Expecting another summer replete with lengthy restricted free agent negotiations and rumors of pending offer sheets? Don’t be, because by the time we reach the off-season, there might not be a single high-profile RFA left without a deal.
Following a string of somewhat-recent signings of pending RFAs-to-be such as Clayton Keller, Josh Morrissey, Thomas Chabot and Alex DeBrincat, one of the biggest names left on the board has put pen to paper as the New Jersey Devils and 2017 first-overall pick Nico Hischier have come to terms on a seven-year, $50.75-million pact. The pact, which carries a $7.25-million cap hit, will keep the 20-year-old pivot locked up through the 2026-27 campaign.
Given the figures attached to Hischier’s new pact, it’s somewhat apparent that a couple of the recent deals influenced the term and money that was handed to the Devils’ up-and-comer. Most notably, it seems as though the eight-year, $57.2-million contract Keller worked out with the Arizona Coyotes and the seven-year, $50-million deal struck between the Winnipeg Jets and Kyle Connor mere days before the season began were used as baselines for Hischier’s deal. Both are well-warranted comparables for Hischier, too.
Statistically, while Hischier’s numbers may not be quite as glowing as those of either Connor or Keller, they stack up nicely. To wit, through 157 games through his three seasons in the NHL, Hischier has notched 37 goals and 101 points with per-game rates of .24 goals, .41 assists and .64 points. Comparatively, Keller has 37 goals and 119 points in 173 games (rates of .21, .47 and .69, respectively), while Connor leads the trio with 70 goals and 132 points in 187 games (rates of .37, .33 and .71). What arguably results in the difference in cap hit, and warrants the higher pay day for Hischier, is impact.
As a general rule, when two forwards are statistically similar, the center will earn more than the winger. That’s the case here with Connor, Keller and Hischier, who carries the highest cap hit of the three. Beyond the positional difference, though, Hischier has also proven himself to be a more impactful two-way player, this despite playing on a team that hasn’t been all that sound defensively over the duration of his brief NHL career. While comparing their overall underlying numbers wouldn’t illustrate all that much given the level of talent around them, the relative statistics indicate that Hischier, at a relative Corsi percentage of 2.5 percent, has done far more to drive play in New Jersey than either Keller (0.2) or Connor (minus-2.1) have done for their respective clubs.
Taking such numbers into account, it can safely be said there’s no overpay here for Hischier. But the better news for the Devils is that, if there’s potential for this deal to go one way or the other, it’s more likely that it can fall on the side of an underpayment in a few years’ time. Just consider the upside.
Not yet 21, there is plenty of room for Hischier to grow his offensive game, and the signs of that growth have already been there. Though it was a minor step forward, Hischier scored at a 55-point pace last season, which would have been up from his 52-point rookie total had he not missed more than a dozen games. Not only that, Hischier did much of his work without any crutch. During his rookie campaign, his most common linemate was Taylor Hall, with whom Hischier skated more than 800 minutes alongside at five-a-side. Last season, with Hall sidelined for much of the campaign, Hischier’s most common linemate was Kyle Palmieri. This is no slight against Palmieri, but Taylor Hall he is not.
That Hischier was able to maintain his production without an MVP-caliber – and technically an MVP-winning, as Hall captured the Hart Trophy in 2017-18 – winger by his side is proof positive that he can be the offensive driver on his line. To the same degree as Hall? Not yet. Maybe not ever. But there’s clear-as-day 70-plus point upside for Hischier in the future.
And, really, given the terms of his new deal, that’s all the production Hischier will need to make his deal well worth it. Particularly with Jack Hughes’ arrival and the projections surrounding the Devils’ shiny new toy, the expectation for the future is that Hischier will become the second-in-command down the middle behind the 2019 first-overall pick. And given his two-way play, his offensive upside and the more-than-manageable $7.25-million cap it, there’s plenty of reason Hischier’s contract stands to sing by the time he’s entering into his early prime.
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