp the Arvidsson contract ($4.25 million per for 7 years) and see where they want to go from there. For a player like Guentzel, he can go from an anonymous mid-round pick, to fully-guaranteeing almost $30 million for himself and his family and get his contract status resolved early after just 1.5 seasons in the NHL.
The contracts of Nylander and Reinhart will be interesting to watch as well, especially Reinhart’s. Nylander, coming off two consecutive 61-point seasons, is the statistical superior to what Guentzel has put up to date and will be in a different salary range.
Reinhart is one year younger than Guentzel, but otherwise, Jake’s stats paint the picture of a slightly better offensive player. Though, at this early stage of each of their respective careers, both are first-line wingers with fairly even overall stats. We’ll turn to the old hockeydb for a quick visual comparison:
Guentzel needs a 27 goal, 32 assist season to match Reinhart precisely in totals over the first three seasons, which would be an impressive feat since Reinhart to-date has 127 more regular season games played than Jake. These two aren’t necessarily identical, but there are certainly enough similarities and parallels to make this an excellent case to watch.
Die By The Blade had an interesting look for Reinhart’s comparables. RFA contracts are heavily influenced by the basic boxcar stats of a player’s peers, so simple goals and points matter the most.
Quickly, to explain the stats on the list. The goals and points per 82 games are based on each player’s production over the past three seasons (2015-2018).
Guentzel, by the way, has 25.5 goals per 82 games and 54.4 points/82 through his first two seasons. This puts him in a very strong position against the peers above, ranking him second in goals (slightly behind Tyler Toffoli) and places him third in points (behind Mikael Granlund and Alex Galchenyuk).
For Reinhart, Die By The Blade came to this conclusion:
A lot of that brings the range on a bridge deal to that aforementioned $4-4.5 million window as the sweet spot.
Then on a long-term deal to buy some years of UFA status, his cap hit could fall in the range of $5-5.5 million annually.
This tells you a lot about a range that Pittsburgh could be around when it comes to sorting out Guentzel’s next contract.
If I’m the Penguins, I probably still try to wrap Guentzel up sooner than later, if the player’s side is amenable to negotiating early (why wouldn’t they want to lock in their guaranteed slice of the pie a season out?)
Guentzel, in his first full season, had 48 points, which already surpasses Tomas Hertl’s 46-point career high. So looking back at Hertl’s ($5.625 million per season for four seasons) and a possible $5+ million extension for Reinhart, the more time goes by, the more ammunition the agent is going to get to paint an even richer deal for his client. Hertl has been playing center, which comes at a premium, but the simple math for RFA for points and salary still hold.
There isn’t too much going on in the hockey world right now, but it’s more than likely that sometime in the next six weeks Reinhart will sign with the Sabres. When he does, file his contract away for future reference as a very likely talking point when it comes to the new Guentzel deal.