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Why the DeBrusk contract was the most advantageous deal signed of all top-six forwards on July 1st

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Photo credit:© Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports
Tyson Cole
7 days ago
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The Vancouver Canucks made their big splash on July 1st, although it may not have been the one fans expected. It was widely believed that Vancouver was the leader in the Jake Guentzel sweepstakes, as both sides had mutual interest. However, once the Tampa Bay Lightning joined the chat after they made two trades to move out salary (Mikhail Sergachev and Tanner Jeannot) and had an extra day of negotiating with him after acquiring his rights for a third-round pick, it was all but over for Guentzel in a Canucks uniform.
But instead, the Canucks signed Jake DeBrusk to a seven-year, $38.5 million contract that pays him $5.5 million annually.
This is a significant raise from his previous two-year, $4 million AAV contract. DeBrusk, 27, scored 19 goals and 40 points last season in 80 games. While these stats don’t jump off the page, playing with a broken hand for months of the season would definitely hinder your scoring ability. However, once that injury healed come playoff time, DeBrusk elevated his game by leading the Boston Bruins in goals (5) and points (11) in their 13 playoff games.
And while it might not have been the “big fish” Canucks fans sought after, there could be some untapped potential down the line with this contract. I’m not sure you can say the same about some of the other contracts that were signed on July 1st…
Let’s now look into all the other signings around the league and compare them to Jake DeBrusk’s.

Steven Stamkos

The Nashville Predators signed Stamkos to a four-year, $8 million contract. The 34-year-old still has game left, as he has 116 goals and 271 points in 241 games over the last three seasons. However, the sniper found nearly half of his success on the man advantage last season, as 39 of his 81 points came on the powerplay last season. Will Stamkos help Nashville’s powerplay next season? Undoubtably. But this is the first time he’s changing teams, and there will likely be some acclimating he needs to do in a new system with different linemates.
Stamkos is the higher profile player, with a much higher ceiling offensively, but does he offer the same upside DeBrusk down the line? By the time DeBrusk’s contract is up, he’ll be the same age as Stamkos is now. You can already see that the age factor has somewhat already started to hit the new Predators. Stamkos has slowed down in terms of production at 5-on-5 and his skating speed.
At 5-on-5 this past season, Stamkos’ goals for percentage (GF%) and expected goals for percentage (xGF%) dipped below 50% – this means that when Stamkos is on the ice, the team is allowing more goals and expected goals than they’re producing – indicating that as I mentioned earlier, he relies more on the powerplay. When looking into his skating speed on NHL Edge, Stamkos ranked in the 63rd percentile in skating speed in 2022-2023 but dipped to the 57th percentile this season.
A player who’s below the 50% at 5-on-5, whose skating speed is clearly slowing down, doesn’t sound like a player that would mesh well under Rick Tocchet – especially when he’s getting paid as high as J.T. Miller for the next four seasons that will take him to age 38.

Jonathan Marchessault

The Predators not only added Stamkos but also signed ex-Golden Knight Marchessault to a five-year $5.5 million contract. The 33-year-old will turn 34 in December, meaning this contract will take him into his 38th year. Again, Marchessault is another prolific goal scorer in the National Hockey League, and maybe he has some extra tread on the tires due to not becoming a mainstay in the league until 25.
But again, he’s an older winger whose contract doesn’t project to end well. And, let’s be honest: after scoring a career-high 42 goals, he could have demanded more money on the market and signed in Tennessee, which is a no-tax state. So, on the surface, this is probably the one contract that you can point at as the one that looks better than DeBrusk’s. But if he signed in Vancouver, he would probably have had to sign closer to market value at $6.5-$7 million. At that point, give me the upside of DeBrusk’s deal, which is to give surplus value in the later years.

