The dust has settled with Neal Pionk signing a two year contract over the weekend. When the news was first announced, many fans were appalled at the price as the Jets handed out a two year deal worth $3 million per season. While that might seem like an overpay to some people, I’m going to give you three reasons why this deal wasn’t a bad move.
Number one: Pionk’s new deal is cheaper than Ben Chiarot’s latest contract. It could definitely be argued that a three year, $3.5 million AAV contract is an overpayment to Chiarot, but with that contract in mind, Pionk’s starts to look better. Although Chiarot is an NHL veteran and Pionk has very little experience, they both had fairly equal impacts on the ice last season.
The one area that Chiarot destroys Pionk is on the defensive side of the puck. While this is worrisome, overall it appears that Pionk might be able to replace Chiarot’s spot in the lineup. If he is able to perform at that level, $3 million per season would appear to be fair value. The added benefit of signing Pionk over Chiarot is his ability to develop as a player. At this point in Chiarot’s career, he’s not likely going to add new skills to his game. Pionk on the other hand, is still quite young and might be able to add a few new tricks during the next two years. This potential upside gives Pionk’s contract an edge over Chiarot’s.
Number two: Dealing a two year term is the best case scenario. The Jets leave themselves with plenty of options because they were able to get Pionk signed to only a two year contract. Players often try to get as much term as possible which can leave the team in a bad predicament should the player not meet expectations. Look no further than current Winnipeg defensemen Kulikov. The third year of the deal isn’t looking very promising as a potential buyout could happen this summer. Giving too much term is a consistent problem around the entire NHL and the Jets did well to get a short term deal done.
This also gives the Jets the best options moving forward. If Pionk succeeds over the next two seasons, the Jets will easily be able to keep him around as he will still be an RFA at the end of this contract. On the other hand, if things go south, then he will be free to move and the Jets will only have his contract around for a maximum of two seasons before it’s off the books.
Number three: There’s no way of knowing what an arbitrator will rule. It might not seem like much, but the Jets may have saved a few hundred thousand dollars by signing Pionk before arbitration. When looking at some of the recent comparables, some were able to secure higher contracts than Pionk’s.
Stecher and Edmundson each filed for arbitration last summer but then avoided it:
Stecher: 2 years, $2.3 million
Edmundson 1 year, $3.0 million
I'm not saying that makes it great value — just looking for a range that may have applied and thinking out loud.
— Murat Ates (@WPGMurat) July 22, 2019
Although Stecher was signed for less than $3 million, there’s no way of knowing how the ruling would go. Especially given the strong season points-wise for Pionk, an arbitrator might have ruled in the $3-3.5 mark.
The arbitration process also comes with extra baggage as the negotiation process can potentially leave both parties with a bad taste in their mouth. Avoiding that potential battle is a smart move by the organization.
This isn’t to say that Pionk’s new deal is a huge win for the team, it just means that there are more ways to look at the new deal for the newest Jets player. To recap, the best part of Pionk’s deal is that Winnipeg didn’t give up too much term while potentially finding a cheaper replacement for Ben Chiarot. It seems like a fair deal for both parties given the circumstances surrounding it.