Jake Oettinger contract: What are the sticking points with the Dallas Stars?

In the latest display of Stars Hockey, Jake Oettinger was the star of the show. There had been “welcome to the NHL” moments – standing on the lead in Colorado on Feb. 15 or surpassing future Hall of Famer Marc-Andre Fleury in Chicago on Feb. 18 – but a save percentage of .954 over a seven-game series against Calgary – and against a few 100-point scorers while facing a Vézina finalist – was the signature introductory moment.

This performance couldn’t have come at a better time for Oettinger, who entered the offseason as a restricted free agent due to a new contract. While Oettinger’s playoff performance heralded his arrival in the hockey world, there is still no new contract, and that could cause reasonable concern with the opening of training camp next month. .

By all indications, there has been little dialogue between the two sides, even though each side has made their feelings for the other very clear. According to sources on both sides, Oettinger, who relies on his agents for the business side and is not directly involved in negotiations, wants to stay with the Stars. The Stars, who traded in the first round of the 2017 draft to select Oettinger, believe he is their future and have no reservations about Oettinger as a person.

What then causes the impasse?

One of the problems is the lack of comparable contracts. Among the top 40 goaltenders by average annual values, ranging from Carey Price’s $10.5 million to Kaapo Kahkonen’s $2.75 million, only one goaltender was as young as Oettinger when he signed his contract. That goalie is Carter Hart, who agreed to a three-year, $11.9 million ($3.979 million AAV) contract last summer, just days before his 23rd birthday. Oettinger turned 23 on December 18.

Hart had a bigger sample than Oettinger, starting 95 games in three seasons before landing his contract. In his first two seasons, he recorded save percentages of .917 and .914 while starting 30 and 40 games, respectively. However, in the season leading up to his contract last summer, Hart recorded an .877 save percentage in 25 starts during the 56-game season.

In 2020-21, Oettinger started 24 games as a rookie during the 56-game season and was the Stars’ top goaltender with a .911 save percentage and a 2.36 goals-against average. . Despite being relegated to the AHL to start the season, Oettinger started 46 games last season and had a .914 save percentage, including streaks in which he performed like one of the NHL’s top goaltenders and a major late-season streak in which he was asked to carry the Stars alone due to a lack of options behind him. He followed that up with one of the best goaltending performances in NHL playoff history.

Oettinger has 25 fewer regular-season starts under his belt than Hart when he signed his contract last summer, but he’s essentially the same age and is coming off a much better season and playoffs. Hart’s $3.979 million isn’t the only data point, but given the age and production parallels, Hart is seen as a starting point for what Oettinger deserves.

If $3.979 million is the baseline, how far does Oettinger’s figure go? Midway through the 2020-21 season, Vancouver handed fellow American goaltender Thatcher Demko a five-year, $25 million deal for a $5 million AAV. At the time Demko signed his contract, he was older than Oettinger today (25-23), had a smaller sample size (59 starts to 70 starts), and had lower career stats (.911 save percent and 2.92 GAA to .913 save percent). and 2.46 GAA).

The 13 goaltenders above the $5 million AAV mark are some of the most established players, many of whom have Stanley Cup and/or Vezina considerations. There were a number of other players considered by Oettinger’s camp to be comps, but these few deals from last year show where the valuation of a contract between $4m AAV and around $5m AAV dollars comes into play.

The Stars have their own considerations which make meeting this award somewhat difficult. The first is their salary cap situation. Dallas has an $11.4 million cap, but must incorporate Oettinger and Jason Robertson, who just completed a second Calder Trophy season and a 40-goal season to start his NHL career. Robertson’s contract will certainly be more expensive than Oettinger’s. According to one source, these negotiations had their own obstacles.

If the Stars met Oettinger’s camp at their desired minimum price, that would leave the team just over $7 million to sign Robertson. That could still be enough for Robertson to sign a bridge deal, but barring a hometown discount, a long-term deal would require north of $8 million. Oettinger’s camp understands the Stars’ cap situation, including the possibility of potentially cashing in in 2025, but that won’t result in a steep discount.

