The NHL is quickly heading toward its annual August dead period.
Teams have made their draft picks, had their rookie camps, signed free agents and made the most of their important trades.
But as a month of relative inactivity approaches ahead of September’s World Cup of Hockey, the Flyers and general manager Ron Hextall still have one piece of business to attend to: signing restricted free-agent forward Brayden Schenn to a new deal, preferably before an arbitration hearing scheduled for Monday (July 25).
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Both sides have said there’s no rush and a deal will get done, but both sides surely want to avoid a hearing, which can get messy. For an example, see John LeClair’s hearing with the Flyers in the summer of 2000 when he was eventually awarded a record $7 million deal for one year by the arbitrator. The Flyers offered $5 million and then went on to argue LeClair’s weaknesses as a player during the hearing. That’s the last time a Flyer has gone through with an arbitration hearing.
No one wants to reach that point and these kinds of things often find a conclusion. Remember when Michael Del Zotto came to terms with the Flyers last year before a scheduled hearing? To further that point, the Washington Capitals agreed to a deal with Marcus Johanssen earlier this week just hours before a scheduled hearing.
After a career season, during which he had career highs in goals (26) and points (59) and found a home on Claude Giroux’s wing on the top line, Schenn deserves, and will get, a raise from the $2.75 million he earned last season.
How much of a raise remains to be seen, but it will be a healthy amount the Flyers will have to fit in. Somewhere in the $4-5 million per year range makes sense and the Flyers currently have just over $5 million in cap space for this coming season.
But when talking term, it could be beneficial for both the 24-year-old and the Flyers to go for a shorter contract rather than a longer one.
Schenn has been plagued by inconsistency throughout his five seasons in Philadelphia, and last season marked the first time Schenn was able to score at a consistent rate. That was especially true after the All-Star break, when Schenn went off for 14 goals and 19 assists in 35 games to close the regular season.
For that reason, the Flyers should be hesitant to hand out a long-term deal. In reality, five or six years is too long of a deal for a player who has yet to prove he can make last year’s production happen on a season-to-season basis. While last season was a career year for Schenn, it’s also cracked the window open more for the Flyers to see if that’s what he’s truly capable of year by year.
And a short-term deal could be beneficial to Schenn as well.
It’s understandable when a player is coming off a great season that he would want long-term security in his next deal. A chance at long-term security isn’t something comes along often in the pro sports world.
But, coming off last season, this is where Schenn could bet on himself. He could bet on himself for the next two or three seasons that he can duplicate that production, especially with the chemistry he formed with Giroux and Wayne Simmonds on the top line.
Per the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement, a player can’t reach unrestricted free-agent status until he’s 27 or has seven accrued seasons (on a roster for 30 games) in the league. The latter reason is why Steven Stamkos, 25, was slated to be UFA before resigning with the Tampa Bay Lightning earlier this summer. Barring a catastrophic injury, Schenn would reach seven accrued seasons in the summer of 2018. He would turn 27 past that summer’s UFA filing deadline, so age wouldn’t work for him until the summer of 2019.
If he continues to consistently produce, he’ll be in position to cash in big time in a few seasons while still in the prime of his career.
Hextall has publicly stated he’s not a fan of long-term deals. And with Schenn’s historic inconsistency this could be one of those instances where one of those deals makes Hextall take a deep breath.
But if Schenn bets on himself for the next few seasons and succeeds, any cause for deep breaths will be gone and he’ll have proven he’s worth signing long-term. And then he’ll be worth plenty of money, too.