It wasn’t an easy negotiation, from what I understand.
The San Jose Sharks were tight against the cap, Mario Ferraro wanted to sign for a long time. So they met in the middle.
“There’s always some anxiety and a little bit of stress because it is my job and it’s something I’m very passionate about,” the RFA told San Jose media after his four-year, $13 million dollar contract was announced. “But it went as it should always go. These things take time and I understand that.”
— San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) August 4, 2022
Complicating negotiations? On one hand, Ferraro was named alternate captain of the Sharks in just his third season. He’s also proven to be a minutes-muncher: Ferraro is one of just nine defensemen, 23 or younger, who averaged 23 or more minutes a night last year. It’s a who’s who of star young blueliners: Cale Makar, Quinn Hughes, Miro Heiskanen, Rasmus Dahlin, Moritz Seider, Charlie McAvoy, Adam Fox, and Jakob Chychrun.
On the other hand, unlike the aforementioned young guns, Ferraro’s offensive contributions have been very limited. Makar, Hughes, Heiskanen, Dahlin, Seider, McAvoy, Fox, and Chychrun star on their respective teams’ power plays, and kill penalties too, while Ferraro is more one-way. He was on second-ranked San Jose’s top PK pairing last season, but skated sparingly on the PP.
Ferraro is the only defender in this group who hasn’t managed to average over half a point a game in a season yet. He hasn’t been particularly close either, his career high 0.3 Points Per Game in 2020-21.
Ferraro is well aware of this imbalance in his game: “I am motivated to add more tools to my game. I’ve been a very defensive defenseman, that aggressive player in the D-zone, and I’d like to add a little bit more poise and offensive capabilities to my game, which I think that I am capable of. I can step outside my comfort zone, apply more offense to my game and more creativity, if you will.”
The Sharks will need it, with the loss of their leading scorer on the blueline, Brent Burns.
“Those are very difficult shoes to fill. If you can fill them?” Ferraro said of his friend and defensive partner, who San Jose traded to the Carolina Hurricanes. “I don’t think that there should be any stress involved. I’m more excited for the opportunity. I’m just grateful to have been able to learn from the man himself, kind of use the mindset that he had, and add that to my game and my personality coming to the rink.”
Now that half-a-point marker is an artificial bar, but it gives you a sense about why it’s hard to assess Ferraro’s value. There aren’t a lot of comps for a defensive-leaning, minute-munching young rearguard like Ferraro.
Ferraro isn’t Heiskanen (eight years, $67.6 million) or Fox (seven years, $66.5 million) or Hughes (six years, $47.1 million), for example. Another way to underscore why it’s difficult to compare Ferraro to his peers: There were 37 defensemen who averaged over 23 minutes a night last season. Only three, Ferraro, Colton Parayko, and MacKenzie Weegar averaged less than a PP minute per game.
Ferraro says the first thing that he wants to buy with his new contract is a house — no plans to buy three new front teeth pic.twitter.com/pACs46RRNe
— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) August 4, 2022
Further clouding things? There’s debate about how effective Ferraro actually was in the minutes that he was entrusted with. Was his playing time more a direct result of the San Jose Sharks’ general lack of depth? Or is he actually a top shutdown defender, as his usage suggests?
There are underlying and micro-stats that suggest it’s more of the former:
Here are Ferraro's microstats from the 2021-22 season. Allows opponents to gain the zone a lot, but decent at preventing rush chances once they're there. Not a big factor and pretty turnover-prone in transition. pic.twitter.com/0qZYvA7Z8L
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) August 4, 2022
That said, the team around Ferraro hasn’t been strong, which no doubt affects his micro-stats and results. Also, Corey Sznajder’s tracking work, which I respect a great deal, only accounts for about a third of Ferraro’s actual minutes. I’d rather not draw a conclusion about a player based on a third of his season. And yes, I know the thought is that results stabilize around 20-25 games.
Anyway, it can be something in between. Maybe Ferraro shouldn’t be your top shutdown defenseman. But he’s not a bottom-pairing blueliner either, he’s too good for that. His skating, compete, and strength all jump off the page.
And Ferraro’s contract reflects all that.
In February, I suggested, at the high end, that Ferraro could look to Jonas Brodin’s 2014 or Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s 2008 contracts as comps.
Both Brodin and Vlasic, like Ferraro, were coming off entry-level contracts, and were that rare top-minute, defense-first blueliner:
“In Oct. 2014, the Minnesota Wild re-signed 21-year-old Jonas Brodin, entering the final year of his ELC, to a six-year, $25 million dollar contract. Like Ferraro, Brodin played a lot (24:10 in the last year of his ELC) and didn’t score much (0.24 Points Per Game for the duration of his ELC). Ferraro, by the way, is at 0.25 PPG for his career right now.
“Brodin’s $4,166,667 cap hit was 6.04 percent of the-then $69 million dollar salary cap. So what’s six percent of next year’s 82.5 million dollar cap?
“That’s about five million dollars. So does a six-year, $30 million dollar extension sound reasonable for Ferraro? The San Jose Sharks would also be getting two of Ferraro UFA years too, which Minnesota didn’t gain in the Oct. 2014 Brodin pact.
“Ferraro’s teammate Marc-Edouard Vlasic might also provide an instructive comp.
“In Aug. 2008, the San Jose Sharks re-signed the shutdown defenseman, entering the final year of his ELC, to a four-year, $12.4 million agreement. That was 5.47 percent of a then-$56.7 million salary cap.
“That would be, in today’s dollars, roughly a four-year, $18 million dollar extension. If the 23-year-old Ferraro were to sign such a pact, that would take him right up to unrestricted free agency.”
Ferraro’s new deal is well short of that, of course. Next year, he’ll be making just 3.94 percent of the current $82.5 million dollar cap.
But on the other hand, that’s fair, right? Ferraro isn’t prime Vlasic or probably even a young Brodin. But he’s also obviously talented too. And he fits GM Mike Grier’s blueprint for a tenacious, fast, and hard to play against Sharks.
“His competitive and hard-working mindset is something that I’ve really tried to instill in my game growing up and throughout college and through all pro,” Ferraro said of Grier, “so I’m really excited for that vision of our team.”
And now, Ferraro, who will be a UFA when this deal expires after 2025-26, will get a chance to show the San Jose Sharks that they should’ve committed even more to him.
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