Will Esa Lindell's $5.8 million cap hit impact RFA Ben Hutton's next deal?
The most intriguing Canucks-adjacent news I've seen over the past couple of days is Esa Lindell's new six-year contract with the Dallas Stars, which was announced on Thursday.
The deal carries a cap hit of $5.8 million per season—a tidy raise from the $2.2 million he was making on his previous two-year deal.
I bring this up because Lindell is an intriguing comparable for Ben Hutton. Both were relatively unheralded when they were drafted in 2012—Lindell went 74th overall to the Stars, in the third round, while Hutton was selected 147th by the Canucks, in the fifth.
Lindell's a year younger—he turns 25 next week, while Hutton turned 26 back in April. But they're both lefties and their frames are similar—Lindell's listed at 6'3" and 215 while Hutton is 6'2" and 206. They also both started their NHL careers in 2015-16, although Lindell played just four games that season after spending most of the year in the minors, while Hutton played 75.
All told, Lindell has now played 239 NHL games and recorded 24-53-77. His ice time has increased steadily each year and reached a career high of 24:20 under Jim Montgomery last season—just a few seconds behind team leader John Klingberg. Lindell's point totals have also risen correspondingly. He's Dallas's No. 1 penalty killer and had two shorthanded goals this year, as well as four on the power play, on his way to an 11-goal, 32-point season.
As for Hutton, he also had a career high in ice time last season, at 22:21 a game, and rebounded nicely after enduring plenty of healthy starts under Travis Green during the 2017-18 campaign. Hutton ended up with 5-15-20 in 69 games, in the same ballpark as his rookie season (25 points) and sophomore campaign (19 points). All told, he's 11-59-70 in 276 career NHL games.
When Hutton signed the contract extension that paid him $2.8 million a season for the last two years shortly, Jim Benning thought he was paying for upside.
As it turns out, the fact that Hutton was able to step straight into the NHL after his college career ended seems like it's pretty much his ceiling. Though his fitness was better last season and he was counted on to play big minutes while Alex Edler and Chris Tanev were injured, Hutton's game really hasn't changed much since he broke into the league as a 22-year-old.
Like Hutton, Lindell was scheduled to become a restricted free agent on July 1. And like Hutton, there are members of the analytics community that are not sold on his skillset.
Hutton also has arbitration rights this year, so he and his agent are probably thrilled to have this new comparable entered into the record.
It's rare for arbitration cases to actually get to an award. Even in the unlikely case that a player and team have a hearing, they often settle before the arbitrator's award is announced.
If an award is high, a team can walk away, making a player an unrestricted free agent. Antti Niemi was the most notorious example of this. The Chicago Blackhawks walked away from his $2.75 million arbitration award after he took the team to the Stanley Cup in 2010.
If an arbitrator's award is below a certain threshold, the team and player are obliged to abide by it.
There has been plenty of talk about trading Hutton this summer, especially if Alex Edler is re-signed, but any team that's interested in acquiring him would also probably want to know how he'll fit into their salary structure.
It's commonly believed that defensemen take longer than forwards to develop, so both Lindell and Hutton should now be entering their prime years. How close do you think Hutton will get to Lindell's numbers—and do you think Lindell's deal will raise the bar for other RFA blueliners in the same age range that are also in need of new deals?
Here's the latest on Hutton's offseason:
Of course, Brock Boeser's also in need of a new deal this summer, and his next contract will be even richer.
Word is that talks have begun between the Canucks and Boeser's agent, Ben Hankinson, but it's expected that both sides will be looking to see where some of Boeser's comparables land this summer before putting pen to paper.