With August now officially upon us, the 2019-2020 season comes closer. With the opening of training camps in early September, many fans will be keeping a close eye on whether or not the massive RFA class will be reporting to camp on time or will continue to be in contract limbo as the season approaches. To date, the list of RFA’s still without a contract are significant because there have never been this many players who are so important to their individual teams without a contract to this point. The RFA list includes Braydon Point, Mitch Marner, Mikko Rantanen, Charlie McAvoy, Zach Werenski, Matthew Tkachuk, Brock Boeser, Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine, and Ivan Provorov among others.
In particular, Provorov is coming off a disappointing third season and is seeking a significant increase now that his entry level contract has expired. As written previously in Part 1 of this article, there is strong reason to believe that Provorov will bounce back with a much stronger year in 2019-2020. Should the Flyers seek to lock up Provorov to a long term contract or go the way of a shorter term bridge deal? What would fair market value be for a player of Provorov’s quality, and what would both the player and the team be looking for in a potential deal? Here is a quick glimpse of his career to date:
While others like Shayne Gostisbehere are more offensively skilled, there can be no doubt that Provorov is currently the Flyers best defenceman when looking at all of the skills required to be a successful NHL defenceman. He moves the puck well, is a good skater who excels at zone entries and exits, is positionally sound, has a high hockey IQ and is counted on in all game situations by the Flyers averaging over 25 minutes of ice time per game last season. That being said, like many Flyers Provorov did struggle with giveaways at crucial times last season and did not have the type of production that was expected after a 17 goal season in 2017-2018 that tied him for the league lead for goals among NHL defenceman. There is no question that Provorov is entitled to seek a significant raise on his next contract, but what figure and term works best for both the player and the team? At the end of last season, Provorov made it clear that he was very happy being a Philadelphia Flyer and that he hoped to have a contract in place prior to going overseas to compete for Russia at the World Hockey Championships which began on May 10, 2019. A long time has passed since without a deal being reached leading to some anxiety about exactly how these negotiations are going. Let’s dive into some of the details that have complicated these negotiations and try to figure out the path that leads to Provorov being back on the ice in time for training camp in September.
The Agent – Mark Gandler
To begin with, there have been a lot of articles written about which type of deal the Flyers should sign Provorov to, but very little have mentioned Provorov’s agent and examined his approach to contract negotiations. Ivan Provorov is represented by NHL agent Mark Gandler, who is a veteran agent representing players since the early 1990’s. Gandler emigrated to the United States from the former Soviet Union in 1976 and graduated from Columbia University with a Masters Degree in Economics in 1981. He translated that degree into a practice representing clients (primarily of Russian background) and really thrived once Russian players began plying their trade in the NHL. Some of his former clients include former Flyers defencemen Dmitri Yushkevich and Danny Markov. He also represents current Flyers prospect German Rubtsov.
Mark Gandler is most noteworthy for orchestrating the Alexei Yashin year long holdout with the Ottawa Senators while the player was in the final year of his contract. For more fascinating reading on this situation and the history of Mark Gandler, I strongly recommend the Globe and Mail article by Dave Shoalts. You can read the article here: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/hockey/agent-provocateur-or-someone-just-doing-his-job/article770527/. It paints quite the picture of Mark Gandler as a tough negotiator who will do whatever it takes to ensure that the needs of his client are being met. Furthermore, Bill Meltzer reported in November of this past year that Gandler was going to be difficult for the Flyers to deal with in order to get Provorov under contract. The link to his tweet is: https://twitter.com/billmeltzer/status/1068545146009063425?s=20.
Mark Gandler can therefore be summed up as a very experienced and knowledgeable agent who is willing to push the envelope when it comes to ensuring that his client gets the right deal for them. He is highly dedicated to his clients and is willing to wait or use more extreme measures to get the offers that he feels are more suitable. So what can we expect from an RFA contract from Mark Gandler? A short time ago, one of his RFA clients signed a new deal after having just finished their entry level contract. That player was Pavel Buchnevich of the New York Rangers. Here are Buchnevich’s career stats thus far in his young career:
Buchnevich broke the 20 goal barrier this past season even though he only played in 64 games. He is still a very young player who is making improvements year by year, but is still awaiting the true breakout season that many Rangers fans were hoping to see from him by this point. Buchnevich signed a 2 year bridge deal worth $6.5 million (3.25 AAV) on July 26th. Many would point out the fact that Gandler and Buchnevich are “betting on themselves” by signing a shorter term contract in order to sign a larger deal in two years time. With the changes to the Rangers roster as well as the continuing progress of the player, it is clear that this type of deal was ideal for Buchnevich to sign as it sets up a larger payday in the future in addition to a final contract once the player is eligible for unrestricted free agency.
