How much will Blackhawks’ Alex Vlasic get on his next contract?

CHICAGO — Blackhawks defenseman Alex Vlasic isn’t one of those players who looks at CapFriendly to compare contracts. He admits his knowledge of contract negotiations is sparse, too.

“I have no idea,” the 22-year-old Vlasic said after a recent practice. “I see a lot of guys go to arbitration. I don’t even really know how all that works. But hopefully … yeah, I don’t know. It’ll be interesting to see in the future, I guess.”

The future is coming fast. Vlasic will be a restricted free agent at the end of this season, and soon his agent will undoubtedly make sure he’s well-equipped with everything he needs to know about how arbitration works, what he could make on short- and long-term contracts, who his contract comparables are and so on.

No one expected Vlasic’s upcoming contract talks to be too complicated when the season began, but with Vlasic taking an unexpectedly large step in his first full NHL season, that’s all changed. The sample size is still small, but he’s having a season that projects him to be an elite defensive defenseman and certainly a top-four defenseman for the Blackhawks going forward. With that and his entry-level contract about to expire, Vlasic could be the first player Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson looks to secure to a long-term contract as part of his rebuild plan. So far, Davidson has been mostly signing players to one- and two-year deals and maintaining his roster and cap space flexibility for further down the line.

Vlasis may be the player to break that trend. He definitely wants to be with the Blackhawks for many years.

“I obviously love playing here,” Vlasic said. “It’s a dream come true being able to play for the hometown team and the same city I grew up in. So, I’d love to play here for as long as possible. That’s definitely in the back of my head. It’s hard for me to really see myself going anywhere else and playing anywhere else right now. So, it’s exciting to think about that, I could be playing here for the next however many years, long term, which would be, like I said, just a dream come true.”

All that said, it’s a matter of whether the Blackhawks can buy his long-term commitment with one significant contract or have to do it over a few contracts. The question Davidson and Vlasic’s agent — he’s represented by Bartlett Hockey — are undoubtedly trying to figure out right now is how much Vlasic is actually worth.

That answer isn’t an easy one. Vlasic’s sample size is part of the equation, but the more he plays at a high level this season, the less that seems to be an issue. All the signs point to his season not being a fluke. And then there’s the fact he’s more of a shutdown defenseman. He’s created some offense, including a few breakaways he’d like another chance at, but he hasn’t produced a ton. He has two goals and nine assists in 49 games this season. If Vlasic sought to take his negotiations to arbitration, his worth would be difficult to argue in a setting where more traditional hockey stats matter most.

But on the other hand, what Vlasic has done on the ice this season is highly regarded within the analytics community. The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn’s model loves Vlasic’s game; his market value has recently dropped a little, but it still has Vlasic’s play this season worth $5 million. Evolving Hockey’s model has Vlasic as the fifth-best defensive player in the NHL this season. Considering the resources the Blackhawks have put into bolstering their internal analytics team, the organization probably knows all that, too.

As with any negotiation, Davidson and Vlasic’s agent will likely have different thoughts on what parts of Vlasic’s game should be valued the most. Both sides will be coming to the table with different priorities.

Whatever the number Davidson would like to get Vlasic at, Davidson is happy to have a young defenseman who appears to have a bright future.

“Alex has been dynamite,” Davidson said in January. “We put him in a lot of different situations last year in Rockford, including power play, to develop some of those puck touches at the pro level and make sure he’s comfortable with the puck. You know what, he’s stepped up and he’s had a hell of a year, really happy with his progression. Again, we had a couple guys last year that we asked them to go put some work in Rockford and he was one of those guys. I think that commitment to his craft and growing his game not necessarily at the NHL level but at the AHL level where he can play a ton of minutes in every situation, and you’re seeing that pay dividends up here. He’s been rock solid.”

This will be a different type of contract negotiation than what Davidson has gone through as a GM. He’s been willing to overpay for veterans as long as they’ve taken short-term deals. Philipp Kurashev was the first young NHL player Davidson really pushed for a team value for in negotiations. That went to arbitration and Kurashev won. But even so, Kurashev only has a two-year contract. With Vlasic, Davidson will probably explore a long-term deal, and with that type of contract, Davidson will want to pay the player fairly but also balance the cap hit with the Blackhawks having to pay Connor Bedard and others in the coming years. Davidson does have some experience in tough negotiations. He worked on Brandon Hagel’s second contract when he was still with the Blackhawks.

So, what could Vlasic get in a new contract?

One of the latest contracts that jumps out in searching comparables is Mattias Samuelsson’s second contract with the Buffalo Sabres. He signed a seven-year deal with a $4,285,716 cap hit. Samuelsson agreed to his extension early on and wasn’t coming off a season like Vlasic will be, but they have similarities in their games. Samuelsson isn’t far off Vlasic’s defensive metrics in Evolving Hockey’s model.

Comparables on CapFriendly to Samuelsson’s contract from the last three years include John Marino (six years, $4.4 million cap hit), Michael Anderson (eight years, $4.125 million), Rasmus Andersson (six years, $4.55 million) and Brandon Carlo (six years, $4.1 million). Those players’ contracts were all around 5-6 percent of the cap ceiling when signed. The short-term comparables, ones signed for 3-4 years, have been more in the 4 percent range.

The cap ceiling now is at $83.5 million. It’s expected to increase to $87.5 million next season. Working with those numbers, 4 percent of next season’s projected cap ceiling would be $3.5 million, 5 percent would be $4.375 million and 6 percent would be $5.25 million. That gives you an idea of what Vlasic could warrant on short- and long-term contracts.

Of course, there are many other factors both sides will consider. How much more is the cap expected to increase? Both sides will want to take advantage of that. Could Vlasic start producing more in the coming years and be worth more on his next contract if he takes a short-term deal now? The Blackhawks have a lot of defensemen on the horizon. Where does Vlasic fit into the big picture among defensemen and then the whole team?

For now, Vlasic isn’t stressing about it. That’s why he pays to have agents.

“I kind of trust whatever they do,” Vlasic said. “I feel like up to this point, they talk to me and include me in the conversations. Obviously, if I agree or disagree, I’ll let them know. But for the most part, they’ve been through it with so many guys and know more than I do, so I trust them.”

(Photo: Perry Nelson / USA Today)

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