Continuing the trend of re-signing players, the Hurricanes decided to lock up defenseman Jay Harrison by giving him a three-year contract extension worth $4.5 mil. The deal will kick in next season and will pay him $1.5 mil. per season. Harrison played his second “full season” in the NHL last year but he’s been working his way around the league for many years now. He was a second round pick by the Toronto Maple Leafs back in 2001 and had trouble finding a place in the NHL for most of the decade. Jim Rutherford and the Hurricanes scouting staff saw something in him sometime in 2009 and decided to give him a shot. A couple years later, he has become a mainstay of the Carolina blue-line and was a top-four defenseman in Raleigh last season.
Harrison has shown a lot of resilience and determination over his career, which is a large reason why he was Carolina’s nominee for the Bill Masterson Memorial Trophy this season. The most admirable trait about Harrison is his work ethic and he has shown that over the years both with the Hurricanes and other teams that he has been involved with. He managed to play more minutes than he ever had before last season and certainly made the most of it by having the best year of his career no matter which way you look at it. Harrison set career highs in goals, points, minutes played and took on a lot more responsibility than he ever had before, so he gave the Hurricanes a huge bargain for the $650k that they were paying him last season. It’s hard to say that he did not earn this extension and a significant raise.
As for the contract itself, it’s roughly in line with Harrison’s value right now. The Hurricanes were using him in the top-four last season because of how good he worked with rookie Justin Faulk, so this deal could be a potential steal if he continues to improve. However, if you take a look at Harrison’s underlying stats from last season then it becomes clear that he would likely be a third-pairing defenseman or a borderline top-four guy on most teams. He received secondary tough minutes with Carolina last season and was on ice for a high volume of shots against at even strength, so he had issues with holding his own against tougher opponents. If you look at his performance over the year, you’ll notice that he had a strong first 20 games or so but then saw his performance drop around the time he got hurt and it took him awhile to get back up to speed.
There are two reasons for the sharp drop in scoring chance percentage, the first of which obviously being the injury. The other factor was that he was playing on the team’s sheltered defense pairing with Tomas Kaberle before he got hurt. The injury didn’t cause him to miss that many games but when he came back, Kaberle was traded and Harrison was placed on a tougher defense pairing and that definitely affected his play a little bit. Harrison was able to thrive in a more offensive role but once he wasn’t in that situation anymore, he struggled a little, but was able to adjust and he and Faulk made a very solid defense pairing. I have to think that his chemistry with Faulk was one of the reasons why he was signed to this deal, which makes a lot of sense.
I mentioned earlier that if Harrison continues to improve then this could be a steal but if his play stays where it is now, the contract is in line with his current value. Since he is almost 30, what we’re seeing now is probably what we’re going to get with Harrison and we know that he can play well as a third-pairing defenseman and be serviceable as a second-pairing guy. That’s definitely worth $1.5 mil. per year for a team that doesn’t have cap issues. Compare him to other defensemen with $1.5 mil cap hits and the deal looks about right for him. The three year commitment (technically four years) is a bit dicey but I don’t think it’s much of a problem since the contract is movable and there is still room to add another player or two once Joe Corvo’s contract runs out after next season.
Rutherford is always someone who rewards hard work and it’s hard to find someone in the organization who has worked harder than Jay Harrison these last couple of years. This is a very fair contract for someone who has proven himself to be at least a solid depth defenseman who can also be used in a bigger role if neccessary. It wouldn’t surprise me if Harrison is playing big minutes to start next year if the team’s current defense corps stays put.