Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
What is a fair extension value for Canucks’ Ethan Bear?
8 months ago
As we write these words, the Vancouver Canucks (and everyone else) are exactly one month away from the opening of the 2023 Free Agent Frenzy.
But as far as their own pending RFAs and UFAs are concerned, it’s already open season, and extensions are eligible to be signed at any point in time.
They just haven’t yet.
Vitali Kravtsov has gone back to Russia. Nils Höglander will get a new contract, but not much of a pay-bump. Same goes for Akito Hirose. Most fans hope Kyle Burroughs comes back under similar terms, but that remains to be seen.
All of those are fairly low-stakes situations, with simple enough negotiations that aren’t expected to break the bank by any stretch of the imagination.
The only internal contract negotiation that might get interesting is the one that most would also consider the most important, and that’s an extension for Ethan Bear.
We already conducted our Year-in-Review for Bear a week or so back, and we found the results of his first season in Vancouver to be enormously positive.
Bear skated well, defended effectively, and provided a modicum of offence, but his real gift was the demonstrably positive impact he seemed to have on any and all defenders who were paired with him.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, for example, only played passable hockey when partnered with Bear. He even managed to make a player as good as Quinn Hughes look even better.
In other words, Bear was a difference-maker for the Canucks in 2022/23, and undoubtedly a part of their top-four.
But when it comes to contract negotiations, the more important question is this: is Bear actually a top-four defender, as in on a leaguewide-average basis?
And does he deserve to get paid like one?
That’s what we’re here to determine today.
In estimating a fair contract value for Bear, we’ll first look at his offence, even though it’s not his calling card. After all, counting stats are typically the first and most prominent factor in any extension negotiations.
Bear’s 16 points might not sound like a lot, but it did rank him 130th or so in defensive scoring for 2022/23, meaning he was just at the tail-end of “top-four production” in the simplest terms (with 4×32 being 128).
Had Bear been given a cap hit in line with his production (as in, the 130th-highest among NHL defenders), he’d be sitting at exactly $2 million AAV.
Like we said, offence isn’t exactly his specialty, so we think Bear will ultimately wind up making more than that. But $2 million AAV is a nice, easy floor for our negotiations.
Bear’s overall ice-time had him ranked somewhere in the 140s, leaguewide, but his average even-strength ice-time of 16:37 had him in a tie for 115th which can again be seen as being at the low-end of “top-four.” Had Bear been paid in accordance with that, he’d be somewhere in the $2.3 million to $2.5 million range.
As can be expected for someone who plays effectively in their own end, all of the more advanced stats suggest that Bear belongs a little higher up the NHL defender rankings than that. His 2022/23 Corsi was ranked 107th, and both his expected goals rate and control of high-danger chances ranked in the top-100.
That should pretty much seal it as far as the question of Bear’s top-four quality. In the 2022/23 season, at least, he was a top-four defender by any standard.
The bandwidth of NHL defenders with the 100th to 130th-highest cap hits in 2022/23 was a range of about $2-3 million.
It seems perfectly reasonable to slot Bear’s next contract somewhere in that range, too.
Bear’s camp will point to his importance to the Canucks, and his impact on teammates, as reasons why he belongs closer to the $3 million side of that argument. The Canucks will point to his status as a bottom-pairing D/healthy scratch in Carolina prior to arriving in Vancouver as reason to shave a little bit off his AAV.
We imagine that it will come down to a question of term, which is always a little trickier to figure out.
Or maybe it’s not. We had a look, and only 21 active defenders in recent history signed contracts with an average of between $2 million and $3.5 million at between the ages of 23 and 27 (Bear is 25).
Of those players, ten signed three-year extensions. Seven signed for four years. One each signed for one-, two-, five-, and six-year terms.
So, the vast majority of players in Bear’s position sign for a term of three-to-four years, and the expectation should probably be that he does, too.
Which brings us to the comparables.
Teams and agents alike often bring the contracts of comparable players to the table to firm out negotiations, and we’re bringing in Jake Walman, Ryan Lindgren, Andrew Peeke, and Zach Whitecloud.
Walman makes sense as someone who was recently struggling to make it in another organization before catching on with the Detroit Red Wings. He was a little older than Bear (27) when he signed his recent three-year, $3.4 million extension, and Walman had been relied on a little more heavily by the Red Wings than Bear was in Vancouver, to the tune of almost 20 minutes a night.
Lindgren signed at the same age as Bear is now, and although he’s a leftie, otherwise fits the Bear profile quite closely as a defender who skates in the top-four and often on the top-pairing, but is generally seen as more of a complementary presence there. Lindgren signed for three years at a $3 million AAV.
Peeke might be the best comparable we find. He’s a RHD, signed at 25, posts the same sort of counting stats, and is seen as someone probably playing too heavy of minutes on a sub-par blueline. Peeke signed for three years at a $2.75 million AAV.
Lastly, we have Whitecloud as a bit of an outlier. He’s probably the best of the bunch here, even if he plays the fewest minutes on a crowded Vegas blueline. He signed at age 26 to a $2.75 million cap hit, but the Golden Knights needed to hand him six years in term to get him down to that number.
Of those comparables, we think that the Canucks will probably zero in on Peeke as exactly what they’re looking for with Bear’s next contract. A three-year term allows the team the flexibility it needs to continue building up the blueline around Bear, and a sub-$3 million AAV likely prevents Bear’s contract from ever getting in the way of that.
So long as his play stays relatively steady, it’s not a contract that will ever become a boat-anchor. Should Bear continue to improve from here on out, it’s still long enough to be considered a bargain.
We sort of promised a hard number with our headline, so we’ll arrive there now and say:
Three years at an AAV of $2.85 million
as our final, official estimation of a fair contract extension for Ethan Bear with the Vancouver Canucks.
Of course, real negotiations are always a little more complicated than that, so time will have to tell how close we got it.
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