The 2011 NHL Draft, held in St. Paul, Minnesota is always going to be remembered as a seminal moment for Winnipeg sports fans. After the May 31 announcement that the NHL was officially returning to Manitoba, whomever the Jets took on June 24, 2011, in the first round of the NHL draft, was always going to have the legacy of being the first Jets’ draft pick of the 2.0 version of the team. As the Winnipeg Jets selection approached, the 7th selection of the first round, the expected names of Nugent-Hopkins, Landeskog and Huberdeau were already off the board. As Winnipeg Jets’ General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff approached the podium in St. Paul, and as Jets’ fans consulted their draft boards, most people expected the name on Cheveldayoff’s lips to be that of Drummondville centre Sean Couturier. We know now that Mark Scheifele, of the Barrie Colts, was the name announced and he will go down in the annals as the 1st selection made by the Winnipeg Jets, version 2.0. As for Couturier, he was selected immediately thereafter by the Philadelphia Flyers, and made it to the NHL as an 18 year old rookie.
It has been a somewhat winding road for Mark Scheifele to get to this point, the end of his NHL entry level contract. Scheifele spent two additional years with the Barrie Colts after being drafted by the Jets, and his eventual introduction to the NHL was a gradual one with the Jets offering their prized prospect a protected, and somewhat sheltered, welcome to the NHL. However, come July 1, Mark Scheifele is a Restricted Free Agent (though not eligible for arbitration), coming off of his most successful season in the NHL. As the contract negotiation between the Jets and Scheifele’s representatives (presumably) continues, Scheifele has established himself as a bona-fide top-6 centre in the NHL, and the argument can certainly be made that he is the Winnipeg Jets top centre (although Bryan Little would probably quibble with that assertion).
The pressing question on the minds of fans of the Winnipeg Jets, and which Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff needs to find an answer to, is what length and what dollar amount should the next Mark Scheifele contract contain?
To begin, lets address a couple of possible outcomes, in particular that situations could present itself whereby Mark Scheifele is not a member of the Winnipeg Jets next season. While Scheifele is eligible to receive an offer-sheet from an opposing NHL franchise, the possibility of this occurring AND the Jets not matching the offer, is quite remote. Slightly less remote but still not completely impossible is that someone would try and make a trade to acquire Mark Scheifele from the Jets. I would estimate the possibility of one of these two scenarios coming to fruition, resulting in Mark Scheifele’s departure from the organisation, at less than one percent.
With it abundantly clear that Mark Scheifele is almost guaranteed to be a member of the Winnipeg Jets next season, let’s look back and see what the Winnipeg Jets have in their number 55.
Mark Scheifele in the NHL
As previously mentioned, Mark Scheifele exhausted his junior eligibility, spending two more years with the Barrie Colts, before stepping into a regular role with the Winnipeg Jets in 2013-14. While no longer quite as precocious as he was when he was drafted, 20 year old Mark Scheifele was a slight, skinny figure on the ice, able to be out-muscled, particularly by the big forwards populating the NHL’s Western Conference. Fast forward three seasons, and Mark Scheifele has graduated from a boy playing a man’s game, to an impressive offensive threat, who must be respected by opponents.
Mark Scheifele’s numbers clearly illustrate this development:
|Mark Scheifele||Games Played||Goals (PPG)||Assists||Points||Ice-Time|
|Shots||Face Off Winning %|
|Mark Scheifele||Quality of Competition Faced |
(among Jets’ Forwards)
The chart above shows that, as Mark Scheifele has grown more experienced, and become more established in the NHL, his statistical performance has increased accordingly. This past season, Scheifele’s “contract year”, he finished second on the Winnipeg Jets, with 61 total points. Most tantalizingly for fans of the team, Scheifele’s performance came against improved competition, showing that he was still able to perform, even when being matched-up against quality opposition.
Mark Scheifele & Blake Wheeler
No fair examination of Mark Scheifele, and subsequent contract analysis/estimation for 2016-17 and onwards, can be completed without discussing his performance with, and the influence of, Jets’ right wing Blake Wheeler.
|Mark Scheifele-Blake Wheeler||CF (Corsi For)||GF (Goals For)|
|Scheifele & Wheeler Together||54.7%||66.7%|
As has been well documented, Blake Wheeler has established himself as one of the top right-wingers in the entire NHL. His size and speed is intimidating, and while it has taken Wheeler longer than many other former 5th overall selections to reach his potential, now that he has harnessed his talents, he is among the NHL’s top talent. Mark Scheifele, in his first long-term opportunity to play with Blake Wheeler has benefitted from Wheeler’s presence. As Wheeler has established himself as one of the NHL’s top passers (fourth in the league in assists among forwards with 52 in 2015-16), it is no coincidence that Scheifele, possessor of one of the NHL’s top wrist/snap shots, saw his goal total sky rocket to twenty-nine last season.
