Lowetide: Why Oilers defenceman Vincent Desharnais’ next contract could be bigger than expected



Vincent Desharnais’ path to NHL success was unusual and his arrival was a profile in determination and constant work on improving his skill set.

The payoff is a roster spot with the Edmonton Oilers and a job as a regular contributor. This summer he will be a free agent.

Desharnais is a unique player, and that may impact his price.

How unique? Here’s a look.

Shot and goal suppression five-on-five

Desharnais has the wingspan of a Condor and is difficult to get around for opposition wingers intent on getting to the net. He’s 6-foot-7, 226 pounds and he’s wildly effective in shot and goal suppression.

Here are his totals for each season of his career with NHL rank.

Year SA-60 (Rank) GA-60 (Rank)

2022-23

27.4 (No. 38)

1.79 (No. 11)

2023-24

22.9 (No. 2)

1.78 (No. 23)

All numbers five-on-five

Desharnais doesn’t bring a lot offensively, but he is an effective defender at five-on-five, one of the best shot suppression blueliners in the NHL, via Natural Stat Trick.

Puck IQ adds another piece of the puzzle by shedding light on the quality of competition Desharnais faces at five-on-five. Here’s a look at his 2023-24 season against all three levels of competition.

Category Elite Mid Soft Parade

Games

41

41

41

TOI

144 mins

208 mins

154 mins

TOI-Game

3:31

5:04

3:46

Pct of overall

28.5

41

30.5

DFF Pct

52.5

62

57.7

DFF%RC

-6.7

7.2

-2.6

All numbers five-on-five

Desharnais plays third-pairing minutes (with Brett Kulak) and faces elite competition less often (along with Kulak) than the top two pairings.

His DFF percentage (smart Corsi, similar to expected goals, the measure gives special weight to close-in and dangerous shots) is rock solid all down the line.

Desharnais’ results at five-on-five are excellent. He is going to have value should he reach free agency.

Penalty kill

It’s difficult to properly measure penalty-killing performance.

The structure of a PK, and the quality of the goaltender dictate so much of what happens when an individual player is on the ice.

A key measure in just how well an individual is doing in short-handed situations is ice time. Looking at the Oilers’ regular penalty killers, Desharnais shows well.

Player TOI-Game SA-60 GA-60

2:54

53

5.8

2:49

54

6.9

2:11

43

6.5

2:09

38

6.1

His long reach and active stick when a man short helps take away space and the threat of a stick check by Desharnais is always present.

Desharnais’ ability to penalty kill is a big feature. The SA-60 number (38) ranks inside the top 10 defencemen so far in 2023-24.

What makes him unique?

A scout once told me “Vinny Desharnais is a mountain. You better be able to have three steps if you want to get out of that shadow” and that’s why there will be demand should he hit free agency.

Desharnais has worked on his skating since turning pro, making big progress.

The bottom line for him is that the resume has been screaming “shutdown defenceman” since he turned pro and his suppression ability is present in each season in the Oilers organization.

Year Level Goal Pct On-Ice Goal Pct Off-Ice

2020-21

AHL

24-24 (50)

80-61 (57)

2021-22

AHL

68-35 (66)

103-97 (52)

2022-23

AHL

7-6 (54)

153-146 (51)

2022-23

NHL

20-12 (63)

171-156 (52)

2023-24

NHL

16-15 (52)

81-68 (54)

All numbers five-on-five

Desharnais has been a successful player for the Oilers organization and a resume this long can be trusted.

He signed a pro contract on March 2, 2022, via PuckPedia, after his exceptional outscoring season in the AHL. That put him on the radar for the Oilers, and then coach Jay Woodcroft was familiar with his work in Bakersfield.

Woodcroft told me before Desharnais ever skated on NHL ice in the regular season, “I think Desharnais has earned the right to be included in the (NHL) conversation,” and the big man has forged a career through hard work and the gift of size.

The next contract

Desharnais stands to cash in on unrestricted free agency this summer. His strong NHL debut this and last season won’t put him in the same range as Jonas Siegenthaler, who played massive minutes against elite competition (40.4 percent of his ice time, according to Puck IQ) and earned a five-year deal worth $3.4 million a year in July 2022. The AAV feels a little rich and it’s doubtful Desharnais wins a five-year commitment.

Desharnais debuted in the NHL at 26. He reaches free agency two years after signing his first NHL deal. It’s difficult to find direct comparables, but Justin Holl (almost 26 when he played in the NHL) and Radim Simek (a little over 26) offer a reasonable glance at a possible future contract.

Category Holl Desharnais Simek

Year

2022-23

2023-24

2019-20

Walk contract

$2M

$762,500

$675,000

Games

80

41

48

SA-60

27.5

22.9

33.2

GA-60

2.44

1.78

2.92

Pct v. elites

31.2

28.5

24.7

New deal

$3.4M

?

$2.25M

Both Holl and Simek have areas that rhyme with Desharnais’ situation. Simek’s RFA contract was in the same range, and his next deal ($2.25 million AAV) seems a reasonable line in the sand.

The Holl UFA contract saw a bump of $1.4 million and that also falls in line with Desharnais landing around Simek’s $2.25 million deal.

It’s possible a team looking for help in the specific area of shutdown defence overpays Desharnais this summer.

Desharnais and loyalty

Desharnais has worked hard in all areas of his game. He arrived as a tough defenceman with a massive wingspan. He has improved his skating, is more physical, closes gaps well and is very good at making certain a rushing winger doesn’t find a seam to the net.

He is a nasty piece of business, it’s obvious opposition players know where he is on the ice and the possible price to pay for invading his space.

When he is a half-step slow, the giant oar he uses as a stick is an effective deterrent.

Oilers fans warmed to his play immediately upon arrival in Edmonton. He is a wildly popular player, something all rugged defencemen have enjoyed going all the way back to 1979 and the original Oilers (Lee Fogolin a prime example).

There might be an expectation from fans that Desharnais will sign at less than market value.

It would be unwise for Desharnais to consider it, as this will be his first (and possibly last) opportunity to cash in on free agency. Simek encountered injury issues since signing and that will impact future earnings.

Can the Oilers afford Desharnais? His situation is similar to Warren Foegele, whose strong play this season could price him out of Edmonton’s market.

How much can Edmonton pay a third-pairing right-handed defender?

Oilers general manager Ken Holland’s offer to Desharnais might include an extra year as a sweetener, with the idea of keeping the cap lower. That may or may not be enough to keep the big defenceman in Edmonton.

(Photo: David Kirouac / Icon Sportswire)





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