John Klingberg became the latest defenseman coming out of his entry-level contract to sign a long-term, big-money deal, signing with the Stars after only 65 games in the NHL. But the Stars are banking on Klingberg emerging as one of the best bargains in the NHL.
It’s not exactly Evan Longoria-like, but if you can come up with a player with less NHL experience who has ever signed a longer, more lucrative contract than John Klingberg has with the Dallas Stars, let us know.
Because we certainly can’t come up with one. After just 65 games in the best league in the world and only 13 in the American League prior to that, and coming off double hip surgery last summer, Klingberg signed a seven-year deal with the Stars worth $29.75 million. It’s a contract that will take him and the Stars through the 2021-22 season. (Longoria, the superstar third baseman for the Tampa Bay Rays, agreed to a six-year contract extension in 2008 worth $17.5 million just six games into his major league career, a deal that has since been extended.)
It’s a deal that carries a significant amount of risk on both sides of the equation. For the Stars, if Klingberg doesn’t continue to build on his excellent rookie season and turns out to be a one-year wonder, they are on the hook for a very, very long time. That’s unlikely. For Klingberg, if he proceeds with his upward trajectory, he risks become a grossly underpaid defenseman in a very short time.
Although even though Klingberg’s cap hit will be just $4.25 million, thn.com has confirmed the salaries will escalate yearly and that Klingbertg will make $6 million in salary in the last year of the deal. But if Klingberg becomes a consistent 60-point scorer who logs big minutes, even that salary will be a low one by the time his deal expires in 2022. Who knows what defensemen of that ilk in the primes of their careers will be making in seven years.
“It’s a risk for both parties, but it’s a good deal,” said Stars GM Jim Nill. “It gives him some security and it’s good for us. He’s a good player. We’re happy and he’s really happy and that’s what’s important.”
The Stars should be happy if recent history with young defensemen being signed to long-term contracts in the $4 million to $5 million range per season is any indication because the teams are making out like bandits.
After the 2012-13 season, the Nashville Predators signed Roman Josi, who was coming off his entry-level deal and had played only 100 games in the NHL, to a seven-year deal worth $28 million that raised eyebrows at the time. But two seasons into that contract, it’s beginning to look like an enormous steal for Predators GM David Poile. Playing alongside Shea Weber, Josi has developed as one of the most dynamic puck-moving defensemen in the NHL. He tied for fifth among NHL defensemen in scoring, is among the league leaders in ice time and has emerged as a darkhorse candidate for the Norris Trophy.
The Predators have five years to go on that deal with Josi and got an even better deal than the Stars on Klingberg, since they managed to buy three years of unrestricted free agency with Josi. The Stars will have Klingberg under contract for his first two years of being eligible for UFA status. In 2012 and with a year still remaining on his entry-level deal, Cam Fowler of the Anaheim Ducks signed a five-year extension worth $4 million per year. Last March, Justin Faulk of the Carolina Hurricanes signed a five-year extension with the Carolina Hurricanes that pays him an average of $4.83 million per season, another contract that is beginning to look like it will be a very good deal for the team.
In a season that saw Klingberg establish franchise records for goals (11), assists (29) and points (40) by a rookie defenseman in a season, Klingberg joined the ranks of Fowler and Faulk as the top defensemen taken in the 2010 draft. But unlike first-rounder Fowler and second-round pick Faulk, Klingberg was a late-round gem, going in the fifth round at 131st overall to the Stars. That fifth round also included Brendan Gallagher going to the Montreal Canadiens 147th and Game 1 playoff hero Petr Mrazek being selected 141st by the Detroit Red Wings.
Chances are, Klingberg will continue to make progress and make the Stars look really smart. Stars GM Jim Nill has forged his career and reputation on having a tremendous ability to place the proper value on players and if he thinks Klingberg is worthy of a seven-year deal at this point, likely so do a lot of other people.
This is a deal that gives the Stars a little more cap leeway down the road as well. Art Ross Trophy winner Jamie Benn is due to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2016-17 season and Tyler Seguin two years after that. Klingberg’s contract will give the Stars more cap room to be able to do those deals.
And they’re counting on having one heck of a bargain on their hands in the future.