When can the Canucks extend Andrei Kuzmenko, and what’s it going to cost them?
Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
1 year ago
When the Vancouver Canucks won the Andrei Kuzmenko Sweepstakes this past summer, expectations ranged wildly for the 26-year-old KHL winger who had then yet to play a season of North American hockey.
Adjusting to a brand-new style of play and a language barrier, there were those who expected Kuzmenko to struggle a little in the transition, at least at first.
There were others who saw Kuzmenko coming off of 53 points in 45 KHL games and expected him to step into a big league scoring role from the get-go.
So far, the latter group looks to be the more accurate one, but even the foolhardiest optimists in the crowd couldn’t have predicted just how well things would be operating for Kuzmenko in the early going.
Hot on the heels of six goals and three assists through his last five contests, Kuzmenko is now up to 11 points in his first 12 NHL games.
Even better, he’s found immediate chemistry with franchise center Elias Pettersson, linking up regularly at 5v5 and on the power play.
Even better, Kuzmenko has won over the Vancouver faithful with his winning personality; at times shy and reserved, at other times bursting with unmistakable enthusiasm.
Best of all, Kuzmenko has done all this while still looking as though he’s adjusting to a new league, and certainly looks like a player with even more to give once he puts it all together.
Call it an enormously successful signing so far, especially considering that Kuzmenko is doing all of this for the princely sum of $950,000 (plus the $850,000 in performance bonuses that, let’s be honest here, he’s almost certainly going to hit.)
Still, a near-PPG fan favourite for a grand total of $1.8 million, max, against the cap? What’s not to love about that?
Well, if there’s one thing worth complaining about, it’s that Kuzmenko becomes an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of this contract, and that with every roof-raising performance he puts forth, the cost of extending him is rising, too.
But before we get to the “what” of a Kuzmenko extension, let’s get to the “when.”
Hold off on any criticisms of the Canucks’ front office dragging their heels on getting Kuzmenko under a longer contract, because it’s something that they legally cannot do at the moment. Whereas most NHL players can extend their deals as soon as they enter into the final year of a contract — much like JT Miller did this past summer — those players signed to only a single-year contract must wait until they enter the final calendar year of their contract.
In other words, Kuzmenko will not be eligible for an extension until January 1, 2023, a little less than two months from now — which is plenty of time to rack up more goals and assists.
Of course, Kuzmenko is more than free to wait even longer than that before signing an extension. In fact, if he waits long enough, he’ll become a UFA on the open market, and there’s not anything that the Canucks can do about it.
But let’s say that Kuzmenko is, as we all hope, interested in remaining a Vancouver Canuck. Come January 1, 2023, what sort of contract offer might it require to retain his services?
Given the unique circumstances of Kuzmenko’s arrival in the league, contract comparables are difficult to come by, but not impossible.
The most recent NHL star to arrive in similar fashion to Kuzmenko is Kirill Kaprizov of the Minnesota Wild. Whereas Kuzmenko was not drafted, Kaprizov was a fifth round pick of the Wild who stayed over in Russia before finally crossing over at the age of 23.
At that point, Kaprizov signed a two-year ELC with a maximum AAV of $1.39 million, a year of which was burned in 2019/20 despite Kaprizov playing no NHL games. He arrived in the NHL in full force the following year, racking up 27 goals and 51 points in 55 games as a rookie.
Kaprizov’s contract then expired, leaving him as a restricted free agent — an important distinction between his situation and Kuzmenko’s. Either way, the Wild went ahead and handed Kaprizov a five-year, $9 million AAV extension, worth 11.04% of the cap, the following September.
He’s rewarded their faith with 121 points in 92 games since.
A less dramatic example can be found in the Kuzmenko’s teammate and occasional linemate, Ilya Mikheyev.
Like Kuzmenko, Mikheyev was undrafted before signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs as a 24-year-old. Like Kuzmenko, Mikheyev signed a one-year ELC, but because of his age, it had him expire as an RFA, not a UFA.
Mikheyev played only 39 games as a rookie, but notched eight goals and 23 points during that time. Summer negotiations proved tough, and Mikheyev wound up holding out a little bit into training camp before signing a two-year, $1.65 million AAV extension.
Following two more injury-plagued, up-and-down seasons, Mikheyev signed a four-year, $4.75 million AAV UFA contract…with the Vancouver Canucks.
Those two case studies might represent the extreme ends of extension negotiations between Kuzmenko and the Vancouver Canucks, but there’s one more example available that hits a little closer to the bone and may provide that always-valuable middle ground.
We’re talking, of course, about Artemi Panarin.
Like Kuzmenko, Panarin was undrafted and enjoyed a long and fruitful career in the KHL before finally heading over to North America as a 24-year-old.
Because of his age, Panarin played his first two seasons under a two-year ELC that earned him an average of $3.5 million per season, once bonuses were earned. During those two years, Panarin totaled 151 points in 162 games.
With Panarin still an RFA and partway through his second season, the Chicago Blackhawks convinced him to sign a “bridge contract,” lasting another two years in length and upping Panarin’s yearly compensation to $6 million flat, which at the time represented about 8.22% of the cap. They wound up trading Panarin to Columbus before the extension kicked in.
That contract brought Panarin all the way to unrestricted free agency, and when it was up, he signed a seven-year, $11.64 million AAV UFA deal with the New York Rangers.
What does all this mean for Kuzmenko and the Canucks?
It means that, if Kuzmenko keeps scoring at anywhere near the same rate he has been over his entire debut NHL season, the Canucks can safely assume that he’ll be very expensive to retain.
In the above cases, the fact that each player was “new” to the NHL did little to reduce their compensation in the face of their immediate production. And in those cases, teams were mostly negotiating in-house with restricted free agents. Kuzmenko, on the other hand, will have the entire open NHL market ahead of him, and that will only up his ability to ask for more.
Numbers-wise, we don’t see much evidence available for why Kuzmenko would accept anything less than about 6% of the total cap and could see him asking for as high as the 8% that Panarin once earned on his bridge contract.
That puts the expected AAV somewhere between $5 million and $7 million, with plenty of time left on the clock for that range to move around as Kuzmenko’s production fluctuates.
A lot can change between now and January 1, and even more can change between now and the summer. But suffice it to say that, based on early returns, if the Canucks really want to include Kuzmenko in their long-term picture, they better start carving out some salary in their cap books for him now — and, potentially, a lot of it.
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