While Scheifele has clearly benefitted from playing with Blake Wheeler, to say that this is a Rob Brown-Mario Lemieux scenario would be paying short shrift to Scheifele and his talents. As the above chart demonstrates, the CF % for Scheifele and Wheeler, whether together, or apart, is somewhat similar. The value that Scheifele and Wheeler bring to one another is best demonstrated in their exceptional GF % when paired together. At 66.7%, this GF number is the best on the team, proving that matching an exceptional passer with a very good, with-potential-to-become exceptional, goal-scorer is always a good idea. Rest assured that, as Kevin Cheveldayoff and Mark Scheifele’s agent, Rob Hooper, sit down to negotiate this contract, Blake Wheeler’s name, performance, and influence will be discussed accordingly.
Mark Scheifele and Contract Comparables
No NHL contract is completed in a vacuum. Every contract that is agreed to, eventually has a ripple effect on another player in the league. One of the best recent examples of that is the Ryan Kesler contract and its impact on the eventual demands of former Winnipeg Jets’ captain Andrew Ladd. Thus, beyond a shadow of doubt, when Scheifele’s contract is being negotiated, each of the parties will come equipped with contract comparables that they will present while trying to come to an agreement. Let’s look at four NHL players, that we think could be used as contract comparables in the Cheveldayoff-Scheifele negotiation.
Sean Couturier (C)
Current contract: 6 years, $26.0 million, salary cap hit of $4.33 million per season
Post entry-level contract: 2 years, $3.5 million, salary cap hit of $1.75 million per season
|Sean Couturier (PHI)||GP||Goals||Assists||Points|
So we meet again, Mr. Couturier.
Since being passed over by the Winnipeg Jets in 2011, Sean Couturier has established himself as a regular in the Philadelphia Flyers lineup and as a defensive stalwart, one of the best young defensive centres in the entire NHL. What hasn’t overly materialized for Couturier, certainly not at the level of Mark Scheifele, is the offensive side of the game, although Couturier did just complete his best offensive season in the NHL with 39 points in only 63 games played. Couturier’s best attributes, his defensive play, is likely the area that Scheifele needs to improve upon the most.
While negotiating his post-entry level contract in the NHL, Couturier and the Flyers agreed upon a so-called “bridge deal”, worth $3.5 million over 2 seasons (his fourth and fifth in the NHL). Last season, the Flyers locked up Couturier to a long-term, 6 year, $26.0 million dollar contract. While it remains to be seen if Couturier’s offensive numbers will increase dramatically, so long as he continues to perform as one of the best defensive centres in the entire NHL, both sides will probably be content with the current contract.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (C)
Current contract: 7 years, $42.0 million, salary cap hit of $6.0 million
(Note: This contract was Nugent-Hopkins’ post entry-level contract, signed after his third NHL season)
|Ryan Nugent Hopkins (EDM)||GP||Goals||Assists||Points|
The first overall selection in the 2011 NHL Draft (the same draft as Scheifele), it is safe to say that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins hasn’t had the same impact on the Oilers, that other, recent, first overall selections have had. While injuries have certainly stymied Ryan Nugent Hopkins’ development, and overall Oilers’ organisation dysfunction certainly has not helped, the undersized centre has not lived up to the billing that one expects of a number one overall selection. A name frequently heard in potential trade discussions, as the Oilers continue to re-tool their lineup around Connor McDavid, Nugent Hopkins’ 6-million dollar per year salary cap hit is not commensurate with his on-ice performance, having never exceeded the 56 point plateau in 5 injury-impacted NHL seasons. While injuries are certainly a factor in considering Nugent Hopkins’ it’s important to note that in the 2 seasons he did reach the 56 point plateau, he was healthy, playing in 80 and 76 games respectively. It is safe to say that the jury is still out regarding Nugent-Hopkins, but most NHL observers would agree that he is not, at this point in time, a $6.0 million dollar player.
Aleksander Barkov (C)
Current contract: 6 years, $35.4 million, salary cap hit of $5.90 million per season
(Note: This contract was Barkov’s post entry-level contract, signed after his third NHL season)
|Aleksander Barkov (FLA)||GP||Goals||Assists||Points|
The contract that Florida Panthers’ centre Aleksander Barkov signed this past January, is one of the best comparables for Mark Scheifele. Barkov, the 2nd overall selection of the 2012 NHL draft has not looked out of place in the NHL, since joining the league as an 18 year old. Only 20 years old, Barkov just completed his most successful NHL season, tallying 59 points in 66 games played. While Barkov is younger than Scheifele, the comparables when looking at their “base numbers” (goals, assists, etc.) are strikingly similar. Given Barkov’s age, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he opted for “only” a 6 year contract, as he will be only 27 years old when he is next eligible for unrestricted free agency, and if his numbers continue on the same trajectory, could be in line for a payday similar to what lies ahead for Steven Stamkos this summer.
