It appears that both Eric Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes and Jason Pominville of the Buffalo Sabres are close to signing contract extensions with their respective clubs. Both are set to hit restricted free agency next summer, which makes me wonder where Bob Gainey is at in terms of negotiating a contract extension for Mike Komisarek.
Komisarek is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, as all of you surely know, at which point he'll only be 27 years old and entering the prime years of his career. Based on his incredible improvement over last summer, it's hard to imagine Komisarek won't become one of the league's premier shutdown defencemen this season, if he isn't already among that group.
Gainey has said that he isn't totally against negotiating with players during the season, but his preference has always been to wait until the season ends. Habs fans should be hoping it doesn't come to that with Komisarek.
If the Canadiens make a long playoff run next spring, it will only increase Komisarek's value on the open market because his intangibles are the ones that shine through come playoff time. Simply look at what happened with Jay McKee after the Sabres run to the conference final in 2006. He wound up with an inflated four-year, $16 million contract with the St. Louis Blues because of the shot-blocking clinic he put on in those playoffs.
This is why Gainey needs to get Komisarek's signature on a deal as soon as possible, not because he may be interested in testing the free agent waters - I think it's clear that the guy enjoys playing in Montreal - but because his value today is far lower than it probably will be at season's end. Also, Gainey has a lot of other contracts to deal with next summer, so knowing exactly how much Komisarek will be making would allow him to properly plan his cap space for next season and set his priorities for who he wants to re-sign.
So what exactly is Komisarek worth today? Judging on a couple of recent signings, I'd say he's worth a lot.
Take Andrej Meszaros, a 23-year-old restricted free agent who signed with the Lightning for six years and $24 million. He had a down year last season playing alongside a fading Wade Redden, but his age and potential could justify the dollar figure, and definitely the term of his deal. Meszaros had 101 hits and 100 blocked shots with the Senators last season playing 21:02 per game, and was only a plus-5.
Another recent signing was Keith Ballard in Florida, who inked a six-year, $25.2 million contract extension with the Panthers and thus avoided restricted free agency. Ballard will be 26 when his new deal kicks in, and he had 169 hits and 162 blocked shots playing 21:15 per game with Phoenix last season, posting a plus-7 rating, which was third-best on the team.
Then there's Ron Hainsey, who broke the bank by inking a five-year, $22.5 million deal with Atlanta as an unrestricted free agent this summer. Hainsey is not at all the same style of player as Komisarek, so it's difficult to compare the two other than the fact that Hainsey is 27.
So if Meszaros is worth $4 million per year, Ballard is worth $4.2 million per year and Hainsey is worth $4.5 million per year, with neither of the first two eligible for unrestricted free agency, it can be safely assumed that Komisarek's value starts at the $5 million mark.
Another interesting element to this equation comes courtesy of Raleigh News & Observer columnist Luke DeCock, who by the way got a very deserved promotion after years of extremely solid coverage as the Carolina Hurricanes beat reporter. He writes that the NHL's insurance will only cover contracts up to seven years in length, so any thought of giving a Komisarek a deal in the double-digit term realm of those signed by Vincent Lecavalier, Mike Richards and Rick DiPietro is likely out of the question, especially considering the rugged style of game he plays.
If I had to guess, I would think Komisarek would jump at a six-year contract for the same money Andrei Markov is making, $5.75 million. That would work out to $34.5 million over six years, and I'm willing to bet that would be a huge bargain over the life of the deal, if not next season. Gainey might even be able to get that number down to $30 million over six years, but I doubt it.
If Komisarek is allowed to hit the open market, or even inflate his value by playing this entire season without an extension in place, I don't think he could be had for the same amount.
It really is time for Gainey to wrap up his work for this season by making whatever deal he has in mind as a contingency plan once Mats Sundin says he can't decide whether to have waffles or cereal for breakfast, let alone whether or not he'll play this year. Once he does that, Gainey can focus his attention on getting Komisarek locked up prior to the start of the season so he can then move on to the seven other unrestricted free agents and the four restricted free agents on his roster, starting with the arbitration-eligible Chris Higgins and Tomas Plekanec. More on them soon.