The other factor for the Stars is caution. Perhaps more than any other position in hockey, the development path for goaltenders can be unique. Oettinger’s rookie season is a good example. Oettinger didn’t get any votes from Calder, but six goalkeepers did in the 2020-21 season. Of those six, four are no longer with the squad they played for as a rookie just two seasons ago. The other two guys finished in the top six in Vezina voting last season, including 2022 winner Igor Shesterkin. While the Stars have liked what they’ve seen from Oettinger so far, they’re tasked with making sure they don’t overreact to Calgary’s playoff run — or just the overall size of the sample of two seasons, one of which was shortened.

Where the Stars’ cautious reasoning with Oettinger loses weight is that they’ve had a cautious approach with Oettinger, arguably mistakenly, throughout his fledgling career so far. At every turn, Oettinger overcame their fears. The Stars didn’t want Oettinger to play in the NHL in 2020-21, but Ben Bishop’s injury and lack of other options forced their hand. The team then wanted to harbor Oettinger as No. 2, but Anton Khudobin’s struggles, along with Oettinger’s preparation in the NHL, led to a larger role as a rookie.

Although Oettinger proved to be an NHL caliber, the Stars still wanted to take it easy. They signed Braden Holtby last summer, which unofficially relegated Oettinger to the AHL, where he will officially start the season. Once Holtby’s injury and Khudobin’s inefficiency opened the door for Oettinger, he rose to the occasion.

In contract negotiations, the player and the team are often opposed. In situations like the one with Oettinger and the Stars, there is a common intention. Oettinger wants to be the best goalkeeper possible; the Stars want exactly the same thing. The idea that a franchise that has been hungry for a talented young goaltender and promoted to pick one in the first round of the draft doesn’t want to set him up for success is a misplaced emotion. The Stars and Oettinger just approached things in different ways.

Dallas handled things with caution and skepticism while Oettinger handled things with confidence. Oettinger’s confidence has held up so far on the ice. Now, the same dynamic is playing out at the negotiating table.

Jake Oettinger. (Dennis Wierzbicki/USA Today)

Where do things go from here?

In any contract negotiation, there are two main sticking points: duration and AAV. A source said Oettinger’s camp is open when it comes to term. Oettinger wants to be in Dallas long term and if a long term deal can be worked out, that’s great. If the numbers game results in a shorter bid, they are open to that as well. AAV is where there is no unconditional flexibility. Given the Stars’ cap situation, it’s unlikely Oettinger’s side can get exactly what they want, but they won’t settle for something they deem unfair to the market which has already been defined.

A player in Oettinger’s position, as a restricted free agent with no right to officiate, is where the team carries the most weight. A restricted free agent with officiating rights or an unrestricted free agent are situations in which the player gains more leverage on the team. Still, Oettinger is the number one goaltender on the team and if the Stars started the season with Scott Wedgewood and Khudobin as a duo, they would obviously be a worse team than if Oettinger was in the picture.

While both parties would like to reach a resolution as soon as possible, the Stars are in no rush. Training camp starts in a month and a half and the season starts in just over two months. These are the main pressure points at which delays could lead to a deal. Until then, there is not much urgency. However, this does not mean that the timing is unimportant. Due to the Stars’ ceiling situation and Robertson’s impending contract, another key may be thrown into the mix, and that is the possibility of an offer sheet.

Offer sheets are rare in the NHL, but so is the supply of talented 23-year-old goaltenders who have shown their potential to become cornerstones of the franchise. If Robertson’s deal goes through first, it would give all interested teams a hard number as to how high they need to go to put the Stars in a bind. At that point, the Stars would be forced to offload the player(s) in order to create cap space to keep Oettinger.

Although it seems like a dicey proposition, a source from the Stars’ front office has expressed no concerns over potential offer sheets with Oettinger. For one thing, the player must also sign the offer sheet, and Oettinger showed no indication of being unhappy in Dallas. Second, the Stars would have the opportunity to tie, which they would for any reasonable tag. The only way a team could really handicap the Stars or make them consider compensation return would be if that team offered Oettinger more than $6.3 million AAV (a compensation program for first, second and third draft picks). tower) or more than $8.4 million AAV. (two first, one second, and one third-round pick compensation program).

An important and realistic possibility that should be considered is a training camp. As noted, Oettinger doesn’t carry much weight in this situation, but resistance would be one way to put pressure on the Stars.

Sometimes all it takes is one major breaking point to get things done in a negotiation. That point has yet to be reached between Oettinger and the Stars. Oettinger has been working as usual this offseason, preparing at home in Minnesota for the upcoming season while his camp takes care of the business side.

(Jake Oettinger top photo: Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

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