The problem of right-handed defensemen (RHD) has been one for a while in the NHL, with teams struggling to find three good ones to slot into their blueline. Last season, there were only 80 of them that played in at least 41 games (half the season), compared to a whopping 111 southpaws.
Of the RHD group, the best are among the league’s elite, with all three of the top Norris trophy vote-getters skating on the right side (Drew Doughty, Erik Karlsson, and Brent Burns). This top group is being paid like the superstars they are, but it’s beginning to present as a trend throughout the league to overpay, through free agency or trade, for some of the mid-level (or bottom rung) talent.
Aaron Ekblad finds himself in that top group, and was rewarded with a whopping $60MM extension before his 21st birthday. The Panthers realized that he was worth $15MM (or, more accurately $1.15MM per season) more than another recent signee, Keith Yandle, despite only buying out four free agent years. This isn’t a mistake, far from it, it’s just the going rate for right-handed talent.
The Oilers were recently affected by it as well; they ended up trading one of the best wingers in the world for a good (and maybe great) RHD because it’s been so long since they’ve been able to find one. The Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson deal is a massive overpay because Edmonton were dead-set on the idea of acquiring a member of the NHL’s smallest communities.
We saw it most clearly when the right-handed Ben Lovejoy received a bigger contract (in total $) than Dan Hamhuis, despite being just 14 months younger than him. Most people would agree that the former Penguin isn’t the player Hamhuis is, but he is right-handed.
Lovejoy will also be earning more per season for the Devils than their own outgoing David Schlemko, who by all rights is a much better defenseman and is capable of about the same production offensively. He’s also more than three years younger than Lovejoy, albeit with a shorter track record to match.
The Maple Leafs even brought back Roman Polak today, a move which had many analysts scratching their head due to the Leafs’ glut of young blueliners in the minor league system. The Leafs know that Polak will be valuable again at this year’s deadline – last season they used San Jose’s need for a RHD to the tune of two second round picks (apologies to Nick Spaling).
It’s this extreme lack of options that makes today’s signing of Jason Demers by the Florida Panthers look so fantastic, as they locked up the top-4, RHD for just $4.5MM per season for the next five years.
When Kevin Shattenkirk is commanding pieces like Dylan Larkin in trade, and Larsson can net you a superstar in Hall, signing right-handed defensemen in their prime to reasonable contracts isn’t something that should be taken lightly – in fact, it’s almost never seen in today’s NHL.