The risk of signing an aging defenseman

Just in case I didn't make things clear enough in my earlier post on this subject, the answer to fixing the Hurricanes defense corps isn't going to come in the form of a free agent signing. It's not that there aren't players out there who fit their needs, but the problem is that the market is very thin and the Canes will likely have to overpay to get a top-four defenseman through free agency.  With both Mark Streit & Sergei Gonchar already being signed to over $5 mil. a piece, that indicates what the market is going to be like and what kind of money the Canes might have to shell out in order to get what they want.

Doing this could be a risky endeavor because giving a defenseman a four year contract worth over $4 mil. in cap space per season could fix the problem short-term, there is always the chance that it may become an albatross sooner rather than later. This is especially true with this year's free agent class because there are a lot of defensemen over the age of 30 on the market. It's not a guarantee that the quality of play from a defenseman will fall off a cliff as he gets older, but most who are in their mid-30's are usually on the down slopes of their career and will likely be bad value if they carry a cap hit in the $4-5 mil. range. In my opinion, shutdown defensemen are especially prone to decline as they get older. 

Every fan loves their team's shutdown defensemen because they do the little things that help their teams win games. They block shots, kill penalties and make life tough for opposing forwards by taking away their space and getting physical with them. There's nothing wrong with that, but playing this style for so many years will eventually take its toll on a defenseman's body and their effectiveness wears off as time goes by. There are exceptions, but I've seen this happen with plenty of notable "shutdown defensemen" in recent seasons.

Guys like Douglas Murray, Robyn Regehr, Greg Zanon, Anton Volchenkov, Hal Gill, Adrian Aucoin , Andy Sutton, Roman Hamrlik and Radek Martinek were all solid or decent stay-at-home defensemen and were trusted with top-four assignments at one point in their careers. However, their quality of play got worse as they got older and if you take a look at their player cards, you'll notice that most of them were basically third-pairing defensemen over the last few seasons. They didn't play a lot of minutes at even strength, weren't used against opposing team's top forwards and couldn't be trusted against more skilled forwards. Again, most of these players were very good defensemen at one point in their careers but they got worse as they got older. Playing such a physical and gritty style will take its toll on a defenseman's body sooner or later, so it's not terribly surprising to see that some of these players declined after they turned 30.

This should serve as a red flag for any team that is looking to throw a big contract at Rob Scuderi of the Los Angeles Kings. Scuderi has a lot of desirable traits and has been an underrated shutdown defenseman for most of his career. He also has won two Stanley Cups in recent seasons, so that will probably jack up his price and earn him a nice retirement contract from whichever team signs him. Is he going to be bad value for a deal like that, though? At 34 years of age, Scuderi is acutally older than a good chunk of the players I name-dropped earlier and his play could possibly fall-off considerably after he is given a big contract this summer.

I think it is a given that Scuderi is prone to regress because most players will get worse as they get older and Scuderi is turning 35 in December. He isn't going to be the same defenseman that he was in 2009 when he led the Penguins to the Stanley Cup and he probably won't be the same player he was only a year ago with the Los Angeles Kings, either. That being said, whoever does sign him probably won't mind this as long as Scuderi remains a solid top-four defenseman who can kill penalties and play competently against opposing team's top-six forwards. The worse case scenario for Scuderi is for him to become a third-pairing defenseman with an enormous contract. What are the odds of this happening? Well, one thing Scuderi has in his favor is that he has been able to play a lot more minutes than other defensemen of his age. 

Even as a 34-year-old, Scuderi is way ahead of the curve for defensemen his age and might be able to continue this for the next few years. Nothing is guaranteed but at this point, we know that Scuderi is better than an average defenseman of his age, so that could be enough to earn him a decent contract in July. However, there is still a risk involved if a team decides to give him a long-term deal because most defensemen tend to see their usage dwindle as they get older and Scuderi could be prone to the same regression.

With that in mind, I still think the Hurricanes should consider signing Scuderi this summer but the team's cap issues combined with the thin free agent market could make it difficult to accomplish. There is always one GM that is willing to overpay to fit his team's short term goals and I think that is who will end up with Scuderi.