Canucks Extend Chris Higgins for Four Years


With a day still left before the trade deadline, the Canucks have also extended depth forward Chris Higgins. Per the team:

On the one hand, the cap-hit (reportedly it’s a four year deal worth 10 million dollars) is excellent for a player of Higgins’ not inconsiderable abilities, and we might fairly describe him as having taken a "hometown discount" on this deal. On the other hand, he’ll be a 34 year old depth forward in the last year of the deal, so it’s not without some risk over the medium-term.

Read on past the jump.

Chris Higgins has been a fancy-stats darling for much of his career, and has generally looked particularly good in terms of "zone-start adjusted Corsi." Basically Chris Higgins is elite in puck battles and while he’s not the flashiest skilled player or the most dominant physical presence, he does the little things that help a good team win hockey games. That’s where Chris Higgins is a particularly valuable piece: his two-way excellence makes him an ideal complimentary forward in a top-nine role.

As a bonus, his shooting percentage has rebounded over the past couple of seasons in Vancouver (after three seasons spent shooting the puck at a rate well below his career average), which have given him some offensive value.

Laurence Gilman mostly echoed those sentiments when he appeared with Sekeres and Price on the Team 1040 on Tuesday afternoon. Vancouver’s assistant General Manager described Chris Higgins as having "left a little bit of money on the table," with this deal. Gilman also added that, "Chris HIggins is what we call in this business a seventh forward. He’s a top-level third-line player who has the ability to play in your top-six and can play all three forward positions."

Unforunately Higgins’ underlying numbers have cratered massively this season. He’s way under-water by the possession data, though there is some critical context here. Along with Jannik Hansen, Chris Higgins has played the toughest minutes of any Canucks forward not named Sedin or Burrows this season, and has mostly done so while dragging an out of position winger or an AHL caliber centreman up and down the ice.

I tend to think that the massive dip in his possession numbers will iron themselves out with the addition of Derek Roy and the return of Ryan Kesler. In other words, I doubt that the drop in his possession rates are reflective of any structural diminishing returns in terms of Higgins’ performance. But that’s part of the risk the Canucks are assuming with this deal.

The other risk the Canucks are assuming is that Chris Higgins will continue to be a quality "seventh-forward" three or four seasons down the line. I tend to doubt that he will be, but that doesn’t necessarily make this gamble a bad one. After all, term is one of the mechanisms teams have at their disposal when trying to keep a players cap-hit low.

A final side note is that I’ll be curious to see what the Higgins extension means for Mason Raymond – a pending unrestricted free-agent. Cap space is running out in a hurry for next season and Mason Raymond will be due a significant raise this summer. My snap analysis is that this deal allows us to read the writing on the wall regarding Raymond’s future in a Canucks jersey…