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Why Filip Hronek’s contract looks good now and could look even better very soon

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Michael Liu
22 days ago
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Filip Hronek inked an 8-year, $58 million deal, keeping him in Vancouver throughout his prime.
The front-loaded deal carrying a $7.25 million AAV cap hit vaults the Czech defenceman into the 30th highest-paid defenceman in the league. For the first half of the season, Hronek performed up to that billing and then some, but an injury-riddled second half put a bit of a damper on the overall view of his season.
Still, the contract represents very good business. For one, locking up a 26-year-old right-handed defenceman with proven chemistry with Quinn Hughes provides stability moving forward. Hughes knows he has a partner on defence that he can rely on—it’s unlikely Hronek will drop off a cliff anytime soon, either. At 26, there are plenty of prime years left in Hronek before age-related decline creeps into his performance. One question is whether Hronek can buoy his own pairing. However, at the minimum, he’s one-half of the best defensive pairings in the league.
That was definitely not a guarantee with the names in free agency, players who are older and don’t have that proven fit with Hughes. Plus, it would be almost certain that Vancouver would have to overpay in free agency to secure one of those RHD targets.
It’s solid value to get Hronek locked in at the cap hit that he’s at. The $7.25 million cap hit represents about 8.24% of the Canucks’ cap hit for next season. Most of the UFA right-handed defencemen who put up similar production are coming in at a higher cap hit than him, with the only two exceptions being 37-year-old Kris Letang and 30-year-old Mackenzie Weegar. Chances are, Hronek is more likely to reproduce his level of production than those two. As for 24-year-olds Noah Dobson and Evan Bouchard, both will be getting hefty raises after next season, given their roles as their team’s number 1 defencemen. Getting Hughes and Hronek locked up at a combined 17.1% of the cap hit is a pretty darn solid business, especially considering that Darnell Nurse alone takes up 10.5% of his team’s cap space without contributing top-pairing play.
The percentage of cap Hronek’s deal will take up will also continue to decrease, assuming the salary cap continues to rise. That’s especially crucial when managing the elevating hit of OEL’s buyout. Securing Hronek now gives Vancouver a solid picture of their cap situation long-term while allowing them a little more breathing room to add to the rest of the team. Suppose the Czech can keep up his production and improve defensively, especially with him representing a manageable percentage of the cap. In that case, this extension should remain a tidy piece of business for the Canucks as time goes on.
Coupled with the relative scarcity of credible, top-4 RHD, locking up Hronek brings stability to this Canucks team now and going forth. If Vancouver was looking at acquiring any other RHD that could fill the void left by Hronek, chances are it would deplete them of the remaining few trade assets left in the cupboard. That approach is certainly not sustainable – not nearly as much by ensuring that Quinn Hughes’s best d-partner since Chris Tanev (arguably better) sticks around for the next eight years. That’s sure to make the captain of the Canucks happier.
The real benchmark to see how this deal ages is what his peers will be signing on July 1st and as the salary cap continues to rise. The NHL has estimated that the cap ceiling will reach $92 million by the 2025-26 season, just in time for some big RHD contracts to expire. Teams will have more cash to throw around. Knowing NHL front offices, significant numbers will be tossed the way of top-4 RHD in the bidding wars to come. While that’s all going on, Hronek’s cap hit will remain steady, allowing Vancouver to use that money elsewhere more effectively.
And at the tail end of the contract, it shouldn’t bite the Canucks nearly as much as signing Brett Pesce to a similar deal would. By the time his eight-year deal elapses, Hronek will only be 34, which may include one or two seasons of declining play but nothing overly dramatic. The relatively near-expiry date would allow Vancouver to clear an aging piece off the roster without making additional trades or including any sweeteners. If Hronek is underperforming by then, it’s easy to let him walk. Overall, the chances of his contract being an anchor into his early to mid-30s are very slim.
In the end, there are still plenty of things to consider as Hronek returns for his second full year in Vancouver. Can he carry his own pairing? Could he replicate his production away from Hughes, if need be? Can he be more effective in the postseason? Will he be healthy? These kinds of questions are so much better than asking, “Who can play with Quinn Hughes?” It’s no longer as simple as asking Hughes to carry a passenger. Hronek helped unlock a new career high for Hughes, and that’s no easy task. Having that security now and in the future will help this contract age well, even sooner than we think.
 

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