By almost all accounts, the seven-year contract extension Jaccob Slavin signed with the Carolina Hurricanes is going to look like a steal within a couple of years, possibly even by the time it kicks in after next season. Which is strange because most astute hockey observers look at him as the most underrated player in the NHL. With a deal that pays him an average of $5.3 million over the next seven years, does that mean Slavin undersold even himself?
Well, that might be stretching it a little. The going rate for players of Slavin’s ilk used to be about $4 million a year, if the Roman Josi deal and Cam Fowler’ previous contract are any indication. That price tag has certainly gone up, but how much is a minute-munching defenseman who can both contribute offense and be a shutdown beast worth these days? Had Slavin been willing to bet on himself, he probably would have played out the rest of his entry level contract this coming season before he established his worth on a long-term deal.
With another solid season under his belt, that worth would have been substantial. Slavin is developing into a “200-foot defenseman,” a term Nashville Predators coach Peter Laviolette used to describe Josi during the Stanley Cup final. (Keep your ears perked – it’s a term you’re going to be hearing a lot more in the future.) Slavin is one of those rare creatures who can play a shutdown role without taking penalties, which makes him even more effective in that role. He finished second to Justin Faulk in scoring among Carolina Hurricane defensemen, killed penalties and led all Hurricanes in overall and shorthanded time on ice this season. But perhaps most impressively, he and defense partner Brett Pesce were each plus-23 on a team where every other regular with the exception of Lee Stempniak was a minus player. And when you face the quality of competition that Slavin faces, that’s an outstanding achievement.
The thing is, had Slavin done that, he would have been going into the 2018-19 season without a contract and, aside from his worth to the Hurricanes on the ice, almost no leverage. He would not have had arbitration rights and no hope of anyone signing him to an offer sheet, because NHL. So in the end, it looks as though the Hurricanes paid more than they probably could have at the top end of the contract, but will almost certainly be getting a deal at the bottom end, particularly with four of those seasons being potential unrestricted free agent years. But when you see that Rasmus Ristolainen of the Buffalo Sabres signed a six-year extension worth $5.4 million a season prior to last season, you could certainly make the case that Slavin will be underpaid in the later years of the deal.
But you get the sense that none of this matters to Slavin, who is a devout Christian who does not push his faith on anyone, but is not reticent to talk about it.
“My hockey doesn’t define who I am,” Slavin told Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News and Observer earlier this season. “My identity is not found in the game. I’m not rooted in the game of hockey. I know hockey will end one day, but God is forever. It puts me at peace knowing God’s in control of every aspect of my life.”
The addition of Slavin is another part of a feel-good atmosphere that these days surrounds the Hurricanes, a franchise that could desperately use it. Since winning the Stanley Cup in 2006, the Hurricanes have made the playoffs just once and drew crowds of under 10,000 nine times this season. With a blueline corps of Slavin, Faulk, Pesce, Noah Hanifin, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Klas Dahlbek – four of whom are slated to become restricted free agents after next season – the Hurricanes are putting some very impressive building blocks in place. And with Scott Darling under contract for the next four seasons, the Hurricanes are placing their faith in him that he can handle the pressure and responsibility of being a No. 1 goalie in the league. With a defense like that in front of him, it will be that much easier.
Nothing will bring the fans back in Carolina like winning will and the way GM Ron Francis is operating these days, the Hurricanes are giving themselves every chance to do just that.
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