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LA Shouldn’t Need to Break the Bank on Tyler Toffoli’s Extension

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Even if Toffoli’s injury-plagued 2016-17 doesn’t affect his asking price, the market should keep his deal within reason.

NHL: Winnipeg Jets at Los Angeles Kings Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Tyler Toffoli has plenty of reasons to be in a good mood right now.

The Los Angeles Kings were able to sign Tanner Pearson to a reasonable, team-friendly, and painless four-year contract last week, and Toffoli has often been at his best for LA while skating with Pearson. A recent, “minor” knee procedure went well and he’ll be ready for training camp. He even got engaged! Oh, and there’s this: the Los Angeles Kings have at least $10.8 million of cap space going into the summer. And, yes, Toffoli will be getting a decent portion of that money.

There has been speculation that Toffoli’s decline in production this past season would make LA more likely to drive a hard bargain in negotiations this summer. I don’t think Toffoli’s value has changed much, though. For one, agent Pat Brisson claimed that Toffoli “played on one leg” in 2016-17, and injury certainly contributed to this. The larger point, though, is that I think both the Kings and Toffoli realize how important he is to the Kings’ ability to contend next year and down the road, regardless of how many points he had this season. (34, in 63 games, for the record.)

So what should we expect Toffoli’s new deal to look like? Let’s revisit an article I wrote last summer about the impending negotiations. We mentioned five comparables for Toffoli, and they all signed new contracts in the offseason. Looking at them a year later should give us some insight on where Toffoli’s deal might go.

  • Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets. Scheifele got a bonanza of a contract, worth $49 million over eight seasons ($6.125 million Average Annual Value). Any buyer’s remorse? Not even a little. Scheifele racked up 82 points and confirmed that he’ll be the #1 center in Winnipeg for years to come.
  • Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche. He’s only 21, and his seven-year, $44.1 million contract ($6.3 million AAV) was handed out with the promise of future results. So far, no big leap; MacKinnon only had 16 goals and 53 points in 82 games for Colorado. MacKinnon has been lighting up the World Championships with better teammates, though, and he’s got a whole lot of time to earn that money.

It’s clear that Toffoli won’t get Scheifele or MacKinnon Money; those guys are centers who are going to be expected to carry the scoring load for their teams. Toffoli is a complimentary piece, albeit a very good one. (And he’s not a center, no matter what you say, NHL.com!) Now, the other three:

  • Chris Kreider, New York Rangers. Kreider had 53 points as well; unlike MacKinnon, though, that 53 was a step forward which came with plenty of goals. Kreider signed a four-year, $18.5 million deal ($4.625 million AAV) in July of last year, literally minutes before an arbitration hearing. Much like Toffoli, he’s doing his thing with only about 17 minutes of ice time per game.
  • Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues. St. Louis gambled in promising Schwartz $26.75 million over five seasons ($5.35 million AAV) after struggles with injuries in 2015-16, and he did have fewer points this season (55) than in either 2013-14 (56) or 2014-15 (63). But he excelled in the postseason, and it wasn’t a surprise. Like Toffoli, he’s the third-most-used forward on the team, and like Toffoli, his possession numbers and ability to fill the net justify that role.
  • Mike Hoffman, Ottawa Senators. He’s a model of consistency, and with a four-year deal worth $20.75 million ($5.1875 million AAV), the Senators must have been pleased to see Hoffman lead the team’s forwards in scoring. The 27-year-old took a step back at evens but made up for it on the power play.

The three wingers on the above list all fit similar bills; top-three in team scoring, increasing ice time, strong relative Corsi figures, and none have ever posted a shooting percentage below 10% for a full season. (Toffoli’s career low: 9.7%, in both 2013-14 and 2016-17.) Based on those guys, it’s a safe bet to put Toffoli in the $4.5-$5.5 million range per season, especially with the assumption that he gets a 4-6 year contract.

Admit it: that’s more reasonable than you thought it’d be last summer, right? But it makes sense. There are exactly 100 players who make more than $5.5 million per season, and only 25 of them are 27 or younger. Those big contracts generally come when you’re an unrestricted free agent, and Toffoli is still restricted and still under team control.

Now, keep in mind that all three of those guys filed for arbitration, though none actually made it to the hearing. I’m guessing that the agent argues for the Jaden Schwartz deal (5-6 years, $5.25-$5.5 million), and the Kings argue for the Chris Kreider deal (4-5 years, $4.5-$4.75 million), and Toffoli files for arbitration. Where do we settle? My guess is that Toffoli gets at least five years, the Kings reluctantly give him an AAV starting with a 5 (barely), and we’re done with this in July before it gets messy.