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The Next Core Member to Lock Up: Josh Norris

Josh Norris isn’t an RFA until the summer but it’s never too soon to think about an extension

Ottawa Senators v Toronto Maple Leafs

Ottawa Senators fans took a massive exhale last Thursday.

Brady Tkachuk committed himself to Ottawa for the next seven years, and it was the clearest sign that this young core is going to be sticking around for a while. Thomas Chabot, Drake Batherson, and now Tkachuk are all signed for 6+ years, which gives them a fantastic starting point. However, those aren’t the only young guns they’ll need to get locked up during this period of getting back to contention.

And the biggest name coming up next summer is Josh Norris.

Sure, Tim Stützle and Jake Sanderson may prove to be more valuable players eventually, but Norris’ contract is due first, and he’s in an incredibly important position where the Senators need top-line talent: centre. Shane Pinto is really the only other centre in the organization who profiles as a top-6 player unless Stützle eventually moves there. Due to that, Norris’ overall excellence is of utmost importance. He is the team’s best centre, and although the Senators can wait until the off-season to get an extension signed, it might be wise to get ahead of things (especially if he plays even better this season).

I don’t expect Pierre Dorion and Norris’ agent Craig Oster to immediately begin talks considering he is also Tkachuk’s agent (and both are probably exhausted from that), but sooner than later would be smart if the other side is willing to talk. So what would a contract actually look like? First of all, let’s evaluate what he’s done so far. In 62 games played, he has 36 points, which is on pace for 48 points in a full season.

Although those point totals aren’t that impressive, his deployment against the best players and fantastic defensive results is what makes him a potential star. He ranked in the 89th percentile in terms of quality of competition but was also in the 85th percentile for defensive impact according to @JFreshHockey:

JFreshHockey

That combination plus the fact that essentially every other category is well above average is quite impressive. Another centre that he has been compared to recently is St. Louis Blues centre Ryan O’Reilly. O’Reilly’s 3-year stretch from 2014-17 is probably most comparable to current-day Norris, although O’Reilly from 2016-19 could be what Norris reaches in his prime:

O’Reilly was always known as a solid contributor in the NHL, but it was only a select few in the hockey community who recognized his greatness. He has “only” been a 59-point per season player over the course of his career, but he’s reached new heights in St. Louis by averaging 75 in his 3+ seasons there. His coming-out party was when he won the Conn Smythe trophy in 2019, and fans finally realized that he was a top-10 centre in the game.

All of this to say that O’Reilly hasn’t been the flashiest player, but he has been incredibly effective, and Norris has the potential to be exactly that based on his early profile.

Amongst centres who signed at the age of 23 or under, Nico Hischier, Sean Monahan, Dylan Larkin, Nick Schmaltz, Bo Horvat, and Pierre-Luc Dubois compare the best to Norris. Here is all of their production before their second contracts and what they signed for:

Norris Contract Comparables

Player Pts/82 on ELC Pts/82 in 3rd season Term AAV
Player Pts/82 on ELC Pts/82 in 3rd season Term AAV
Nico Hischier 53 51 7 $7.25M
Sean Monahan 55 64 7 $6.375M
Dylan Larkin 47 63 5 $6.1M
Nick Schmaltz 48 51 7 $5.875M
Bo Horvat 42 53 6 $5.5M
Pierre-Luc Dubois 53 57 2 $5M
Josh Norris 48 ? ? ?

$5.5M on a long-term deal is the low-end of things, but it all depends on how well Norris does this season. He could possibly have a season as good as Larkin and Monahan had in their third years, in which case he could be asking for $7M+ due to inflation. What is re-assuring is that barring an MVP-level season, he shouldn’t be getting Tkachuk money based on his comparables. Realistically, I’d expect somewhere in the $6-6.5M range to be reasonable based on how his season should go.

Obviously, any deal for Norris would have to be for at least six years if Ottawa really wants to make him a key piece of the rebuild. They could give him a 2-3 year bridge deal, but we already know that he is a bonafide top-6 player and I’m sure he’d just be even more expensive in a few years time. Of course, perhaps Norris would want to do exactly that and wait things out, in which case, there’s not much the Senators can do. Still though, if they can convince Brady to stay here for at least seven years, I’m sure Brady can convince his best friend to stick around for a long time as well. And what a great feeling it is to have faith that a fellow young player will actually want to stick around.

Norris isn’t a star player just yet, but he’s more than capable of taking that leap. And because of that, Ottawa needs to turn their attention to him as soon as possible in order to make him happy. The good news is that with the amount of time left and other players committing to the team, the pressure is off for the first time in a while.