There is still a new collective bargaining agreement to be negotiated that could affect the terms of restricted free agency and offer sheets as well, but it’s hard not to think that the Carolina Hurricanes saw what happened this summer to the Nashville Predators and decided to get forward Jeff Skinner under contract as soon as possible.
The Hurricanes announced on Wednesday that they had signed Skinner, 20, the 2011 Calder Trophy winner as NHL rookie of the year, to a six-year, $34.35-million extension that will begin in 2013-14.
“Jeff is a cornerstone player for our team and his long-term commitment to the Hurricanes is great news for our franchise and our fans,” Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford said in a statement released by the team. “At 20 years old, he is still in the very early stages of his career and we felt it was important to ensure he would be spending much more of it in Raleigh.”
In July, Nashville defenseman Shea Weber signed a 14-year, $110-million offer sheet from Philadelphia that was heavily laden with up-front money. The Predators matched it, but not without much drama and having to pay Weber $68 million in bonuses through his first six seasons, including $26 million in bonuses in the first calendar year.
Skinner might not be a franchise-caliber player like Weber just yet, but, increasingly, few top players are reaching free agency because of long-term contracts. When the rare elite player does hit the open market, a feeding frenzy ensues among the bidders, as happened this past July with Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, both of whom signed identical 13-year, $98-million deals with Minnesota. In hindsight, many observers have wondered why no team signed Tampa Bay forward Steven Stamkos, last season’s leading goal-scorer with 60, to an offer sheet when he became a restricted free agent in 2011.
Rutherford might have sensed the shifting dynamics and sought to avoid a similar predicament with Skinner, a player who has scored 51 goals in only 146 career games and won’t be of legal drinking age in the United States until after the 2012-13 regular season has ended.
Skinner said his agent was in contact with “Mr. Rutherford pretty much daily, I think, over the last couple of weeks.” Incidentally, Weber signed his offer sheet on July 19.
“It all went pretty fast and pretty smoothly, from my perspective,” Skinner said on a conference call with reporters.
Skinner was asked if he thought Weber’s offer sheet might have motivated the Canes at all.
“I think you’d probably have to ask them that,” he said, “but, I mean, from my perspective, it’s nice to get it out of the way and know that I’m going to be in Raleigh for seven more years and I’m excited about that. Looking back on it, it’s tough to say. There are so many variables and so much stuff that goes into this kind of stuff that it’s tough to kind of pinpoint one thing and say ‘This is the cause for that’ just because there’s so much stuff going on. I just know that I’m really excited to be part of the organization for another six years.”
Regardless of whether Weber’s offer sheet had anything to do with the Canes’ locking up Skinner, it’s smart management. Also smart is pegging his salary to that of center Jordan Staal, whom the Canes acquired in June. Skinner will make $4.35 million next season and then $6 million for each of the next five seasons after that. Staal, who is four years older than Skinner, signed a six-year, $60-million contract with the Hurricanes.
One thing is for sure: the Hurricanes will have two of the top young forwards in the NHL locked up for the next seven seasons.