Among all of the pending restricted free agents that Ray Shero has to sign, Kyle Palmieri is easily the biggest. Shero traded for Palmieri at last year's draft and has since shown that he can be a top-six scorer with the Devils. With more minutes than ever before, the 25-year old did not just fill a positional need at right wing, he fit an offensive role that the Devils sorely needed. Palmieri scored thirty goals last year as he led the team in both points and shots on net. It was a great 2015-16 for him from a personal stats perspective. From a contract perspective, it could turn out to be a great year too.
From our perspective as fans, this will be a very interesting signing for Shero. The question is not if Palmieri will be signed. He's a pending RFA, something would have to go seriously wrong for him not to be qualified. He may file for arbitration but even if the worst case scenario happens (they actually go to arbitration), he'll still have at least one more season signed with New Jersey. I have the utmost confidence he'll be signed. The question is how much Palmieri will be signed. The length and amount of the next contract will tell us how much the organization thinks of him. That is, whether he's expected to be a cornerstone for the team's new foundation that Shero is building or whether he's signed for the "now" and later will come when that happens. How much he'll get will also take up space on the books that will have some effect on what Shero can do in this offseason and future summers. The next deal will give us a sign from management whether they expect him to perform like he did in 2015-16 in the future. There is definitely interest in at least guessing what he could get in his next contract. So let's do it.
Before I make my attempt, let's consider Palmieri. From his perspective, how much he should get it's as much as he can get. After all, professional athletes tend not to have long careers and those who do can suffer set backs due to injury and declining play. To turn a phrase, if you can get paid, then get paid. The money won't be there forever. So Palmieri - and more importantly, his agent - would likely and should want to get the best deal possible for him.
Palmieri the Player
Let's start with what we know. Palmieri is 25 years old and has played six seasons in the NHL. He didn't play more than twenty games until that third season, but he's still relatively young. In Anaheim, per Hockey-Reference, he was relegated to playing around fourteen minutes per game or less per game. In New Jersey, he served in a much larger role, where he averaged 17:48 per game and received the most power play minutes on the team last season, according to NHL.com. This larger role also included playing tough competition in 5-on-5 play. Specifically, the second most competition time on ice per sixty minute rate on the team, solely behind his regular center Travis Zajac according to War on Ice. He also started more shifts in his own end of the rink than on offense in 5-on-5 play. Both contribute to his rather unimpressive Corsi values last season: a CF% 45.33% with a relative CF% of -1.19%.
What was impressive was what we already knew: his production. Palmieri scored thirty goals, tied for the team lead with Adam Henrique. A few were flukes, but based on reviewing the goals he scored last season, I think he may be able to reach that mark in the future with some help and continued good luck (he shot at 13.5%, also a career high for him but not an outrageously high percentage). Palmieri also led the team in points with 57 and shots with 222, which were also career highs for him according to NHL.com. The amount of shots mean his shot per game rate was 2.71. These marks were crucial not only to Palmieri but to the Devils, who were (again) the lowest-scoring offense in the league last season. They, along with his age, will be crucial in negotiations for Palmieri's next contract.
Guesses at Comparables
I'll admit that finding comparable players can be more of an art than a science, even with focusing on just numbers. Not every player with similar production totals or ice time or even Corsi (which isn't really good to compare straight up between teams since a player's situation can vary from team to team) necessarily makes for a great comparable. A player that puts up 65 points but excels against tough competition isn't really on the same level than a 67 point player whose approach to defense is questionable, even if they have similar numbers. Likewise, a 51% CF% player who goes up against the tough competition at evens but only puts up 40 points isn't really a comparable for a 51% CF% player that only gets mid-tier competition at evens and has 60 points. That being said, I perused Hockey Reference and their excellent Player Season Finder search function to find a few notable names that are at least in the ballpark of what Palmieri did last season.
I filtered for games played (at least half of last season), goals (at least 25 goals), and I tried to stick to wingers as that is what Palmieri is doing. I looked to see where Palmieri ranked and look at players closer to him with those filters. I'll discuss to some degree why the players I identified - and/or their contract - compares to Palmieri's situation. All stat links are to Hockey-Reference. All contract links are to General Fanager, dollar values are in millions, and AAV stands for Annual Average Value.
