This past off-season, the Calgary Flames extended Mark Giordano to a six-year, $6.75 AAV contract. He’ll be 33 years old when it kicks in, and will carry a relatively high cap hit – with the cap limit’s future, tied to the Canadian dollar, uncertain – until he’s 38.
Following suit, just weeks before the trade deadline the Winnipeg Jets extended Dustin Byfuglien to a five-year, $7.6 AAV contract. He’ll be 31 years old when it kicks in, and it’ll last until his 35-year-old season (he’ll turn 36 at its end, though).
These are two high-scoring All-Star defencemen on the wrong side of 30 signed to pretty big deals without even testing the open market. When Giordano was extended, there wasn’t much to compare him to: it’s not that often that truly elite defencemen break out as late as he did. His past cap hit was $4.02 million; Byfuglien’s, $5.2 million: both over five years.
How do their new contracts compare?
Via Own The Puck, we can see that Giordano and Byfuglien are of very comparable on-ice abilities…
… but Giordano is, ultimately, better. Giordano had a slower start to the season, having lost his regular partner in T.J. Brodie, and perhaps still shaking off the rust of the injury that prematurely ended his previous season back in February 2015.
Both Girodano and Byfuglien play top minutes. Both their teams produce goals when they’re on the ice and both are key points contributors, although Giordano brings about more assists. They both drive the puck forward, but the main area Giordano distinguishes himself is defensive (which, in theory, is good considering he plays defence): he limits more shot attempts against then Byfuglien by a fair margin.
Byfuglien is exceptional at most things; Giordano is exceptional at all of them. He also gets negative relative zone starts to Byfuglien’s positive ones, and has throughout most of their previous five-year deals; plays a higher quality of competition; and has a far greater penalty differential than Byfuglien, with the Jet’s play tending to have calls go against him more often than not.
Giordano carries the lesser cap hit, but for an extra year, and he’ll be far older by the time his contract expires. Though there’s no doubt Byfuglien’s shorter contract term drove up his cap, a sacrifice Winnipeg had to make in order to be comfortable retaining him. Term is important when dealing with older players, because while they’re great now, it’s no guarantee that they’ll be able to keep up their levels of play throughout their contracts – and indeed, Giordano’s lacklustre start to the season did bring at least a mild scare about the inevitably of aging.
But starting next season, Giordano will be the NHL’s ninth highest paid defenceman; Byfuglien, the third. In the immediacy, Byfuglien’s new deal confirms that the Flames got Giordano at a bargain price.
Hopefully, it remains a bargain price for as long as possible. But between this new deal to set the stage for what an elite defenceman could have gotten on the open market (and almost certainly more) and Giordano’s own resurgence as this season has gone on, it’s easy to feel good about him and his future on the Flames, no matter what percentage of the cap he takes up. He’s worth it.