With the news that Steve Mason has signed a two-year extension with the team, the RFA extension conversation can now be focused on winger Jakub Voracek. The budding star winger has been steadily improving since breaking into the NHL two seasons ago. You'll recall a comparison I made between Jake and Chicago's Marian Hossa, if you're like me and believe that these two players are a fair comparable then this season should prove to be Jake's breakout season.
If in fact Jake does take the next step in his third season, he could be looking at a 65 to 75 point season, provided he's healthy for the year. I am of the opinion that the team, and likely Jake, would rather wait until the end of the upcoming season to sign an extension.
I look at the extension that Anaheim Ducks winger Bobby Ryan signed last week as a potential contract comparable. Ryan just completed his third season, in which he broke out with 35G-29A-64PTS, after putting up 57 points the season before, and 10 in 23 games his rookie year. His deal was for five years, 25.5 million.
The dollar breakdown for Ryan's contract (via Cap Geek) is 3.25 million the first season, followed by 5.5625 million per season for the remaining four. The cap hit works out to 5.1 million per season.
The Jackets are a team with an internal budget, but they are willing to spend close to the cap, as evident by their 53.4 million dollar payroll this season. This makes the dollars involved in a contract more important than the cap hit, but Ryan's contract is built to have little discrepancy between dollars and cap hit. Scott Howson would likely do the same with a Voracek contract.
Like Ryan, it would make sense to sign Jake for a 5 year term, it gives the player security into his late 20s and for the team it doesn't handcuff them long term if Jake's play were to plateau.
The approximately 5.5 million salary and 5 million cap hit are also seemingly fair value based on age and production.
To fit Jake's new contract, the Jackets will more than likely need to let go of a pair of veterans next season. Ethan Moreau and Chris Clark are unrestricted free agents next season, and together they earn 4.25 million in salary with a 4.63 million cap hit this season. Jake's new contract would eat up all of that cash, but if you factor in Jake's salary and bonuses this season, that covers his new contract.
The issue would then become how do you replace Moreau and Clark? Center Sammy Pahlsson is under contract and anchoring the checking line. Derek Dorsett and Jared Boll are bottom-six players who are also under contract. Andrew Murray is a player who is a UFA after this season, and he could be an inexpensive option on the fourth line to replace Clark. Or a similar player with more experience could be signed from the bargain bin. A young player like Matt Calvert would likely be relied on for a bottom six role as well next season.
Essentially to get Jake locked up, with little net increase in salary, is to not re-sign Moreau and Clark and replace them with cheaper options in-house. There will be a loss in leadership, but every player will be a year older, including Jake- who is a high character player who could wear a letter in due time.
It's an absolute priority to get Voracek signed to an extension. If all goes well, he will make the move to the top line with Rick Nash this season on a permanent basis, and have his breakout year. Bobby Ryan money makes sense on a few levels as I have pointed out above, it will be interesting to see how the numbers shake out and what kind of season Jake has this year.