Paying younger players can work to gain value before they hit unrestricted free agency. These are just a few stories of those that exceeded projections.
Today, the spotlight focuses on the defensemen position and we start off with a value that hits well from the Western Conference.
The Best Long-Term Value Defensemen From The West
Josh Morrissey — Winnipeg Jets
Morrissey brings versatility and underlying value. The luxury Winnipeg has that few teams do is they can roll out a player like Morrissey that can do it all from penalty kill to power play.
The defenseman signed a two-year, $6.3 million contract last summer – a $3.15 million AAV. This came after a 26 point campaign. He has scored 22 points in just 38 games this year. Basically, Morrissey appears on his way to a 40+ point campaign and who knows maybe 50+ next season. His peripherals are on the rise even with his selective but above average shot from the point.
Estimating his worth is tough but think what a top-pairing defenseman could be worth given his production? That dollar number could easily be in the $5.5-6 million plus range AAV. Few would bat an eye there.
Let’s add a few more numbers to the mix. He has 7 power-play points already. On-ice shooting percentage at even strength rose to near 10 percent which is solid. Furthermore, his possession metrics are 1 percent above team average. This is in spite of an increase in ice time of over two minutes. The defenseman is just 23 and will only improve into his top pairing, power-play unit role. He needs just a little more time to increase his value further.
Mattias Ekholm — Nashville Predators
Now, the debate rises a little. Ekholm came over to North America a little later and his game developed more gradually than most defensemen. He has not enjoyed that super breakout season others have but his consistency is remarkable.
The defenseman signed a six-year, $22.5 million deal two seasons ago. Last year started a slight bump again as Ekholm scored 10 goals and 34 points. This season, the Nashville defenseman is still playing 23+ minutes and has 30 points in just 43 games (or a 50 point pace). In development terms, the 28 year old is in his mid 20’s more or less. His numbers might be even better if Nashville’s top line was more healthy.
At any rate, the peripherals have also increased more gradually. Most every category is even or a slight increase except for the noticeable jump in assists. His overall possession metrics have inched upward but so has the team’s this season. The expectation is to see a small rise in power play numbers over the second half.
Ekholm has three more years after this season on his current deal. This will place him around 31 years old for his UFA deal which should make things interesting. How much money will he get then? It is a question that has time to be answered. Although, by then, Ekholm might be a 10-15 goal, 55-60+ point defenseman.
Noah Hanifin — Calgary Flames
Hanifin signed a six-year, $4.95 million AAV deal just before this season. It is hard to believe the defenseman is just 22 years old. Last season was a career year with 32 points — 10 goals and 22 assists. That included some bumps along the way and some criticism on his play. Shifting from Carolina to Calgary has been an improvement.
Fortunately, the ice time has risen by about two minutes a night along with some slight improvements in peripherals. What has been most noticeable is the lessening of the awful lapses. Hanifin suffered these “brain locks” on way too frequent basis last year. He has been more selective with his shots but he is hitting the net over 50% of the time.
Hanifin’s PDO regressed upward to nearly 100 in the early going this season — up from 95.8 last year. Again, his overall play and confidence have improved even if overall production has only modestly risen. He still is on pace for nearly a 40 point campaign. Maybe it is just taking him longer to develop but the trend is upward with the young Calgary defenseman.
Please note that Mathew Dumba was not included due to his long term injury. However, his 12 goal start garnered much attention and he is very much on our radar.