Over the weekend, the NY Rangers wrapped up a huge piece of their future on the back end. Brady Skjei, with 3 RFA years left, got PAID. It was announced on Saturday that the 24 year-old former first rounder will be a Blueshirt for the next 6 years at an average cap hit of $5.25M per. Before I get into my thoughts on the deal, here’s what I wrote up about Skjei in my RFA post from a while back:
Being under team control for 3 more years, Skjei isn’t going anywhere. But after an excellent rookie campaign where he fell one short of the 40-point threshold that puts a blueliner into the offensive upper echelon, Brady could never find his scoring groove. Even when the Rangers were scoring among the top teams in the league early on, he wasn’t much of a contributor. His sophomore slump ended with a mere 25 points despite a significant boost in ice time. But the wheels really came off over the second half of the year. Symbolic of the entire team’s defensive nose dive, no defender in the league finished with a worse plus-minus after the All Star break (-24 over 32 games). By the end of the season it was rookie Neal Pionk & Staal who made up the go-to pairing with Skjei an afterthought. Now obviously that’s not solely indicative of Skjei’s play. The clusterfuck that is Brendan Smith didn’t help & partnering with an injured Shattenkirk before closing the year alongside the likes of Sproul or O’Gara wasn’t ideal. Regardless, we have to acknowledge that the kid many considered a first-pair defender in the making MIGHT not have the ceiling we thought.
Brady Skjei still undoubtedly has a top-4 floor beneath that iffy top-pair ceiling. With plenty of cap room in a rebuilding year, this is about as good of a “buy low” opportunity as they’ll have to solidify their defense for the next few years. Locking him up with a deal similar to the one McDonagh is finishing off in TB (6 years @ $4.7M per) ensures he’s a Ranger through his 30th birthday at an annual cost that’s a safe bet to end up a relative bargain. If the Rangers decide to simply give him a short-term minimal raise from his ELC & he ends up thriving under Coach Quinn then the discount window is closed. Look no further than Philly to see the upside here. The Flyers gave Gostisbehere 6/$4.5M per after a pretty rocky sophomore year. One 65-point season later & their brass look like geniuses. Skjei certainly isn’t that type of offensive dynamo but his physical play, skating ability & willingness to block shots along with 40-point potential can easily prove to be just as valuable regardless of where he is in NY’s top 4.
This is a pretty significant leap of faith here by the Rangers. The term is fine. There’s nothing wrong with locking up a young defender through his prime. That $5.25M AAV just shines the spotlight a little brighter on Brady to reach a new level of his game & match peers like Jaccob Slavin or Hampus Lindholm who have set the bar for young blueliners at that price point. Neither of these guys are household names, but they’re both anchors for their squads eating 23 responsible minutes a night.
When a 24 year-old McDonagh signed his 6-year deal with the Blueshirts he was the same type of blueliner – but while the numbers after their first 3 seasons are virtually identical, Skjei’s got a ways to go to defend like his former captain. That’s not to say he’s got to be a clone of Mac or any of the other guys mentioned. He’s just got work to do to become a player his squad can rely on to deploy in all zones & situations. Based on this new contract, the Rangers seem very confident a new coach & system can mold Brady’s size & skating ability into exactly that. And if the chaotic carousel of sub-par partners was in fact the root cause of last season’s sophomore slump, they’ll be right.