The popular thinking surrounding contract negotiations between the Carolina Hurricanes and Andrei Svechnikov was that the two sides would eventually find common ground on a bridge deal, but if we’ve learned anything from this front office regime over the last three years, it’s that they oftentimes don’t make the decision you’d expect them to make.
In this case, the unexpected move appears to have been the right one, as they locked up their young budding star to an eight-year deal that carries a $7.75-million AAV. Svechnikov’s deal carries the highest AAV among all U23 players in the league and has the highest dollar amount of any contract in Hurricanes franchise history.
The national reaction to the deal has been largely positive, praising the Hurricanes for getting a young player with star potential locked up early and buying four UFA years for cheap. With the inevitable rise of the salary cap and player contracts on the horizon after a period of flat cap, the deal should only look better and better as time goes on.
That is dependent on Svechnikov regaining his 2019-20 form, though, after a down year in 2021. And there’s plenty of reason to think that will be the case.
Despite seeing his on-ice finishing and goal-scoring numbers decline in 2021, he was one of the best playmakers in the NHL, according to Corey Sznajder’s tracking.
Tired: Svech should score more goals next year.— Corey Sznajder (@ShutdownLine) August 26, 2021
Wired: Svech is already Carolina's best playmaker. pic.twitter.com/CpakC7IcZl
Unfortunately, his high-end playmaking and scoring chance creation didn’t lead to an increase in production for him. That, coupled with his lowest 5-on-5 individual goals per 60 in three NHL seasons, made the 2021 season feel like a bigger step back than it really was.
While it certainly wasn’t the big next step that everyone expected after his breakout sophomore campaign, he was still a very productive offensive player.
Compared to his 2019-20 season, his offense took a step back, but his isolated defensive impact held pretty strong. He still isn’t an above-average defensive player, though.
Svechnikov’s on-ice finishing relative to expectation was the biggest red flag from last season. According to HockeyViz, his on-ice impact on goal odds of unblocked shots in 2021 was -4%. He was league average in that regard in 2019-20.
Svechnikov was at his most dangerous when he was firing his patented wrist/snapshot from the top of the left circle and when he was on his backhand going from left to right.
Andrei Svechnikov with a power-play snipe to get the Hurricanes on the board. 2-1 hockey game in Tampa. pic.twitter.com/frKDeLvPxz— Canes Country (@CanesCountry) April 20, 2021
Andrei Svechnikov gets a feed from Sebastian Aho and scores his 4th goal of the season to give the Hurricanes a 3-0 lead over the Stars in the second period. Gorgeous. pic.twitter.com/9H3uIC2bXn— Brett Finger (@brettfinger) January 31, 2021
He shot way below expectation on chances right in front of the net, though, which has been a trend throughout his career to this point, but his ability to score from range with his lethal shot has made up for it. He was also just unlucky with deflections in front of the net last season.
With all of that in mind, it’s easy to see why the Canes were willing to commit to a long-term deal with Svechnikov despite his down season in 2021. His playmaking has been outstanding, he’s an excellent scorer from a distance, and if he can even be an average on-ice finisher, he will consistently score 30-35 goals. If he’s above average, he can score 40.
That’s a significant “if,” but the risk is worth it for a player who projects to be a star in the NHL even after a disappointing age-21 season in a bizarre COVID world.
The benefits of this deal for Carolina go beyond just locking up a great young player on a team-friendly deal. Instead of having to worry about doing it all over again in two or three years, the team can plan for future deals with the likes of Martin Necas, Vincent Trocheck, Jesperi Kotkaniemi (maybe?), Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen and Brett Pesce with Svech locked into his deal until 2029.
There is value in cost certainty, especially when it’s a cornerstone player signed to what should end up being a below market value deal.
If Svechnikov rebounds from 2021 and continues the upward trajectory he was on; this deal will be in the Nathan MacKinnon “how is he under contract for that many years at that dollar amount” conversation.
Since breaking into the league three seasons ago, he leads all 2018 draft picks with 59 goals and 140 points in 205 regular-season games to go with nine goals and 20 points in 26 playoff games. You have to like the odds of this thing panning out very well, and you know that the player will do everything in his power to deliver for the fan base.
“I’ve been loving this place for years and now I’ll be here eight more,” Svechnikov said in Thursday’s press conference. “It’s a special place. We have a great team, great coaches and all the guys make this locker room special. You come here and you just want to have fun. That’s all we try to do. Have fun and win every game.”