This afternoon, Pierre LeBrun made many New Jersey Devils fans online excited when he reported on Twitter that he was hearing that Nico Hischier was close to a contract extension. LeBrun turned out to be right. About two hours later, the New Jersey Devils made it official. The team announced on their website that Hischier signed a seven-season contract extension worth a total of $50.75 million. Per the team’s announcement, the new contract that starts next season will have a cap hit of $7.25 million with the following breakdown:
The contract will start in 2020-21 and the breakdown is as follows: 2020-21: $7,000,000, 2021-22: $7,250,000, 2022-23: $4,500,000, 2023-24: $7,750,000, 2024-25: $7,750,000, 2025-26: $8,000,000 & 2026-27: $8,500,000.
This breakdown was confirmed what Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston tweeted in the afternoon. Johnston also tweeted that Hischier’s contract will have a modified no trade clause in his eligible seasons; which would apply in the three seasons that he would have been an unrestricted free agent.
Initial Reaction about the Contract
I am elated by this announcement. The New Jersey Devils not only locked up Hischier early in this season but to a legitimately long-term contract. As Hischier jumped right into the NHL, he would have been eligible to hit the open market after the 2023-24 season. This extension buys into three seasons when he would be eligible to be an unrestricted free agent. This extension also bets on Hischier improving over time, as evidenced by the rise in salary. At the same time, the extension keeps him to a cap hit that will be less than 9% of the team’s current cap. Hischier will not be making peanuts but his extension will also not be a massive anchor on the future salary cap. Especially if it does rise in the future, potential labor strife in 2022 notwithstanding.
The deal will certainly be a fan favorite if only because of how smooth it went. Hischier had no arbitration rights going into the 2020 offseason so he had few options. He was a mortal lock to be re-signed as a restricted free agent. But as demonstrated by others around the league this year, he could have held out for a lucrative contract - short-term or long-term - and create an unnecessary stir next season. Instead, Devils general manager Ray Shero, Hischier, and Hischier’s people got together to work it all out. All agreed to avoid a bridge, avoid a negotiation next Summer, avoid potential drama a year from now, secure his status as a Devil through what will likely be the best seasons of Hischier’s career, and make Hischier a rich man in the process. Everyone is a winner here.
The Immediate Question Answered
The immediate question that comes to mind is simple. Is Hischier worth this new contract? My answer is also simple. Absolutely. He could have held out for more if the 2019-20 season goes the way it possibly could for him. He is not even 21 and he has demonstrated so much as a Devil that he is someone a team can build around.
First and foremost, Hischier is a surprisingly productive player in 5-on-5 hockey. According to Natural Stat Trick, Hischier’s points per sixty minutes from 2017-18 to this season is 2.08. Out of all players with 1,000 minutes minimum in 5-on-5 hockey, Hischier’s rate is the 65th best in the league. That may not seem so impressive until you look at who is around him in points-per-sixty minutes. Hischier is just behind Vladimir Tarasenko ($7.5 million), Cam Atkinson ($5.875 million), and Andrew Shaw ($3.9 million). Hischier is just ahead of Nikolaj Ehlers ($6 million), Sean Couturier ($4.33 million), Alex Tuch ($4.75 million), and Logan Couture ($8 million). Their current cap hits are in parentheses and they come from CapFriendly. There are some bargain deals in there (Philly must love that Couturier deal now) but there are some big-money players in that grouping by basic production. And some really good ones too. Hischier is the only one still on his entry level contract in that group. As Hischier is still so young, he could be even more productive in the future. By the way, the only Devil ahead of Hischier in points-per-sixty minutes in 5-on-5 since 2017 is Taylor Hall, who is fifteenth on this list at 2.48.
