At the time of the 2015 draft, Oliver Kylington was viewed as a player who could potentially be the steal of the draft. With many believing that he would be selected in the 20s, he fell down the draft board and the Flames were able to take him at the end of the second round with the 60th pick.
Kylington has been a defenceman who struggled to consistently make the Flames lineup, however this year is a completely different story as he has become a very reliable player in the top-four. He is a restricted free agent at the end of this season and is due for a new contract. What could that contract potentially look like?
Kylington’s seasons as a Flame
In the past, Kylington really only played a large enough sample of NHL games in the 2018–19, and 2019–20 seasons. Despite this, Kylington never produced at a notable rate. In 2018–19, he was only averaging 12:25 of ice time when he played, while in 2019–20, he averaged 13:42. His role on the team was a sixth/seventh defenceman and he was frequently scratched.
This season however, has been an incredible turnaround. Kylington is averaging 17:12 in in ice time, and is on one of the best defensive pairings in the NHL alongside Chris Tanev. On top of this, Kylington is averaging 0.62 points per game. This drastic shift in production is incredible to see, but it makes projecting his next contract much more difficult.
Do the Flames see this season as just the start of Kylington’s potential finally being met, or do they look more towards the cautiously optimistic side, making sure they don’t put too much weighting on this season compared to his past ones? Personally, I think it is a little bit of both.
A look at some comparables
There is no denying that Kylington has had an incredible start to the season, though I don’t think his point-per-game pace is sustainable for the whole season, especially if he isn’t on the top power play unit. So, let’s assume his point per game pace drops down to 0.50 by the time the season ends. This would lead him to finish the season with 41 points in 82 games. Some defencemen who put up similar numbers in the past five seasons when they were around Kylington’s age are listed below.
Now this is not the only factor to consider when predicting what a contract may look like by itself, but it at least give us some comparables to start at.
After Vince Dunn put up the numbers he did in 2018–19, his performance dropped the following season as he recorded 23 points at a lower 0.32 point per game pace. He was signed to a one year, $1.875M contract extension following this.
Will Butcher also had a dip in performance before he signed a contract extension. After putting up 30 points and 21 points at a 0.38 and 0.375 point-per-game rate respectively, he was signed to a three year contract with a $3.73M AAV.
Brady Skjei followed a similar pattern as he recorded 25 points at a 0.30 point per game pace. Despite the dip in performance, Skjei was signed to a hefty six year extension with a $5.25M AAV.
Lastly, Ryan Pulock recorded 37 and 35 points the following seasons, putting him at a 0.45 and a 0.51 point per game pace respectively. He later signed a two year extension at a $4M AAV.
To say that these players play similarly to Kylington would be wrong. In fact, finding a player who does play similarly, and who had his production at his age is incredibly difficult. One thing to take note of about the comparables above is just how different the contract extensions were. One reason for this is how expensive it is to buy UFA years on a long-term contract. That’s something the Flames will need to weigh with a Kylington contract as well.
From a one-year extension below $2M to a six-year $5M extension, it is clear that the deciding factor is how “sold” are you that this production is either sustainable, or can even increase in the future.
Projecting Kylington’s contract
Personally, I think that if I was the Flames, you don’t want to just assess his extension from this season alone. I would want more certainty not just about who he is now as a player, but who he can become as well. There is no denying how incredibly he has performed this season, but I am not sure if I am sold on him becoming a defenceman who averages 0.6–0.75 points-per-game on a regular basis, at least not just yet.
On the other hand, Kylington has not only improved his offensive game, but has performed incredibly well defensively with Tanev. It is also important to note that all of Kylington’s point have come through even strength points, putting him at a five way tie for second on the NHL leaderboard for defenceman.
The Tanev factor is a huge wild card in this contract. Tanev has been known to boost the play of basically every defence partner he lines up with. Kylington’s explosion this season is definitely affected by Tanev, and without the defensive stalwart next to him, who knows what Kylington really is?
The Ryan Pulock contract seems like the best comparable to use when it comes to a contract extension for Kylington. I would try to give him a two- to three-year deal around $3M–$3.5M per year. This contract gives him a huge raise compared to the $700K he currently makes, and it also gives the Flames some time to see if Kylington can continue his incredible play. If he does, then the Flames have some certainty about him and can pay him accordingly.
The caveat with a contract of this duration is that it takes Kylington to UFA status. This is a risk because Kylington could then decide he wants to leave the Flames and pursue his career elsewhere. If he makes up his mind, there really isn’t anything the Flames can do about it.
Signing Kylington to a longer term deal will allow for sustained team control into Kylington’s UFA years, but it will come at a price. If the Flames can lock Kylington up for six years at the $4M–$5M AAV mark, that might be a happy medium for anyone.
If Kylington continues to put up numbers like he is this season, it’ll be a great deal for the Flames. If he regresses back to being a bottom-pairing defenceman, it’ll look pretty bad. However, based on the way he’s playing this season, the Flames would be wise to hedge their bets and give up a little more money to sign him, if they believe Kylington is what he has shown he can be this season.
It’s still too early to tell
This is such a difficult contract to project right now, and I could honestly change my whole mindset by next month depending on how he plays. As someone who can barely decide on what flavour of chips to buy at Smart Mart, to say I can be pretty indecisive is an understatement. One thing is very clear though, it is too early to be certain about Kylington’s contract. He has been one of Calgary’s best defencemen for sure, but there are still 61 games left in the season.
Is it possible he drops off in production? Maybe. Could he even improve his production? Yes. Is it possible he is a completely different player away from Tanev? Also, yes.
At the end of the day, this is tough to project at this stage, and because of this, the Flames need to start assessing what their plans are now. One thing that is for certain though is that Kylington is about to get quite a lot more than his current $700K contract.