Change is hard. But Clayton Keller and the Arizona Coyotes helped push contract philosophy forward today by coming together on an eight-year extension worth $57.2 million, for an average annual value of $7.1 million.
Keller is coming off a decent sophomore season with Arizona, one which saw him play in his first All-Star weekend and lead the team in scoring with 47 points. That’s a far cry from the 65 he posted as a rookie, but this new deal confirms that the Coyotes see the high-end potential in Keller and want to lock him in for the most productive years of his career.
Typically, NHL teams have paid players for what they’ve done, more than what they are about to do – which means overpaying veterans in their twilight and potentially alienating those in their prime who are now reaching unrestricted free agency at 27. Bridge contracts of two or three seasons have helped players and teams solve the salary cap in the short-term, but the players still get their money eventually (see Nikita Kucherov in Tampa Bay as a prime example).
Arizona GM John Chayka has made a nice bet here with Keller – we are talking about a player who once held the U.S. National Team Development Program record for points before he was overtaken by Jack Hughes, after all. And with Phil Kessel coming to town, the Coyotes can spread around their dangerous forwards a bit more, giving Keller more space to operate.
“Clayton is elite in every sense of the word,” Chayka said. “He is not only an all-star and one of the premiere offensive playmakers in the league, but he is equally special as a person with his drive and determination to be great.”
Keller will play out the final year of his entry-level contract in 2019-20 before the new eight-year pact kicks in and the contract, as agent Scott Bartlett detailed, has both lockout protection in the form of signing bonuses and trade protection through no-trade/no-move clauses in the latter years of the deal. From Keller’s perspective, this is obviously a great day.
“Everything about this organization is on the right track,” he said. “And I know we have an opportunity to do some special things here for a long time. Arizona is where I want to be and I’m proud to commit to the Coyotes long-term.”
Some pundits believe the Coyotes overpaid on Keller, but that’s hard to argue with only two seasons worth of data, especially when his surrounding crew wasn’t very strong (the fact he led the team with 47 points last year should speak volumes). Is it a gamble to go all-in now on the player? Maybe a little, but the upside is so high with Keller that clearly the Coyotes felt comfortable making the move. The organization showed definite signs of life under new coach Rick Tocchet last season and while it’s been a long time since Arizona was in the playoffs, the team at least seems to be pointed in the right direction.
And if Keller can become an 80-point player in the next couple of years, then Chayka has a winning deal on his hands. For Keller, he has long-term security and now he can simply go out and play his best hockey.
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