Projecting Brayden Schenn's potential new contract

In the coming weeks, the Philadelphia Flyers will most likely sign Brayden Schenn to a long-term extension. But how much will it cost them?

Free agency is mostly in the rearview mirror. The NHL Draft came and went. The national hockey reporters are on their yearly vacations. Even the early July prospect development camps are finished. It's almost time for the uneventful days of summer on the hockey calendar to begin.

But for fans of the Philadelphia Flyers, there remains one more pressing piece of business. Key forward Brayden Schenn remains unsigned, and is slated for a salary arbitration hearing on July 25th.

Schenn has provided solid production for the team during his five seasons in Philadelphia, but 2015-16 proved to be his breakout year from a scoring standpoint. He finished with 59 points (26 goals and 33 assists) in 80 games, and established himself as a reliable scorer both at even strength and on the team's top power play unit.

Now a restricted free agent, Schenn is looking for a new contract. Since he cannot become an unrestricted free agent until the 2018 offseason, this would seem to be the perfect time for the Flyers to commit to Schenn long-term, using his two remaining seasons of RFA status as leverage to keep the average annual value of his contract at a reasonable rate.

But what contract is Schenn likely to receive following an extended negotiation? To answer that question, let's start by breaking down Schenn's numbers, and then look for statistical and contractual comparables from the recent past.

How good of a scorer is Brayden Schenn?

The narrative surrounding Brayden Schenn as he hits restricted free agency isn't difficult to grasp. He's a player who struggled a bit to score in the earliest years of his career, but is clearly trending upwards and just concluded the best season of his career.

However, restricted free agents generally aren't paid based solely on their most recent performance. Historically, teams have looked at the entirety of a player's career before locking him up to a long-term extension. A good example is Max Pacioretty, who scored 65 points in 77 games in 2011-12 and then promptly signed a six-year extension with a reasonable AAV of $4.5 million. Brad Marchand received a similar deal following his most efficient scoring season (to that point), and the deal seemed to account for the entirety of his career rather than only his best year.

So it's helpful to look at Schenn's career scoring rates as well as his recent ones. Let's check his point per game rates for his career and from last season so we have have a baseline for the rest of our analysis.

Player Career Points Per Game 2015-16 Points Per Game
Brayden Schenn 0.545 0.737

That's a pretty substantial leap, especially when you account for the fact that Schenn's career points per game rate was driven upwards by his performance in his most recent season. Schenn will obviously want to be paid more like a 0.737 rate scorer, while the Flyers would prefer to keep him closer to the range more befitting a 0.545 forward. Most likely, this gap is the biggest reason why Schenn's contract has seemingly proven a bit difficult to negotiate.

For the purposes of this exercise, we'll stick with scoring as the main factor driving the details of the contract. While advanced statistics like Corsi have gained more traction in recent years, I doubt they are more than a secondary aspect to current contract negotiations. There are other elements that likely affect contracts -- playoff success, perception of a player's leadership capabilities, two-way play -- but none really fit Schenn's current resume, so we'll leave them out as well.

The big list of RFA contract comparables

Now that we have a handle on the specifics of Schenn's scoring statistics at the moment of negotiations, let's put together a blanket list of comparable contracts signed in recent years. Since Schenn is a restricted free agent, we'll limit our dataset to players who signed extensions while still under some degree of team control as an RFA. To make sure we have a wide range of possible comparables to start, we'll look at all players currently under that contract with yearly cap hits between $3,800,000 and $6,500,000.

Warning: there's a lot of them.

Player Cap Hit
Derek Stepan $6,500,000
Nathan MacKinnon $6,300,000
Mark Scheifele $6,125,000
Jordan Eberle $6,000,000
Matt Duchene $6,000,000
Taylor Hall $6,000,000
Filip Forsberg $6,000,000
Logan Couture $6,000,000
Brandon Saad $6,000,000
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins $6,000,000
Aleksander Barkov $5,900,000
Tyler Seguin $5,750,000
Jeff Skinner $5,725,000
Blake Wheeler $5,600,000
Gabriel Landeskog $5,571,428
John Tavares $5,500,000
Jamie Benn $5,250,000
Evander Kane $5,250,000
James Neal $5,000,000
Reilly Smith $5,000,000
Derick Brassard $5,000,000
Vincent Trocheck $4,750,000
Gustav Nyquist $4,750,000
Bryan Little $4,700,000
Kyle Palmieri $4,650,000
Tyler Ennis $4,600,000
Max Pacioretty $4,500,000
Brad Marchand $4,500,000
Nazem Kadri $4,500,000
Sean Couturier $4,333,333
Patric Hornqvist $4,250,000
Craig Smith $4,250,000
James van Riemsdyk $4,250,000
T.J. Oshie $4,175,000
Nick Bjugstad $4,100,000
Victor Rask $4,000,000
Carl Hagelin $4,000,000
Adam Henrique $4,000,000
Wayne Simmonds $3,975,000
Colin Wilson $3,937,500
Andrew Shaw $3,900,000
Cody Eakin $3,850,000

Determining Schenn's comparables

So we have our dataset. Next, we'll look at the statistical performances of all 42 forwards, and try to determine where Brayden Schenn fits from a contract standpoint. To that end, I determined the career point per game rate for each player at the moment the contract was finalized. In addition, I gathered the player's performance in the season immediately preceding when the contract was given.

