This is one of the classic moves in the Garth Snow cap/roster playbook: lock in an unproven young player for term at a relatively cheap rate, on a deal that takes the player just short of unrestricted free agency. Pelech will be an RFA again when this deal expires in 2021.)
Coming off his entry level contract as a restricted free agent this summer, Pelech’s new rate is below league average. The catch is that his ceiling isn’t all that high, as he’s basically a positional/territorial defenseman and hardly a point producer.
So while the Islanders will be paying him like a young player who didn’t have much leverage, he’s also likely to basically deliver depth defenseman contributions for that cap hit. If he blossoms into one of their regular top six, then the rate is fine. But if he stalls or becomes a frequent scratch, then even $1.6 million will feel steep.
Because in theory, such third-pairing/seventh man traits can be had any summer for less than $1.6 million or thereabouts on the open market.
But then also in theory, you bet on the youngsters rather than bringing in retreads.
Speaking of which, fellow blueliner Dennis Seidenberg re-signed this spring for one year at $1.25 million entering his age 36 season. And 28-year-old Thomas Hickey is entering the final year of a two-year contract with a $2.2 million AAV signed as an RFA and taking up one UFA year.
So, you can see the range in the salary structure for the Islanders’ “not Nick Leddy or Johnny Boychuk” defensemen. They’ll add another category to that soon in restricted free agent Calvin de Haan, who has an arbitration hearing scheduled for Aug. 2, with a pre-hearing agreement likely to come in somewhere around the $4 million range.
Pelech will be 23 next year and has 53 NHL games to his name. Though his underlying stats weren’t promising last season, he’s alternated with Scott Mayfield and Ryan Pulock in the organization’s pecking order among young defensemen that has shuffled a few times as all three joined Bridgeport and saw NHL debuts.
Pulock, the right-shooter with the heavy shot now poised to step in where Travis Hamonic departed, is positioned to get a regular spot and big role in 2017-18. That will set him up for restricted free agency next summer.
If all goes according to best-case scenarios, that will warrant a bigger payday — and a different category — than Pelech’s.