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Did the Coyotes sign Nick Schmaltz to a bad contract?

Recently the contracts for Nick Schmaltz, Christian Dvorak, and Jakob Chychrun have met with criticism, but are they really that bad?

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Vegas Golden Knights v Arizona Coyotes Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images

General Manager John Chayka has an interesting approach to his younger players. Jakob Chychrun, Christian Dvorak, and Nick Schmaltz have all been signed to mildly high, long-term contracts. Per Capfriendly, Chychrun is signed to a six-year, $27.6 million deal, Dvorak to a six-year, $26.7 million deal, and Schmaltz to a seven-year, $40.95 deal. If the players work out they will be locked in for years to comes on relatively inexpensive deals, if they don’t then the Arizona Coyotes are stuck overpaying players for the foreseeable future.

Since the very beginning, Chayka signing younger players to deals with long terms have been met with skepticism, and that hasn’t changed. In his grading of each team’s contract efficiency Dom Luszczyszyn using GSVA and the cost of a win on the open market gave Schmaltz and Dvorak D+, while Chychrun’s deal got a B.

It’s a commendable move given most RFAs are underpaid for their future services, but I’m not sure I get it for the players they did it for. It’ll likely work for Jakob Chychrun, but I don’t see it for Nick Schmaltz and Christian Dvorak. Both are fine, but they’ll need to massively step up in order to be worth their cap hits, and they haven’t shown enough to suggest they can – though pairing Schmaltz with Kessel should help.

Ken Campbell specifically doesn’t like the deal that Schmaltz has. In a piece on “untradeable” contracts, Schmaltz is listed at seventh among players like Ryan Suter, Zach Parise, and the recently-signed Kevin Hayes.

This one could end up being a sneaky bad one for the team. . . He’s currently signed for seven years with a $5.9-million cap hit, but that’s a lot of term and money to a player who has proved himself in exactly one NHL season to this point.

As Luszczyszyn alludes to, the traditional logic for restricted free agents is that you sign them to shorter deals for less money. This can backfire: after P.K. Subban was signed to a “prove it” bridge deal, he won the Norris Trophy in 2013 which led to him getting an eight-year, $72 million deal.

The fact that Schmaltz and Dvorak missed significant time last season is key to the negative opinion on the deals. Schmaltz was limited to 17 games last season with the Coyotes and Dvorak was limited to 20. Schmaltz did shine in those 17 games, notching five goals and nine assists and finding chemistry with Clayton Keller leading to Keller playing some of his best hockey. Dvorak was limited to two goals and five assists in 20 games, but he is on a cheaper deal and with recent rumors that his name came up in trade talks so you probably can’t justify calling him untradeable.

Schmaltz has already eclipsed 20 goals once before, and seemed poised to do it again with the Coyotes. He did post an exceptionally high 17.8 shooting percentage during that season and during his time in Arizona which seems unsustainable, but playing with Clayton Keller or Phil Kessel should help him. If he does become a perennial 20 goal scorer then $5.9 million will be an absolute steal.

It is generally accepted that forwards play their best hockey in their mid to late twenties. The deals that the Coyotes have signed Schmaltz, Dvorak, and Chychrun lock them up in those sweet spots. Unlike most long term contracts given to players in their middle or late twenties we aren’t likely to see any of these players significantly decline in the final years.

If you look at the rest of the players on Campbell’s list you will see that all other players are either in their thirties or have deals that will take them well into their thirties. Schmaltz, on the other hand, will be 30 at the end of his deal, Dvorak will be 29, and Chychrun will be 27. While age doesn’t have a perfect correlation with ability, it seems far less likely that these three players will see a significant decline as they approach the end of their deals.

I may be biased but I like the deals. The Coyotes are betting on their young players continuing to get better, and I think all three players will improve. Of the three Schmaltz specifically seems like he will be a key piece of the Arizona offense and I wouldn’t be surprised if he sets career highs next season. It’s easy to look at the deals and think that the players haven’t earned them yet or that they are a gamble. But every contract is a gamble and I think it’s smarter to gamble on younger players on the rise rather then older players on the decline.