Second, Hischier has proven to be useful with and without Hall. As bad and injury-riddled as 2018-19 was, Hischier did demonstrate that he can play real well and with significant minutes without Hall. Per Natural Stat Trick, Hischier was within a percentage point of breaking even in CF% at 49.38% last season (fourth best on team) and finished ahead of break even in expected goals with a xGF% of 53.03%. That is not bad at all given that Hall could have only played a maximum of 33 games with Hischier and Hischier had plenty of nights where a lot of the other forwards were from Binghamton. Obviously, he did much better with Hall than without him. However, Hischier did not wilt and become a non-factor without him. For a young player, that is pretty big.
Third, Hischier has been fantastic at drawing penalties in his young career. Going back to the Natural Stat Trick list of players with a minimum of 1,000 5-on-5 minutes played since 2017, Hischier’s penalties drawn per sixty minute rate is 1.3 - the 17th best in the NHL. While Miles Wood and Kyle Palmieri are ahead of him, the difference between these three is that Hischier does not go to the box nearly as much as those two. Wood’s penalty rate per sixty minutes is 1.5 and Palmieri has a rate of 0.82. Hischier’s rate is only 0.38. The only players in the NHL who have a lower penalties taken rate and a higher penalties drawn rate than Hischier since 2017 are Elias Petterson, Johnny Gaudreau, and Ehlers. That’s it. While the Devils may not take a lot of advantage of those power plays, Hischier is providing them and they have a value of at least keeping the opposition from charging forward for two minutes. Hischier plays a brave game despite his stature and he will continue these awesome penalty rates because he knows how to draw calls without having to do anything nasty to get them drawn.
Fourth, when Hischier has been on the ice, he has provided a positive impact. Tyler Kelley on Twitter tweeted out his HockeyViz graphic of Hischier from Micah Blake McCurdy’s site:
What a steal this 7x7.25 is gonna be. pic.twitter.com/LFG7sf3N3D— Tyler Kelley (@DocKelley41) October 18, 2019
While the even strength defense is not as complementary as the offense, keep in mind that these results have come from Hischier mostly playing against the other team’s best players and playing a lot in match-ups. Again, playing a lot next to Hall and Palmieri will do that but the point is that these were not easy shifts from Hischier. That it has resulted in positive things overall for the team speaks to what he contributes that does not end on a scoresheet or a play-by-play log.
Fifth, Hischier still has room to grow as a player. A big reason why his production so far is not so gaudy (even though he’s the first of the 2017 draft class to crack 100 points) is his lack of a consistent power play role. I am hopeful that the coaching staff will find a regular spot for him (and others). Once there is some regularity and much better execution by the players, then the power play will be more successful in time and Hischier and his stat line will benefit from it. Hischier has demonstrated that he can help out quite a bit on defense. He has yet to take a regular role on the penalty kill. That appears to be changing in this young season so far. I do hope the coaching staff gives him a regular role on the PK because he absolutely has the skill set for it. Hischier has too much talent and brings too much to the table to be an even-strength player. I would like to think the Devils will figure it out in 2019-20 because he can be a real good all-situations player. Combined with a full season of Hall, or a different working combination, and Hischier could really bust out sooner rather than later. Then there will be fewer questions about his contract extension and future salary. There is time if it does not happen immediately; he is not even 21 yet after all.
In total: Yeah, it is worth it. And had the Devils or Hischier opted for a short-term contract, the Devils risk paying much more money later if Hischier truly blossoms as a player in this season or even next season. I think the bet the Devils are making on Hischier is a wise one as I am confident Hischier will become one of the better centers in the NHL in no time. In a few areas, he already is or he’s amid great company. I am hopeful we will look at this as a big bargain years from now, similar to how Colorado fans currently look at Nathan MacKinnon’s contract.
The Devils signed Hischier to a big contract extension that may end up as a bargain as it gets closer to completion in the future. I am a big fan of it. I think Hischier is worth it. Now I want to know what you think. What is your reaction to this contract extension? Do you think it is too much, just right, or too little? Do you think Hischier will justify it? Please leave your reactions to Nico Hischier and his massive seven-season contract extension in the comments. Thank you for reading.