(Photo by Amy Irvin/38 Photography)
For the most part, Ron Hextall has received nothing but praise in regards to the recently announced contract extension with Sean Couturier. The extension, which will pay Couturier an average of 4.33 million dollars over 6 years, appears to be one that will offer great value over the final years.
Those who have voiced objections to the contract have done so because they believe that the contract is a risk. Couturier, despite his impressive defensive play, has not produced like a 4.3 million dollar player yet in his career. Assuming that he will eventually do so could backfire.
They are right. It is a risk. It’s possible that Couturier’s development will flatline, and this contract will turn into an overpayment.
I will argue here, however, that it would have been a bigger risk to handle this situation differently. The reality of giving a contract to younger players is this: It is almost always a gamble in one way or another. A longer contract that offers a player more than they are currently worth is a gamble because it’s always possible that they player won’t pan out. A shorter contract is a gamble as well because it’s possible that the player will exceed expectations and subsequently cost the team much more money next time around. It’s ultimately up to the general manager to evaluate the player correctly and decide which gamble to take. In locking down Couturier long-term, Ron Hextall made a safe and calculated risk that is likely to pay off in the long run.
THE VALUE IN GIVING COUTURIER MORE TERM NOW
It’s no secret that Sean Couturier had a frustrating season offensively in 2014-15. Playing between RJ Umberger and a injury-hampered Matt Read, Couturier finished the season with just 36 points. This was three less than his career high total of 39 set in 2013-14.
Those who oppose the contract think that the summer after a down season is not the time for a long extension. Couturier should have to prove himself offensively before getting paid like a player who produces more. It was suggested that the Flyers could have waited until later to make this deal or opt to sign a shorter bridge deal in lieu of a long-term one. Fundamentally, this does make some sense. I would argue, however, that is actually the perfect time to pay a guy like Couturier.
Here is where player evaluation is key. If the Flyers think that Couturier is destined to be nothing more than a defensively strong 40 point player, waiting a year or signing a shorter contract makes sense. If they think that it is only a matter of time before he breaks through offensively, now is the time to jump on an extension while his value is ‘low’. Taking into consideration that Couturier progressed nicely in certain aspects of his offensive game while being held back by struggling linemates and difficult minutes, I think it’s reasonably safe to assume that he has more production in him.
I’ve laid out estimates as to what Couturier might cost if the Flyers were to wait on an extension or opt for a shorter ‘bridge’ deal. The column on the far right shows total money paid out over the 6 year period that his new contract spans. Let’s take a look.
While these are completely arbitrary estimates, the point is clear. If the Flyers think that Couturier still has room to grow offensively, signing the longer contract right now is actually the safe move, not the risky one. Even if Couturier fails to make significant progress production-wise, this contract would only by a very slight overpay. On the other hand, if the Flyers opt to wait just one season to sign a longer deal, they risk seeing Couturier’s AAV jump by over one million if he breaks through on the scoresheet. If they sign a bridge deal and let Couturier reach UFA status 3 years earlier, they could see his price absolutely skyrocket in 2019. Jordan Staal is a similar player who had one 50 point season and was one year from UFA status in 2012. He was offered 10 years/60 million by two different teams. Don’t underestimate what UFA status and inflation could do to Couturier’s cost if he even makes slight offensive progress.
The Flyers did take a risk in signing Sean Couturier for 6 years and 26 million dollars this summer. This risk, however, was a very small and calculated one based on their ability to evaluate a young player correctly. While it fundamentally seems like a huge risk to give a young player a long contract for more than he is currently worth, this was actually the safest play Ron Hextall could have made. Expect this signing to pay off considerably over the next 7 years.