Brandon Saad (LW)
Current contract: 6 years, $36.0 million, salary cap hit of $6.00 million per season
(Note: This contract was Saad’s post entry-level contract, signed after his third NHL season)
|Brandon Saad (CHI/CBJ)||GP||Goals||Assists||Points|
Brandon Saad was another 2011 draft pick, however he was less heralded than Scheifele, Couturier and Nugent-Hopkins, having been drafted 43rd overall, in the 2nd round, by the Chicago Blackhawks. Developed into a solid NHL winger by the Blackhawks, Saad was dealt prior to the 2015-16 season, as his contract demands were going to be too plentiful for the Blackhawks given their salary cap situation. Although his new team, the Columbus Blue Jackets continued their perennial franchise struggles, Saad set career marks in goals, with 31, affirming the decision by the Blue Jackets to give him a $6.0 million dollar contract prior to the start of the 2015-16 season. As the only non-centre discussed thus far, his contract cannot be used as a direct comparable to Mark Scheifele, but you can be certain that Scheifele’s representatives will be demanding a contract to the north of the $6.0 million that Saad signed for.
Matt Duchene (C)
Current contract: 5 years, $30.0 million, salary cap hit of $6.00 million per season
Post entry-level contract: 2 years, $7.0 million, salary cap hit of $3.50 million per season
|Matt Duchene (COL)||GP||Goals||Assists||Points|
The veteran of the group of Mark Scheifele comparables, is Matt Duchene, former 3rd overall selection in the 2009 NHL Draft. Duchene, who was on Team Canada at the Sochi Olympics, and will represent Canada at the upcoming World Cup of Hockey, has had an up and down career since joining the Avalanche.
Duchene’s first two NHL seasons were quite impressive for a young player in the league, and had his entry level contract come up for renewal after 2010-11 instead of after 2011-12, he would have been in line for an impressive pay day. Unfortunately for Duchene, his 2011-12 season, the final year of his entry level contract, was an unmitigated disaster, scoring 28 points in 58 games. Forced to settle for a 2 year, $7.0 million dollar “bridge deal”, Duchene responded in-kind, nearly averaging a point per game over the lockout shortened 2012-13 season and the full 2013-14 season.
With the “bridge contract” expiring, Duchene and the Avalanche agreed to a 5 year contract extension, worth $30.0 million dollars, which “bought-out” three seasons in which Duchene could have been an unrestricted free agent. Since signing that 5 year contract extension, Duchene has not been able to reach the heights of 2013-14, falling just short of the 60 point plateau in the two subsequent seasons.
Scheifele’s Fair Market Value
For NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, his ideal scenario when it comes to contract negotiations, would see the 30 general managers use the leverage that the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement provides. It was always the NHL’s intention that a player’s post entry-level contract, when the leverage is still primarily held by the team, would not see a huge spike in salary. As has been outlined in multiple cases throughout the years, and as you can see in the aforementioned contracts of Nugent-Hopkins and Saad in particular, NHL general managers tend to not use that leverage. Only Duchene and Couturier had to settle for a “bridge contract” and that’s because both players were coming off of relatively sub-par, offensive seasons. With Nugent-Hopkins and Saad, as both were coming off of impressive offensive seasons, their representatives said “back up the Brinks truck” and the respective general manager on the other side of the table was more than happy to fill the truck up.
|Player||Goals||Assists||Points||Post Entry-Level Contract Terms||Age when contract commenced|
|Matt Duchene||14||14||28||2 years, $7.0 million||21|
|Sean Couturier||13||26||39||2 years, $3.5 million||21|
|Ryan Nugent-Hopkins||19||37||56||7 years, $42.0 million||21|
|Brandon Saad||23||29||52||6 years, $36.0 million||22|
|Aleksander Barkov||28||31||59||6 years, $35.4 million||21|
As Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff sits down with Mark Scheifele’s representation, it is safe to assume that a short-term bridge deal is not what both sides will primarily be looking to negotiate. Assuming that Scheifele is happy to play long-term in Winnipeg, and by all accounts he is, he will be seeking the security and financial stability that comes with a long term contract. Kevin Cheveldayoff and the Jets organisation has nurtured Mark Scheifele over the past 5 years, and it is safe to say that his progression into a top 6 centre, and his chemistry with Blake Wheeler, means that the Jets will want to keep Scheifele around for the long-term as well.
The contract that Brandon Saad signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets last off-season, was not a good one for Kevin Cheveldayoff, as it changed the financial demand that Scheifele’s agent will likely make. If Brandon Saad, a winger, is worth $6.0 million dollars per season, the argument would presumably go, why isn’t a centre like Mark Scheifele, coming off of a season where he scored 29 goals, deserving of a contract in excess of $6.0 million per season?
When examining the length, in years, of the new contract, Kevin Cheveldayoff needs to determine if Mark Scheifele is worthy of a “max-contract”, 8 years in length. Conversely, does Mark Scheifele want to make this contract the biggest contract of his NHL career, which an 8 year deal would no doubt be, or would he rather sign a 6 year contract whereby he would eligible for another sizable NHL contract, at the relatively young age of 29?
With risk-reward prevalent on both sides of the negotiating table, and with the market having been thoroughly examined, an estimation of the fair market value for Mark Scheifele is as follows:
6 years, $36.0 million (salary cap hit of $6.0 million)
7 years, $43.75 million (salary cap hit of $6.25 million)
8 years $52.0 million (salary cap hit of $6.5 million)
**Thanks to Behind The Net, stats.hockeyanalysis and General Fanager for the some of the statistics/contract information used in this article**
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