What does this mean for Ivan Provorov? Provorov has been very quiet up to this point with unsubstantiated rumors claiming that the defenceman is seeking something in the neighbourhood of 8 million dollars per year. It reflects a disciplined approach by both the player and the agent to do the bargaining behind closed doors rather than publicly (as in the case of Mitch Marner). It also shows that Gandler is flexible in the type of deal that would be desired by his client as long as the term and cash value fits he needs of the player. Let us examine the possibility of a bridge deal first.
Option #1 – The Shorter Term Deal
As mentioned above, a bridge deal is a shorter term deal with a lower cap hit that allows players to get an increase on their entry level deal while allowing them to sign another contract prior to hitting unrestricted free agency. They are usually one or two year deals. Provorov has played three seasons thus far and is 22 years old. He will be eligible for UFA status after 7 seasons in the league which means that Provorov can become a UFA in four years time (after the 2022-2023 season).
This course of action is the popular strategy among RFA’s. Ideally, Provorov and his agent would preferably want to have a 4 year deal in place so that the player can hit UFA status upon the deal’s expiration. This timeline may be tough to navigate as both Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier will need new deals the year prior. Couturier will need a massive pay increase to avoid the temptation of going to free agency after signing a team friendly 6 year deal with a 4.33 million AAV back in 2015. As for Giroux, it would be hard to imagine the captain in a uniform other than the orange and black but he should see a fairly significant salary decrease on his next deal (assuming that his numbers decline from their current levels). After four seasons, Provorov would be eligible as a UFA along with Gostisbehere and James van Riemsdyk. Both players being Flyers by this time is questionable at best with Gostisbehere being mentioned in trade speculation all summer long and JVR potentially being unprotected and claimed in the upcoming expansion draft. By this time, the cap is expected to be much higher with the inclusion of a new U.S. television contract as well as the entry of the new Seattle expansion franchise adding more revenue to the NHL’s coffers.
As for a two or three year deal, the expiry of contracts for Nolan Patrick, Oscar Lindblom, Carter Hart, Phillipe Myers, and Travis Sanheim (among others) make a two or three year deal pretty much impossible for the Flyers to take. It would be too many important contracts to negotiate in those respective seasons to ensure that all of those key pieces remain in Philadelphia. Therefore, it seems unlikely that a bridge deal were to happen. Rather, a shorter term deal for four years would seem to satisfy both the team and the player more adequately. That being said, there would be a little uncertainty for the team to navigate all of the other contracts and moving pieces in order to make this work.
In their nbcsports.com article a few days ago, Jordan Hall and Brooke Destra argued whether Provorov should be signed long term or with a bridge deal. Brooke Destra argued that for her the bridge deal would be ideal and predicted a 3 year deal with an AAV of 5 million dollars. She points out that this deal would be advantageous to the player as it would allow for another contract to be signed before the player hits UFA status. To me though, this type of deal would be ridiculous from both the players standpoint as well as the team’s standpoint.
Firstly, a 5 million AAV is far too low. Provorov is Philadelphia’s best defenceman and as such should be paid like it. That means that he would have to be paid more than the 5.75 million that Matt Niskanen who is currently the highest paid defenceman on the Flyers. Naysayers will point to the down season and how the bridge deal should mean a lower cap hit so that the player can prove their worth for their next deal. Provorov and Gandler will not accept this and quite frankly I wouldn’t either if I was in their position. Secondly, it ignores the contracts that need to be done with the other key players currently on the Flyers. The Flyers need the time and flexibility to make a concerted effort to get all of those players signed. There is no sense in having a term under 4 years as it would be problematic to get that number of contracts done with young core players.
To me, the ideal bridge deal (shorter term deal) would have to be an AAV of around 6.5 million for four years in order to work for both the player and the team.
Option #2 – The Long Term Deal
Any deal that takes Provorov past the four year mark and eats into the players UFA status years would be considered a long term deal. The Flyers have the right to sign Provorov to a maximum term of 8 years as he would be resigning with his current team as an RFA. Eating away years of free agency when a player stands to make the most money in their career means that players and agents want to be compensated for those years. That means that the AAV and overall salary would need to be increased to make up for the player not hitting the UFA market sooner.
Jordan Hall of the previously mentioned nbcsports.com article referenced that he felt that a five year deal with a 6 million AAV would be what Provorov was likely to get. Conversely, Anthony Di Marco of The Fourth Period argues that when looking at comparable players and the salary cap situation, a long term deal could absolutely be pushing the 8 million dollar per year mark. In his article on www.thefourthperiod.com, Di Marco compares Provorov with Florida Panthers defenceman Aaron Ekblad who signed an 8 year deal with a 7.5 million AAV in 2016. He argues that the cap has only gone up since then and that Provorov and his representatives would want to use this contract as a comparable. Here are Ekblad’s stats:
Ekblad’s stats are highly comparable to Provorov’s in many ways. Provorov’s career high in points is 41 and you can argue that his usage in terms of ice time make Provorov a more important player to the Flyers as compared to Ekblad’s importance to the Panthers. Furthermore, while many view the Ekblad deal as a classic case of overpayment, it banks on what the player is expected to become which also can be applied to Provorov. As noted in my last article, Provorov is a prime candidate to have a rebound year based on the Flyers player acquisitions as well as adopting Alain Vigneault’s new systems and style of play.