Tyler Toffoli

In what was probably the most shocking signing of the day, the San Jose Sharks landed Tyler Toffoli. The 32-year-old signed a four-year, $6 million deal in what was a move to entice recent first-overall pick Macklin Celebrini to leave Boston University and join the NHL next season. Toffoli is a great goal scorer again, but Canucks fans saw firsthand that he doesn’t have speed and paying him from ages 32 to 36 doesn’t project that that will improve.
As a former Canuck, I’m happy that Toffoli got paid. He took a discount when he was a free agent in 2020, when nobody wanted to spend money, by taking a four-year $4 million deal. But does that mean I’d be excited if the Canucks signed him to this contract? No. The contract doesn’t project to age well, but the Sharks could afford to spend that much during their rebuilding process.

Elias Lindholm

Elias Lindholm signed a seven-year, $7.75 million deal with the Boston Bruins. And while he did fit in well in Vancouver, he was more of a luxury for this Canucks roster. He was brought in to be Elias Pettersson’s running mate, but when the team realized they didn’t like the fit on the wing, he was bumped to the third line, and that’s where he excelled. But no matter how nice it is to be deep down the middle of the ice, if you want to be a competitive team, you can’t pay a third-line centre that hefty of a contract.
The current 30-year-old will be making $7.75 million against the cap until he’s 37 years old. While he showed an offensive explosion centring Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, scoring 42 goals and 82 points in the 2021-2022 season, he’s fallen off offensively. Sure, he’s been a great right-shot faceoff-taking defensive asset, but those roles can be made up in your bottom six for less than $7.75 million annually.

Sean Monahan

The Columbus Blue Jackets signed Sean Monahan to a five-year, $5.5 million contract. While the money is the same, the age is not. While 30 isn’t necessarily old, the fact that he’s been given up on a few times has me hesitant. And in the case of Toffoli, it’s another example of a team near the bottom of the league that needs to overpay to bring in players.
However, Monahan did seem to revitalize his career last season by scoring 24 goals and 59 points split between the Montreal Canadiens and Winnipeg Jets. But that’s just one year. He’s fallen off a steep cliff; who’s to say he won’t do it again between the ages of 30 and 35?

Chandler Stephenson

Boy, am I happy the Canucks didn’t sign this deal. After missing out on the rest of the top-six forwards, the Seattle Kraken signed Chandler Stephenson to a seven-year $6.25 million deal. Stephenson has played well in Vegas, but how much of that had to do with his linemate, Mark Stone?
The 30-year-old centre has proven to be a nice complementary piece, but I am not necessarily sure there have been signs he can truly elevate a line on his own. However, they’re sure paying him like it. Stephenson may struggle to make the contract look like a bargain when he’s slotted alongside Jaden Schwartz and Andre Burakovsky.

Jake DeBrusk

The one thing that I’ve hemmed on in every single one of these players is their age. All of the guys listed above are 30 or above and signed for a minimum of four years, while DeBrusk has three more years until he’s even at the age of 30. The ex-Bruin will be 34 by the time the contract is done. Vancouver is buying into the 27-34-year window in DeBrusk’s career, which will be the majority of his prime years. When comparing that to the other players signed on July 1st, the players are very much on the back end of that prime, if not already out of it.
The problem with today’s free agency is that most of the players signed are 30-ish, and the annual value they sign for at the time will more likely than not match their production level. However, the term they get doesn’t usually mirror that production level, resulting in a steep decline and buyer’s remorse in most cases.
Of the group, DeBrusk has the best all-around game. Sure, he’s not the most offensive guy of the bunch, but that isn’t exactly what the Canucks were looking for/needed. DeBrusk ranked in the 92nd percentile in speed score in the 2022-2023 season and has shown the ability to play with high-end talent in Boston. He comes in as the youngest and the lowest cap hit of the group of players above, with his prime years in Vancouver still to come. DeBrusk fits the age group of the Canucks current core; he provides speed and defensive game along the wings, which the club was lacking so desperately in the playoffs. He’s proven he can elevate his game come the postseason, as he led the Bruins in goals and points last season.
Buckle up, Vancouver; your team may have just landed the best top-six free-agent contract in the class.
Does any of the contracts signed on July 1st provide as high of surplus value down the line as the seven-year, $5.5 million deal Jake DeBrusk signed with the Vancouver Canucks? You tell me.
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