Nashville Predators defenseman Roman Josi has played in exactly 100 career NHL games. In his first two seasons, though, he’s shown that he could be a great defenseman for years to come – and the Predators expressed that belief Monday by signing him to a seven-year, $28 million contract.
“Just turning 23 last week, I think the potential is there for Roman to be one of the best defensemen in the National Hockey League,” general manager David Poile said during Monday’s press conference. Josi was set to become a restricted free agent this summer.
For the last year or so, Josi has often been compared to a younger version of Ryan Suter. And in Suter’s place this season, Josi excelled in the bigger role. He recorded 18 points in 48 games and saw his average ice time increase from 18:23 to 23:31 between his rookie and sophomore seasons.
Through 100 games, Josi seems to be farther along with his development than Suter was at the same age (perhaps because Josi has been given a better opportunity sooner, or that Suter took longer to develop). By no means does that guarantee Josi will end up being a better defenseman, but it’s an encouraging sign for the future.
When Suter earned his first big contract, he signed for $14 million over four years. The $3.5 million salary was a good bargain, but the length of the contract was a problem as Suter left in the first year he was eligible to be an unrestricted free agent.
That’s one reason why the Predators wanted to lock up Josi for seven years. This new contract will take him through his age 29 season and he could become a UFA at 30 years old. Even if the $4 million cap hit seems a bit high now for his age, it will easily look like a bargain if Josi continues to progress alongside Shea Weber.
“I think everybody is on board that Roman is a top defenseman. We’ve seen that in the two years he’s played here,” Poile said. “He keeps getting better and better.”
There is some risk involved with this deal. Not many 23-year-olds receive seven-year contracts, which could get into a youngster’s head. There’s always the risk, too, of a young player reaching his peak before his prime. Not to mention, Josi has a history of concussions that initially halted his path to the NHL.
But again, the Predators are making a smart risk by committing a little extra money now to save more in the future.
“There are risks with everything that you do. We’ve weighed them all out – the benefits of a short-term contract versus the long one that we did, the dollars of a short-term or long-term contract. After lots of thoughts, lots of negotiations on both sides, we both agreed this is where we wanted to be,” said Poile, who mentioned the negotiations involved talks ranging from a one-year deal to eight.
Poile added, “I like the fact that Roman wanted to commit here for seven years. Aside from the money, he committed here for seven years. It feels like it gives us that good foundation and stability that we’ve been looking for as we try to add other pieces to our franchise and move forward.”
By signing a 23-year-old Josi to a seven-year deal, the Predators have gone outside their own modus operandi, if you will. When you think about Suter, Weber and even Pekka Rinne, they were all signed to short-term contracts before hitting the jackpot. Suter signed for four years, Weber three and Rinne two.
Giving Josi this contract is more of a page out of baseball’s book, where these contracts are prevalent with small-market clubs that wish to lock up their youth early. For example, in 2008 Tampa Bay Rays star Evan Longoria was signed to a six-year, $17.5 million deal at 22 years of age after appearing in just six MLB games. While Longoria eventually signed a $100 million deal five years later, Tampa Bay essentially bought out his arbitration-eligible seasons at a discount rate.
That’s essentially what Poile is doing here. If Josi had been signed to a two- or three-year deal, the Predators would have had to pay more money at an earlier time or through arbitration (like Weber in 2011). By the time he is 27, Josi’s $4 million cap hit will be a bargain.
One would imagine Montreal wishes they had taken this route with P.K. Subban, 24, who is expected to win the Norris Trophy. Subban signed a two-year, $5.75 million contract earlier this calendar year and will demand much bigger dollars in 2015.
The happiest Nashville Predator might be Weber, who is ensured of playing with Josi for at least the next seven seasons. The two gelled as a pairing this season and will only become better in the coming years.
“[Weber] loves playing with Roman and I’m sure he’s ecstatic today with that decision,” Poile said. “When you have top players it gives you lots of options. With Josi and Weber on the blueline we’ve got two top players.”