Jake Sanderson signed to a 8yr-$64.4M extension
Writer: Ken Hawkins (a.k.a. khawk)
Any confusion about the extent to which the Senators’ management was impressed by Jake Sanderson last year was put to rest on Wednesday night. Mirroring what they had done many years ago with Thomas Chabot, they came to an 8-year agreement with the elite young D-man a full year before RFA status was even reached. In practice, the extension means the Senators will have Sanderson under contract for the next 9 years, and include the prime seasons of his career. This extension certainly follows the blueprint that Dorion has put in place for their core young talent, and he wasn’t shy about praising the way in which Sanderson adapted to the NHL last season.
“Jake’s transition to the pro game has been flawless,” said Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion. “He’s a very mature young man who demonstrates a routine and skillful ability to play important minutes with poise. An effortless skater who holds himself to a high standard, he has the talent to be one of the best all-around defencemen in the NHL for years to come. We’re very pleased to have another significant member of our core group of players under long-term contract.”
Pros & Cons
The Senators are a small market NHL franchise, which can be a limiting factor in terms of retaining premium talent and necessitating calculated risks. But despite the importance of Sanderson to the team’s future, the question remains as to whether this is an objectively good contract. The initial reaction of many will no doubt be to wonder if Dorion jumped the gun with this extension, before even seeing a second season from Sanderson. This is especially true if the Chabot contract is the main comparable, which now looks like a moderate overpayment for a D-man that has struggled over the past 4 years to maintain the scoring pace of his sophomore season.
However, it’s already clear that the team’s two elite D-men are very different players. Despite having actually scored more points than Chabot did in his first season, Sanderson also led the team in SH TOI and blocked shots. And the real value of Sanderson is his ability to control the game when he’s on the ice - even against the NHL’s best. Many have already suggested that he was the team’s best defenceman by year-end, and few would dispute that he’s almost certainly the one D-man the team should keep at all costs. It just so happens the actual cost turned out to be 8yrs x $8.05M.
In terms of the team’s salary cap structure, this contract fits right into the framework Dorion has used for all of their major core pieces. Sanderson will join Tkachuk, Stutzle, Chabot, and Norris as foundational players who have signed 7yr/8yr RFA extensions in the $7.95M-$8.35M range. When Sanderson’s extension comes into effect next season they will have all 5 players signed for a combined $40.6M, which will be their combined AAV for the following 4 seasons. In terms of making room for this new deal, the most significant $$$ coming off the books in the next off-season will be the team’s ~$5M/yr of dead cap space being paid out in the form of buyouts and retained salary. Assuming the salary cap increases as its expected to, it shouldn’t necessitate any major roster subtractions.
Now in terms of league comparables, how does the 8yrs x $8.05M rank among the league’s top young D-men? Here’s a sample of other high-end young D-men signed to 6-8yr deals to serve as a relative benchmark:
McAvoy (BOS) - 8yr-$9.50M
Sergachev (TBL) - 8yr-$8.50M
Chabot (OTT) - 8yr-$8.00M
Heiskanen (DAL) - 8yr-$8.45M
Fox (NYR) - 7yr-$9.50M
Werenski (CBJ) - 6yr-$9.58M
Makar (COL) - 6yr-$9.00M
Hughes (VAN) - 6yr-$7.85M
Most of the players in this list are among the top-2D of their respective draft classes, which would line up with Sanderson’s draft pedigree. Several of them are primarily on the list for their offensive attributes (e.g. Hughes/Fox), however there are others that are more directly comparable to Sanderson in terms of overall game (e.g. McAvoy/Werenski). If his defensive game continues to develop at an elite level, and he can bump his point totals up into the 50pts range, then I think Sanderson’s 8yr-$8.05M contract will be fair compensation. If not, they may find themselves overpaying for a top defensive D-man, who can still provide a safe value floor and long-term stability to their top-4D.
Which brings us to the final point about the contract, which is its timing. Two years ago, the season began with a major contract hold-out with Tkachuk, and last season was marred with obvious roster holes and endless uncertainty over the team’s ownership situation. Well, the new ownership has made a statement, with a contract that adds to the foundational stability of the team and quiets a lot of potential distraction from the coming season. For Dorion, it represents the last core pillar of the rebuild, and he seems more than confident with his decision. For Sanderson it will mean high expectations, but that’s very much what he’s been about as a player, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t deliver in spades. For the team, it's a signal that it's time to drop the excuses and start winning games.
What do you think of the Sanderson extension? Please leave your comments below, and as always thanks for reading!