Others (especially those in the analytics community) will argue that the best comparisons for a new Provorov contract will come from fellow RFA’s Charlie McAvoy of the Boston Bruins and Zach Werenski of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Even GM Chuck Fletcher basically admitted that there may not be a lot of progress on a new del until other contracts around the league sort themselves out. Here is a look at the career stats of both McAvoy and Werenski:
Both players are very comparable to Provorov, but would the Flyers rather use these two young players rather than Ekblad to get Provorov to sign? It seems that all three young defenceman seem to be waiting on one of the others to sign first in order to set the market. Chuck Fletcher should be very cautious here. It seems that his strategy is to wait for either McAvoy or Werenski to sign, hoping that they come in on a team friendly deal that can then be used to ink Provorov. Is it worth the wait though?
According to the Athletic’s Fluto Shinzawa, McAvoy and his representatives are looking at the Ekblad long term deal as the basis for a new contract. McAvoy has repeatedly stated that he loves playing in Boston and that if he could, he would play there “forever”. The Bruins are up against the cap with only about 8.1 million in cap space and also have to sign Brandon Carlo. With little to no wiggle room, is it reasonable to believe that McAvoy will take a team friendly deal and sacrifice dollars that he and his agent feel he deserves? That may be a stretch and even the most optimistic of fans may wonder why David Backes was not bought out to get a deal rolling at this point. If nothing changes, I can definitely see McAvoy not being there at the start of training camp to put pressure on an already thin Bruins blueline.
As for Werenski, reports are that he and the Blue Jackets are not close to a new deal. For me, Werenski is the key to getting all of the RFA defenceman signed. The Blue Jackets lost Bobrovsky, Duchesne, and Panarin this offseason. There is going to be massive pressure on the Blue Jackets to get Werenski signed. The Werenski camp knows this and absolutely have the upper hand in the negotiations. Columbus desperately needs to convince its fan base that they have players who want to commit long term to the team and to the city. I see Werenski getting signed first because the Blue Jackets offseason means that they need all of the bodies they can to be at camp healthy and ready to start the season. If Werenski does not show to camp and the Jackets start the season slow, management and ownership will only feel increased pressure to give in to the players demands.
These are very good comparables for Ivan Provorov, but I feel that Fletcher should not wait for McAvoy or especially Werenski to set the market. There is a very real potential that playing such a waiting game will most likely still result in a massive contract heading Provorov’s way. Like Columbus, the Flyers cannot afford to start another season slow especially with a new coach and a disillusioned fanbase. Every effort needs to be made to have every player ready to report to camp and start the season. As for the high AAV needed to secure a player like Provorov, after a setback season those concerns are valid. But as discussed in the last article, there is a high probability that Provorov returns to form and continues making improvements to his game and definitively entrenching himself as a top pairing defenceman. Those who defended the Kevin Hayes contract noted that the cap will be expected to increase quite a bit in the coming years and that the Flyers needed to fill a hole on their roster. I would argue that Provorov is far more important than Hayes to the Flyers and that those same reasons should be enough to justify a long term deal.
To me, the best long term deal that fits the needs of both the player and the team would be a six year term with an AAV of around 7.25 or 7.5 million per year.
This article outlined the following 2 options to sign Provorov (give or take 250K either way):
4 years X 6.5 million AAV
6 years X 7.5 million AAV
If it were me, I would rather do the 6 year deal. I feel that the long term deal will turn out to be very beneficial to the Flyers going forward. It does seem like a lot now, but in a few years time it has the potential to really be favorable to the club. I am betting that Provorov turns his season around and will turn out to be well worth the contract that is signed. If he disappoints, he is still a young and talented defenceman who many teams would be willing to acquire. Fletcher did not wait to get all of his business done in the offseason with the acquisition of new players. He should not wait any longer to get this deal done either. Mark Gandler will not advise Ivan Provorov to take less than he is worth. Bite the bullet and get the deal done, as waiting is more likely to have negative consequences for both the team and the player.
Do you agree or disagree? Feel free to leave a comment or leave a response via twitter.
Until next time from Preaching to the Flyer on BrotherlyPuck.com, I remain
Manny Benevides @mannybenevides‘
photo credit: nbcsports.com