This allows us to better understand the leverage that each player had prior to agreeing to a long-term extension.

For ease of comparison, we'll also add the two scoring rates together for each player, and see how far each player's sum is from Schenn's combined career PPG and 2015-16 PPG rates. That should give us an idea if Schenn is in the statistical ballpark of a potential comparable.

If the past contracts in question have been mostly structured in a rational way by NHL teams, we should start to see an obvious tier where Schenn fits.

The "Okay Brayden, you can't be serious with that comparable" tier ($5,250,000 to $6,500,000 AAV)

Player Cap Hit (in millions) RFA Years Bought UFA Years Bought Career PPG (at time of extension) Preceding Year's PPG Combined Differential From Schenn
Derek Stepan $6.5 2 4 0.694 0.808 1.502 +0.220
Nathan MacKinnon $6.3 4 3 0.701 0.722 1.423 +0.141
Mark Scheifele $6.125 4 4 0.638 0.859 1.497 +0.215
Jordan Eberle $6.0 4 2 0.748 0.974 1.722 +0.440
Matt Duchene $6.0 2 3 0.725 0.914 1.639 +0.357
Taylor Hall $6.0 4 3 0.753 0.868 1.621 +0.339
Filip Forsberg $6.0 4 2 0.745 0.780 1.525 +0.243
Logan Couture $6.0 2 3 0.719 0.770 1.489 +0.207
Brandon Saad $6.0 4 2 0.605 0.634 1.239 -0.043
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins $6.0 4 3 0.745 0.600 1.345 +0.630
Aleksander Barkov $5.9 4 2 0.623 0.893 1.516 +0.234
Tyler Seguin $5.75 4 2 0.574 0.827 1.401 +0.119
Jeff Skinner $5.725 4 2 0.732 0.687 1.419 +0.137
Blake Wheeler $5.6 1 5 0.623 0.854 1.477 +0.195
Gabriel Landeskog $5.571 4 3 0.584 0.472 1.056 -0.226
John Tavares $5.5 4 2 0.751 0.848 1.599 +0.317
Jamie Benn $5.25 4 1 0.720 0.887 1.607 +0.325
Brayden Schenn N/A 2 N/A 0.545 0.737 1.282 N/A

Even just looking at names like John Tavares, Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin, it's clear that Brayden Schenn doesn't really belong in this tier. Twelve of the 17 players had higher career PPG rates than Schenn at the time of their contracts being signed AND were coming off stronger seasons than the one that Schenn posted in 2015-16.

Only two players in the tier could potentially be used by the Schenn camp as favorable comparables. Brandon Saad is the big one -- his 52 point, 0.634 point per game season in 2014-15 is dwarfed by the 59 point, 0.737 PPG year that Schenn just concluded. But Saad's sky-high demands basically forced Chicago to trade him away, and unless Schenn wishes to go down that road, I think we can safely categorize Saad's deal as an anomaly in the marketplace.

Gabriel Landeskog's contract also is eye-catching. He had a disappointing season leading into his contract talks, finishing with 17 points in 36 games during the lockout-shortened year. But Landeskog also won the Calder Trophy in his first season, and was already Avalanche team captain when the extension was signed. Both factors likely served to inflate his contract past expected levels.

This analysis implies that if Schenn is asking for more than $5,250,000 per year in an extension, the Flyers would do well to hold their ground. His RFA comparables simply do not justify that average annual value.

The "I'm gonna hang up on you Hexy, unless you start getting serious" tier ($3,850,000 to $4,333,333 AAV)

Player Cap Hit (in millions) RFA Years Bought UFA Years Bought Career PPG (at time of extension) Preceding Year's PPG Combined Differential From Schenn
Sean Couturier $4.333 2 4 0.411 0.451 0.862 -0.420
Patric Hornqvist $4.25 1 4 0.567 0.583 1.15 -0.132
Craig Smith $4.25 2 3 0.519 0.536 1.055 -0.227
James van Riemsdyk $4.25 4 2 0.490 0.533 1.023 -0.259
T.J. Oshie $4.175 2 3 0.667 0.625 1.292 +0.010
Nick Bjugstad $4.1 5 1 0.515 0.597 1.112 -0.170
Victor Rask $4.0 4 2 0.506 0.600 1.106 -0.176
Carl Hagelin $4.0 1 3 0.488 0.426 0.914 -0.368
Adam Henrique $4.0 4 2 0.572 0.380 0.952 -0.330
Wayne Simmonds $3.975 2 4 0.440 0.597 1.037 -0.245
Colin Wilson $3.938 2 2 0.483 0.545 1.028 -0.254
Andrew Shaw $3.9 3 3 0.425 0.435 0.860 -0.422
Cody Eakin $3.85 2 2 0.451 0.512 0.963 -0.319
Brayden Schenn N/A 2 N/A 0.545 0.737 1.282 N/A