Oshie got his current five-year, $20.875 million contract with the Blues. He ended up on Washington last season due to a trade and it's worked out well for the 29-year old winger. He set a career high in goals and nearly set one in shots. While Oshie is not a prolific shooter and is used differently, he's been between 0.65 - 0.7 points per game. In other words, if he's able to play a full season, he's around 50 points. The Blues saw a breakout season of sorts in 2011-12, back when he was 25, before issuing him his current contract that scaled up in years. He made a salary of $4.5 million last year and will make that much next year. This is similar to Palmieri in that Palmieri also had a breakout year when he was 25. While the production, usage, and likely the style of play are different. That point is worth keeping in mind this summer.
From a viewing standpoint, Palmieri and Simmonds are very different players. From a production standpoint, they're closer together. I would go as far as to say that Devils fans would enjoy Palmieri if he produces like Simmonds. While Simmonds just beat the thirty goal mark like Palmieri, Simmonds had 28, 29, and 28 again in the last three full seasons of hockey. The total points ranged from 50-60, with a good chunk coming from the power play. Simmonds' contract is very cap friendly, which he signed when he was 23, but he's not getting nothing in salary. This past season saw Simmonds earn $3.8 million and he'll earn $4.3 million. The following two years also see increase in salary. They may play differently, but from a paper-standpoint, I see two right wingers who may reasonably score around thirty goals per season, play significant minutes at evens and on the power play, and put up 50-60 points. I'd pay attention that contract as a comparable along with Oshie.
A Ranger? A Ranger?! Yes, I know, but pay attention to his path so far in the NHL. This right winger has grown in Manhattan and has become a fixture of their top six since the 2013-14 season. While Zuccarello isn't really a shooter, he has been a producer since that season. He's also received two contracts since then. His breakout in 2013-14 when he was 26 saw him get a one-year deal $3.5 million contract. During 2014-15, he inked his current deal: a four year extension worth $18 million. That was during a season that saw Zuccarello finish with 19 goals, 49 points, and 154 shots on net. Clearly, what he did in 2015-16 helps justify his extension. While Palmieri definitely puts up more shots and Zuccarello is used in more situations, the winger's current deal has to be considered while thinking of Palmieri's next deal. Even if he's a member of Our Hated Rivals.
Columbus' Atkinson isn't a bad comparison at all. He may be the closest on paper in this post. He broke the 50 point plateau and did so with an increasing number of goals over the last three seasons. His shooting rate is very similar to Palmieri's too. While his utilization was different, he's got the same average ice time as him as well. Yet, I'd be careful about seeing his contract and expecting something very similar to happen. Atkinson got his deal in early March 2015 during a 22-goal, 40-point season, a lesser one than what Palmieri got. Atkinson certainly earned his $2.5 million salary in 2015-16 and then some. Even so, he'll get $3.5 million next season and $4.5 million in the season after that. He'd likely get a more lucrative deal if his 2014-15 season was closer to Palmieri's 2015-16 in terms of the numbers, but such as it goes. Similar player, but I would be pleasantly surprised if Palmieri got a similar bargain of a contract.
Eriksson represents a potentially good-case scenario for Palmieri. Let's go back to the beginning of his now-ending six year contract. Prior to that, Eriksson put up his one other 30+ goal season (2008-09: 36 G, 27 A) and a 71-point season. Between those two seasons and how he fit in Dallas, he got his current deal. Eriksson has stayed above the 70-point mark in the following two seasons and really came back into form with Boston after some production-struggling seasons. Sure, Eriksson has not ever shot at the volume Palmieri did last season since 2009-10. Sure, Eriksson is used in more situations and so he's got a much larger ATOI. Sure, Eriksson's six year contract was worth more in 2010-11 in that the salary cap ceiling was smaller. So whatever proportion the cap has increased since then plus whatever Eriksson got - $4.5 million this past season, salary ranged from $3.1 at the start to $4.6 million at the max - may be something to keep in mind with respect to Palmieri. Especially if management believes Palmieri can blossom like Eriksson did when he was younger and (presumably) had more talent around him.
Jagr is a legend. Jagr is 44. Jagr led his team in scoring last season. Jagr is 44. Jagr got $3.5 million in base salary last season and $2 million in performance bonuses for that season. Jagr is 44. Jagr earned a one-year deal worth $4 million in base salary and $1.515 million in bonuses for next season. Jagr is 44. Jagr also led the Devils in scoring in 2013-14 with 24 goals, 67 assists, and 231 shots on goal in 82 games (a rate superior to Palmieri's 2015-16). Jagr got $2 million in base salary and another $2 million in bonuses for that one year deal. Jagr was 41. Jagr is 44. Jagr is on another level with respect to Palmieri and nearly every other professional hockey player on the planet. Jagr is 44. Jagr will get at least $4 million to be playing while he turns 45.
