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Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

RFAs, the Series: Connor Carrick

Today, the RFA (restricted free agent) series rolls on with a post about the expiring contract of Connor Carrick, and just what the Leafs may be planning to do about it.

Possibly you have seen the format already, but today we will take a look at who Connor Carrick is, what his time with the Leafs has been like qualitatively, and then dig into a more quantitative look with some statistics. After we get a good sense about Carrick that way, I’ll take an optimistic, realistic and pessimistic guess at what his future contract could look like. Essentially, optimistic is what I’m hoping the Leafs do, realistic is what I think they’ll do, and pessimistic is what I’m afraid they might do.

Last time, we looked at Miro Aaltonen and Frederik Gauthier, so check that out if you missed it.

The Player

Carrick came to the Leafs in one of the first few moves the now-departed Lou Lamiorello made when he became general manager of the team. There was an opportunity to allow the Capitals to unload Brooks Laich, but in return the Leafs also took Carrick with them.

Lamiorello called Carrick an “A prospect” (not a prospect, an ‘A’ prospect), which may have been a bit too self-congratulatory but Carrick has been a pretty good player for the Leafs so far. If that’s the definition of a successful prospect, then an ‘A’ grade he deserves indeed.

Originally, the Capitals drafted Carrick in the 5th round of the 2012 NHL draft. He a good run with them early in his career, getting 34 games in the NHL in his first pro season. He had some trouble making the team in the years following, however, especially after they added Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik.

With the Leafs, his time has almost entirely been spent with the main club. However, the right-shot defenseman has had to compete for time with Polak and Zaitsev despite largely getting better results. His time spent on the second pair with Gardiner in the 2016-17 season was legitimately solid, but somehow that didn’t carry over to his ability to earn a steady place on the team.

The Numbers

In 130 games with the Leafs, he’s scored 24 points, and as I mentioned above, has failed to make himself a staple in the lineup for Mike Babcock. This was good enough for a 0.71 points-per-60 rate.

In his limited appearances for the Leafs this season, Carrick was excellent, finishing second best on the team at preventing goals (2.13 goals against-per-60) against behind Travis Dermott (1.14 GA/60). Realistically you can only compare Carrick’s goals against to Leafs who also played on the very-sheltered 3rd pairing. This really only includes Borgman (3.12 GA/60), Dermott, Polak (2.39 GA/60) and himself. As you can see, Borgman was a good amount worse, but Polak and Carrick were pretty similar.

For a shot attempts perspective, Carrick had a 52.79% Corsi-For percentage, again trailing Dermott (54.87%)by a significant margin, and again ahead of Borgman (50.12%) and Polak (47.97%), though this time they both were significantly worse, with Polak being much worse.

A longer term look shows a very similar picture for Carrick, with a 53.19% Corsi-For rate, 2.37 goals against rate, and a points-per-60 rate of 0.52 for the last 3 years.

The Money

What does this all add up to in terms of money? That’s a tough question for sure. Judging the player is only part of the equation – without knowing exactly how Babcock feels about Carrick’s ability to play would be critical information. We know he doesn’t love Carrick, but is it that he likes Carrick and loves Polak, or likes Polak and doesn’t like Carrick, or is it that he hates Carrick and just doesn’t mind Polak all that much?

To take a guess, we can look that what the Leafs have been doing with Josh Leivo who has always been in a similarly challenging situation. He signed a one-year deal out of his entry level contract, then a two year deal. For Carrick, he finished his entry level deal and signed a two year contract which is just finishing up (AAV of $750k) Is now the time to sign a one-year deal? Somehow, despite being in a precarious place among the Leafs’ depth chart, Leivo was willing to sign a two-year deal. Maybe Carrick will do the same.

There’s also the very important factor of who is coming up the ranks behind Carrick. With top draft pick Timothy Liljegren having a great AHL year, and new signing Igor Ozhighanov adding himself to the mix, there’s a chance the Leafs actively want to remove Carrick from the equation to promote these other, younger players.

Let’s take some real guesses at how this might turn out:

Optimistic: $900k for 2 years

Realistic: $850k for 1 year

Pessimistic: $1M for 1 year

I don’t really think the Leafs will leave Carrick unsigned – he’s a good enough player at the NHL level and to turn down that kind of cost-controlled depth, despite the other players in the mix.

Optimistically, I’d like to have the Leafs get these next two RFA years locked up at a good price, and then either he’ll get selected by Seattle or he can walk when he’s an unrestricted free agent. It’s tricky to imagine whether Carrick would be interested in two years, but the example of Leivo gives me enough hope to consider it a possibility.

Realistically, though, I think Carrick is concerned with his place within the Leafs and if his role takes another turn downward next year, he’ll understandably want out. A one year deal is more plausible, at a slight increase from his salary on his previous contract.

Pessimistically, it may require a bigger salary bump than I am guessing, because it has been two years since Carrick signed his deal. The cap has gone up, the minimum salary has gone up, and the “Wade Redden rule” (burying expensive contracts in the minors costs you cap space) money has also gone up, to around $1M. This is why I think the dollar figure could potentially climb there.

Conclusion

I believe Carrick is a serviceable NHL defenseman, and I trust that the Leafs feel the same. His role with the Leafs may have been on the downswing this season, but perhaps this will be the year they finally decide not to bring back Roman Polak, and Carrick will stand a real chance at a roster slot. Either way, there’s a reasonable level of certainty that Carrick will be back with the Leafs next year.

Up next we’re going to take a look at some goalies, Calvin Pickard and Kasimir Kaskisuo, which you should see tomorrow. If you’re liking the series, hating the series, or if you have your own guesses at these contracts, please let that fly in the comments section!