By Andrew Hirsh, Managing Editor | Follow him on Twitter
After acquiring Jordan Staal from the Pittsburgh Penguins during the draft, the Carolina Hurricanes had over a year to re-sign the 23-year-old forward before he became a free agent. But rather than wait it out, Jim Rutherford & Co. got the deal done as soon as possible: 10 years, $60 million, signed on the dotted line just days after the trade.
The Canes wanted to be certain Staal would become a centerpiece in the organization’s future, and they wasted no time making sure that would happen. A smart decision on their part, as time would only present more opportunities for extension plans to crumble.
Fast forward a little more than a month, and the same motivation to preserve the team’s core has led to a six-year extension for Jeff Skinner. As of Wednesday, the former Calder Trophy winner is locked up through the 2018-19 season, keeping him a Hurricane until he’s 27. The new deal will pay him $4.35 million in 2013-14 and $6 million the next five years after that.
“Mr. Rutherford and management have a lot on their plate and the have a lot more contracts to worry about than mine,” Skinner said. “I wasn’t sort of going into this offseason expecting a deal or thinking about it really … now that it’s done and out of the way it’s exciting to move on and start focusing on playing.”
Skinner, 20, tallied 44 points last season as a follow-up to his rookie of the year campaign in 2010-11. Riddled by a concussion that cost him 16 games, he was unable to match the production expected of him after such a successful start to his professional career. However, Skinner had previously put to rest the worry that he would experience a sophomore slump, racking up 21 points in the first 22 games of 2011-12.
Despite his overall dip in production in 2011-12, the Ontario native remains a vital piece to the Hurricanes’ roster and figures to bounce back next fall in a big way. Now surrounded by more talent than ever thanks to the acquisitions of Jordan Staal and Alex Semin, all signs point towards another All-Star calibre year for Skinner.
“Jeff is a cornerstone player for our team, and his long-term commitment to the Hurricanes is great news for our franchise and our fans,” said Rutherford in a press release. “At 20 years old, he is still in the very early stages of his career, and we felt it was important to ensure he would be spending much more of it in Raleigh.”
Given the numbers, it’s clear that both Staal and Skinners’ contracts are based on potential rather than their past production. That’s the one big risk that comes with giving players extensions before they’ve truly had the opportunity to shine.
As it was with Jordan Staal, the Canes had an entire year to re-sign Skinner before he entered free agency. While Skinner would have been a restricted free agent and far more likely to remain in Carolina than if he was a UFA, there was little reason for the Canes to wait.
“We always have concerns about players and the future, but that’s part of the risk that everybody takes when you sign long-term deals,” said Rutherford.
Despite the inherent risks of the Staal and Skinner extensions, the benefits greatly outweigh the gamble. The Canes now have two rising stars locked up for the long term for reasonable costs—an achievement many teams are simply unable to accomplish. In a day and age when overpayment is so common, Rutherford deserves commendation for building the foundation of his team without breaking the bank. Being smart with money is beneficial to any organization; for the Canes, who are one of the smallest markets in the league, it’s imperative.
Additionally, moving quickly to get key players locked up saves the team and its supporters a heap of stress down the road. Imagine if Skinner signed a gigantic offer sheet next summer and forced the Canes into the position the Predators were just in with Shea Weber. Not only has Wednesday’s extension ensured Skinner’s future with the club, but it prevents other general managers from driving up the price to re-sign him, as the Flyers did with Weber.
Luckily for Canes fans, Jim Rutherford didn’t give Paul Holmgren—or any other rival GM—that satisfaction.