Any Flyers fans with the dream that Schenn will be locked up to an extension that mirrors the one that Ron Hextall gave Sean Couturier last offseason should immediately disabuse themselves of that delusion. While Couturier possesses certain skills that Schenn will likely never develop (defensive shot suppression, penalty killing prowess), Schenn dwarfs the Philadelphia shutdown center when it comes to pure scoring.

It's a similar story with the rest of this tier. There are talented scorers here -- Adam Henrique, Wayne Simmonds, and James van Riemsdyk all eventually hit 30 goals -- but at the time of their extensions, they had not yet reached their peaks. From a pure point production standpoint, Schenn is head and shoulders above these possible comparables.

However, there is one player who does fit as a scoring comparable for Schenn in this tier. Like the Flyers' forward, T.J. Oshie had two years of RFA status remaining when he signed his extension in 2012, and his career PPG rate at that point of his career was 0.667 -- far better than Schenn's 0.545 mark. Schenn was coming off a better season, but statistically, the two players are pretty close.

Still, Oshie doesn't fit with the rest of his peers in this tier. Just as Saad probably was paid a little bit too much, Oshie received a slightly below-market contract at the time given his scoring numbers. As a result, neither functions as a very good comparable, except to serve as a reminder to both sides that sometimes illogical contracts get signed.

The "Now we're talking" tier ($4,500,000 to $5,250,000 AAV)

Player Cap Hit (in millions) RFA Years Bought UFA Years Bought Career PPG (at time of extension) Preceding Year's PPG Combined Differential From Schenn
Evander Kane $5.25 4 2 0.591 0.770 1.361 +0.079
James Neal $5.0 3 3 0.694 1.012 1.706 +0.424
Reilly Smith $5.0 1 4 0.526 0.609 1.135 -0.147
Derick Brassard $5.0 1 4 0.558 0.555 1.113 -0.169
Vincent Trocheck $4.75 4 2 0.568 0.697 1.265 -0.017
Gustav Nyquist $4.75 2 2 0.642 0.658 1.300 +0.018
Bryan Little $4.7 1 4 0.561 0.666 1.227 -0.055
Kyle Palmieri $4.65 2 3 0.521 0.695 1.216 -0.066
Tyler Ennis $4.6 2 3 0.621 0.537 1.158 -0.124
Max Pacioretty $4.5 3 3 0.564 0.822 1.386 +0.104
Brad Marchand $4.5 2 2 0.560 0.723 1.283 -0.001
Nazem Kadri $4.5 2 4 0.604 0.592 1.196 -0.086
Brayden Schenn N/A 2 N/A 0.545 0.737 1.282 N/A

And here's the range when Brayden Schenn's contract will likely fall.

Aside from James Neal, there's no absolutely ridiculous comparisons in this tier. Most of these players had a stronger career point per game rate than Schenn when they signed their respective contracts, but Schenn's most recent year beats the final seasons of all in this tier except Kane, Neal and Pacioretty.

In my opinion, there are four contracts here that serve as the best points of reference for a Brayden Schenn extension. All four were negotiated in the past 12 months, limiting the impact of cap ceiling inflation on the comparisons. In addition, each player is close enough both statistically and in contract situation to be a reasonable place for negotiations to begin.

Comparable No. 1 - Reilly Smith (Florida)

Smith's contract is a logical place for the Schenn camp to start their negotiations. The Florida forward recently received a five-year, $25 million contract that bought out one year of RFA status and four UFA seasons. That's not exactly the same as Schenn's situation (he has two RFA years left), but Schenn's agent will likely reference Smith because his client's scoring totals top Smith's in every possible way.

Not only did Schenn have a better scoring season in 2015-16 than did Smith (59 points to 50), Schenn's career scoring rates are superior as well. His agents could argue that if Smith is worth $5 million per year, then surely Schenn is worth more than that.

The one problem with the comparable, as previously noted, is that Smith's contract mostly buys out unrestricted free agency years. For Schenn to have four UFA years bought out (as Smith did), the Flyers would need to sign him to a six-year extension. It costs a little extra to buy out UFA years, since the player is giving up a chance at hitting the open market. So Smith's AAV is likely inflated because of the ratio of RFA to UFA years in the contract.

