What if I told you that, on Tuesday, one of the NHL’s premiere offensive talents signed a lucrative contract extension, would you be interested? What if I told you that player was a former Boston Bruin and was traded by Peter Chiarelli in a deal that included Rich Peverley, are you intrigued? What if I told you that player’s extension was with a team in the thunderdome that is the NHL’s Central Division? You’d listen, I’m sure.
I could say every single one of those things. Of course, I’d have to add said player was Blake Wheeler. You were thinking someone else, maybe? Right, Tyler Seguin. The Dallas Stars big-time center remains unsigned and looming over, basically, everything. Envy is the obvious reaction, Winnipeg signed their guy, when is Dallas going to seal their deal? Elsewhere on the hot take spectrum is comparison, and the very natural instinct to wonder how Wheeler’s deal might impact Seguin’s.
Let’s start with the basics. Wheeler’s pact will run five years, cost the Jets $41.25 million, and come with a cap hit of $8.25 million. To further sweeten the pot, Winnipeg threw in a no movement clause, and limited no trade protections. These things buy Winnipeg last season’s #9 point-producer (91 points) and top facilitator (68 assists). Though a career high, last season was not, exactly, an outlier. Since arriving in Winnipeg in 2011, Wheeler has thrice eclipsed 70 points, and only failed to break 60 during the lockout-abbreviated 2012-2013 season when he put up 48 points in 41 games. Add it all up, and Blake Wheeler has produced 605 points (222 goals, 383 assists) in 778 games.
If you’re a Stars fan, and all about fiscal prudence, the bedrock of a “comparable player” argument begins to take shape. After all, Tyler Seguin has never led the NHL in a major statistical category, nor has he ever had a season as good as Wheeler’s 2017-2018. No, that doesn’t mean $8.25 million is the target, that would be absurd. It might, however, mean the difference between a hit landing north or south of Tavares’ $11 million cap hit.
Which is, shocking swerve, still absurd.
Here’s another pair of numbers: 32 and 26. The first is Blake Wheeler’s age, the second is Tyler Seguin’s. Wheeler’s extension will expire when he’s 37, the same deal would carry Seguin to 31. In a sport where aging curves are moving progressively downwards, that’s a significant difference, in and of itself likely worth a fair chunk of change. With Seguin, you’re buying prime years, and likely statistical growth.
Then there’s position. Over the course of his career, Wheeler has taken 809 faceoffs. Tyler Seguin, meanwhile, took 1,440 just last season. Cherry picking a couple of key stats, Seguin hasn’t been sub 50% in either Corsi (EV) or Fenwick (EV) since he was a 19-year old rookie in 2010-2011. Yes, Seguin has occasionally bounced a bit between wing and center with primary linemate Jamie Benn, but the reality is he’s a bona fide #1 center at the NHL level. That’s “a thing” as the kids say; ignore it at your own peril.
All of which leaves us with an excellent player on an $8.25 million cap hit. That player, however, is 6 years older and plays a less in-demand position than the Stars’ pending UFA. If anything, the Wheeler contract is more of a positive for the Seguin camp. The real argument here is that the offensive side of Seguin’s game is worth about $8.25 million before laying on things like positional scarcity and age. We’re back to looking at John Tavares as the measuring stick. Sorry Mr. Gaglardi, in other words.
None of these things, by the way, are shots at Wheeler. Winnipeg has a fantastic forward on their hands. They just don’t have Tyler Seguin. That honor falls to the Dallas Stars. At least for now, at least until the end of this coming season. As much as I’m sure Jim Nill & Co. want cost certainty and a deal that preserves flexibility elsewhere on the roster, the reality is John Tavares. Dallas will need to pony up to keep their ace center. That’s just reality, no matter what’s going on elsewhere in the division.