The season before he signed his since-bought-out four-year, $18-million deal with the Calgary Flames, Troy Brouwer was already playing himself towards a raise. At the time, Brouwer was in the final campaign of a three-year pact that paid him $3.67-million per season and was scoring at an 82-game rate of 21 goals and 42 points across the lifespan of the deal. Chances were he was about to become a nearly $4-million man no matter who brought him aboard.
But then the post-season came around, and with it an almost overnight escalation in Brouwer’s asking price.
During those 2016 playoffs, which preceded the 2016-17 signing season, Brouwer went off offensively. A modest playoff performer in the past, he was seemingly imbued with the spirit of some of the great power forwards of yesteryear, and the result was an eight-goal, 13-point post-season that saw his list of suitors undoubtedly grow and the dollar figures attached to those offers surely rise in anticipation of a potential bidding war. The end result was what at the time was considered by some and can now confidently be called an overpayment. The four-year contract with the Flames carried a $4.5-million cap hit, and it took two seasons – during which time Brouwer scored 19 goals, 47 points and watched his ice time diminish – before Calgary cut ties with the veteran winger via buyout.
It’s in that sense that Brouwer’s contract is a cautionary tale about paying based on single-season playoff performance, no matter how spectacular that output may have been. Of course, this isn’t to pick on or single out Brouwer. He’s hardly alone in post-season performance greatly impacting his free agent price tag. Others in the past, and others still in the future, will see their stocks either significantly rise or fall due to post-season performances. And with the off-season on the horizon and the Stanley Cup final nearly set, here’s a look at several players who have seen a notable change in stock over through the playoffs:
Duchene had already done wonders for his free agent stock with his performance during the regular season, which saw him set a new career-high with 31 goals and match his previous career-best with 70 points by the end of the regular season. But Duchene should – and likely will – have an added bit of bargaining power thanks to his post-season performance. In his first trip to the playoffs since 2013-14, Duchene was everywhere. In 10 games with the Blue Jackets, he scored five goals and 10 points, including the game-winning tallies in two of Columbus’ six post-season victories.
Duchene is already a top free agent and he’s going to be paid handsomely. But his price tag could have another couple-hundred thousand dollars attached to it thanks to his play in the post-season.
If Dzingel had finished out the campaign in Ottawa, where he was scoring at a 32-goal, 63-point pace this season with the Senators, who knows what his asking price could have been. It would have been a marked increase in production – nearly 10 goals and more than 20 points – from his previous career-best offensive totals, and Dzingel might have been in line for a couple-million dollar raise into the $4-million range, if not higher. But his time in Columbus isn’t going to help his case. Dzingel’s offense dipped during the regular season with the Blue Jackets and cratered in the post-season, where he was even made a healthy scratch at one point.
There’s still going to be interest in a versatile, 20-goal forward such as Dzingel, but his bargaining power was likely slightly weakened by a tough time in Columbus.
It’s one thing to get the job done as part of a platoon in the regular season. It’s another to stand tall when the bright lights of the post-season are shining squarely on your crease. But Lehner did both this season. Not only did he turn in the best numbers of his career and earn himself the William M. Jennings Trophy as the netminder of the team with the fewest goals against – an honor he shared with teammate Thomas Greiss – but Lehner kept it going in the playoffs. In fact, after posting a .930 save percentage and 2.13 goals-against average in 46 regular season appearances, Lehner bettered those numbers with a .936 SP and 2.00 GAA. Admittedly, eight games is a far smaller sample, but Lehner proved he can consistently post those numbers against top competition in big games. There’s value in that, and he’s due for an even greater raise because of it.
Five consecutive seasons of at least 24 goals and 45 points and an average of 30 goals and 56 points over that span had Simmonds looking like a prime free agent candidate come the off-season. His regular season performance, however, hurt him, as he managed only 17 goals and 30 points in 79 games this season while slipping down the lineup, and he didn’t help his case once he landed with the Nashville Predators. In 17 games down the stretch, he scored one goal and four points, and he didn’t manage to find the scoresheet in the post-season. Granted, he only played one full game before suffering a lower-body injury in Game 2 of the opening round, but his overall performance hurts.
Maroon was a curious case last summer. After consecutive 40-point seasons, some believed Maroon was in line for the kind of big-money, long-term deal that teams come to regret. Instead, he had to wait more than a week after the opening of free agency to find a fit and he did so by taking a hometown discount to be closer to his son in St. Louis. Matter of fact, he’s earning a full $250,000 less this season than he was before some solid years with the Edmonton Oilers. But Maroon’s play with the Blues this post-season is going to ensure he gets a nice deal on the open market, especially from teams hungry to add size and depth scoring. Maroon’s three goals and seven points in 18 games aren’t earth-shattering totals, but they’re sure to be enough to create some summer intrigue.
This isn’t meant as a knock against Mrazek, who was a season-saver for the Hurricanes and made a difference with his play down the stretch, but rather to say that his post-season play is likely to reduce the price Carolina is willing to pay to keep the netminder around next season, which is what they seem certain to do.
During the regular season, Mrazek turned in a solid .914 SP and 2.39 GAA to go along with four shutouts across his 40 appearances, but he simply couldn’t find the same form in the playoffs. Though he had some good outings, including a 31-save goalie-duel victory over Lehner and the New York Islanders in Game 1 of the second round, Mrazek struggled with consistency and ended up ceding the starting job to fellow unrestricted free agent goaltender Curtis McElhinney by the end of the Hurricanes’ four-game defeat at the hands of the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference final. Finishing with an .894 SP in the post-season isn’t going to do much to get Mrazek, who earned $1.5 million this season, the raise that he could have earned if his regular season performance carried over to the playoffs.
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