As a result, I suspect Smith's contract would be most applicable if the Flyers have designs on locking up Schenn to a six-year deal, buying out four UFA seasons.

Comparable No. 2 - Gustav Nyquist (Detroit)

Nyquist is the only player out of our four who was not signed in 2016, as his four-year, $19 million contract was negotiated last offseason in July of 2015. Unlike Smith's contract, there are no issues with comparing the team control timing of the contract to Schenn's situation. Nyquist in 2015 had two years of RFA status to go, just as Schenn does in 2016.

In addition, their statistics are pretty similar. Schenn's 2015-16 season was stronger than Nyquist's 2014-15 year, but Nyquist's career rate scoring numbers are significant better than those of Schenn. Nyquist's metrics combine to equal 1.300, while Schenn checks in at 1.282 -- almost identical.

The big difference between these two players comes in games played. Entering the contract negotiations last July, Nyquist had played just 179 regular season games. Schenn, on the other hand, has 354 under his belt. Schenn's camp would likely argue that he is a better player now than Nyquist was in 2015, and that Schenn should not be penalized because he developed in the NHL instead of the AHL as Nyquist did.

Still, if the Flyers and Schenn end up agreeing to a four-year extension, Nyquist's contract could easily provide the framework.

Comparable No. 3 - Kyle Palmieri (New Jersey)

Like Schenn and Nyquist, Palmieri had just two years of RFA status left when he inked his five-year, $23,250,000 million deal last week. And as Travis noted last week, Palmieri's narrative is strikingly similar to one Brayden Schenn, as Palmieri struggled to establish himself as a consistent impact scorer before finally having a breakout scoring season leading into contract negotiations.

The Flyers are likely pushing the Palmieri comparison in negotiations. A $4.65 million cap hit would be on the low end of Schenn's possible range, and Palmieri's career and 2015-16 statistics are close enough to Schenn's numbers as to justify inclusion in the negotiations. The problem for Philadelphia in using Palmieri is that Schenn is just a little bit better across the board.

Player 2015-16 Points Per Game Career Points Per Game
Brayden Schenn 0.737 0.545
Kyle Palmieri 0.695 0.521

In the end, a Palmieri comparison is a good starting point for negotiations, but Schenn is totally justified in thinking that he deserves even more money. I suspect Palmieri's deal will function more as a floor for Schenn's contract than a true comparable.

Comparable No. 4 - Nazem Kadri (Toronto)

Here's the realistic best case scenario for the Flyers in the Brayden Schenn negotiations. Kadri signed his six-year, $27 million contract just as the 2015-16 season came to a close. Like Schenn, Nyquist and Palmieri, Kadri had two RFA seasons left and therefore serves as a nice apples-to-apples comparison for Schenn.

But unlike Schenn, Kadri's point production was not peaking at the time of his deal. Kadri actually beats Schenn in career points per game (0.604 to 0.545), but Kadri's best scoring seasons came back in 2012 and 2013. While he's absolutely still a useful player, his production is not trending upwards at the moment. Schenn, on the other hand, holds the momentum cards that Kadri lacked in his negotiations.

It's not unreasonable for the Flyers to argue that Kadri is a legitimate comparable. After all, he has better career scoring rates than Schenn, and also has established himself at a more valuable position (center vs. mostly wing for Schenn). But it's also fair for the Schenn camp to note that Toronto was signing a 45-point guy back in April, while the Flyers are currently dealing with a player who just missed 60.

Projection for the Contract

Armed with this newly-gathered information, what guesses can we make regarding a potential Brayden Schenn extension? First, we can feel fairly confident that the average annual value of the deal will fall between $4.5 million and $5.25 million, considering tier-based comparables.

We can also guess that Schenn will probably not make less than Kyle Palmieri. All of Schenn's scoring statistics -- both recent and full-career -- surpass those of Palmieri, making his $4.65 million cap hit and $23,500,000 total value the probable floor for a Schenn extension.

Finally, we can infer that Schenn's deal will likely be no less than four years in term, so long as he doesn't make it to arbitration. Players in our dataset with two years of RFA status remaining averaged a length of five years on their next contract, so if the two camps plan to use comparables in the negotiating process, a short-term deal seems unlikely.

My guess is that the Flyers and Schenn will come to terms on a five-year extension at around $4.85 million per year. Schenn isn't in the class of players like Evander Kane and Jamie Benn (who ended up with $5.25 million cap hits), but his negotiating position is stronger than players on the low-end of his tier, like Kyle Palmieri and Nazem Kadri. If the deal is six years, I suspect it will barely exceed the Reilly Smith AAV, and if it is a four-year term, I'd expect the AAV to be around Gustav Nyquist's $4.75 million.

Now, we await the actual terms.