All of those deals, save for Atkinson, see the player earn at least $4 million in salary from this past season. Either as a result of what they did in the season prior or as part of an expectation of future performance. While the players may be different from Palmieri in multiple ways, they've contributed as an key offensive player to their teams like Palmieri did. Therefore, the expectation is that Palmieri should get at least in the range of what they're making now. The easiest sign is Jagr. He is a legend. Yet, if a 44-year old Jagr is being given at least $4 million to be one of their team's top right wingers among these other wingers, then I don't see how Palmieri will get less than that. Only if he gets a contract like Oshie, Atkinson, or Simmonds in that the salary will rise in future seasons - and there, he'll break the $4 million mark. Note that no one in this short group I picked out, will exceed $5 million in salary except for Jagr with his bonuses. I think that's where the salary will largely lie for Palmieri, presuming that I am somewhat correct that these players are his peers in some way or form.
Continuing that this is an art and not a science, the term has to be given some thought along with the salary. Let's take a step back first. A few years back, Eric T wrote at his series Outnumbered at SBN-NHL about scoring and age. He noted that, in the bigger picture of all NHL players, points-per-game peak around the age of 25 and declines towards 30, which it then really declines. Palmieri turned 25 in this past season and had his best individual season in his career. While that's not the case for every player, it's the result of players in general. There are also a lot of confounding factors such as usage, player availability, and health among others. In Palmieri's case, he got to play more in New Jersey, receive time on the first power play unit and a lot of it, and he stayed healthy in 2015-16. So it may not be fair to think that this is it for him. Going back to Eric T's post, the drop off does not really begin until the early 30s. Incidentally, a six year deal would take him to the age of 31. At that point, the team can re-evaluate his progression before the next contract.
Assuming the team has no reason to think he'll decline sharply, I think it would be understandable and reasonable if Shero offered him a deal that lasts four to six years. Anything longer may be too much. Anything shorter than may indicate the team isn't fully confident he can repeat 2015-16 - or that he may not be someone to keep around beyond the re-build. Knowing Palmieri didn't get incredible luck and was much more involved on offense with a larger role in New Jersey makes me more confident a long deal won't blow up in the team's face. I also believe that Palmieri is intended to be part of the re-building effort beyond the actual re-building. The team badly needed right wingers and scorers and he fit both needs immediately. The team needs more changes; the proverbial puzzle still needs more pieces. But Palmieri has shown he is a piece right now and I doubt he's going to not be one in the future. Again, it's not like the goals he scored were largely due to fortune and his career-high in shooting percentage (set last season) was 13.5% - hardly a ridiculous number like, say, Eriksson's 16.3% or Jagr's 18.9% last season. So I'm fine with the team locking him up and securing some of the best years of his career. I almost prefer it than offering a "show-me" contract or a short three year deal, where he could command more money then.
Between the two areas, I'm going to guess that Palmieri will get a long term deal with an increasing salary. I can foresee Palmieri being taken to age 30 with a five year deal worth a total of $22.5 million. This would provide a cap hit of $4.5 million and it can be structured such that Palmieri will exceed the AAV in salary towards the end of the deal. This would put him in line with the Oshie's, Simmonds', and Zuccarello's of the league. It won't take up an enormous amount of space, something the Devils have plenty of at the moment. Should he be more productive either through self-improvement or the improvement of players around him (better passing in general just to give the man the puck), then the team can enjoy it like Dallas/Boston (this season only) has enjoyed Eriksson's contract. I could live with something a little more expensive; I would think an AAV of over $5 million would be too much even with a long term contract. A four to six year contract where the AAV is in the $4-$4.75 million range would make sense to me given similar players and the general idea behind age and scoring for a forward. He will get paid and paid real well with that deal.
I'm guessing that Palmieri will get a four to six year deal with a cap hit ranging from $4 million to $4.75 million. However, that's my opinion based on who I think would compare Palmieri to right now. I want to know your opinion. Who do you think is a good comparable for Palmieri given his 2015-16 season? How long would you want the Devils to sign Palmieri? What factors or comparables should be considered that I may have overlooked? Most of all: How much and how long do you think Palmieri's next contract with the Devils should be? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Palmieri's next deal in the comments. Thank you for reading.