The Pittsburgh Penguins are not shy about throwing contracts at young defensemen after a year of stellar play. Before the Penguins are forced to hit the free-agent market this summer in hopes of finding a defenseman who plays as well as Cody Ceci has for the team, they should lock him up now while he’s still a bargain.
Cost certainty is also a nice thing to know before the trade deadline or the NHL free-agent period.
Ceci was one of the many free agent leftovers scrounging for a contract as money and spots evaporated until the Penguins and Ceci agreed to a deal in October.
That’s not to say the Penguins’ decision to sign Ceci wasn’t met with ample derision and mockery as Ceci was one of “those” players fanbases dreaded. The mockery began on social media before any team signed him.
As the Penguins’ need for an RHD remained, so too did Ceci on the market. Nearly halfway through the season, the match has been a blessing for both sides. It took a few games and maybe a couple of weeks but Ceci is playing top-four minutes and handling it well.
Ceci, 27, should stick around beyond this season.
Surely, the Pittsburgh Penguins will not find an RHD on the free-agent market who will fit as well or play as well.
“It’s always tough coming to a new team, new systems as new guys and trying to pick up on everyone’s tendencies, and that kind of all goes away the longer you’re there in the lineup and playing with the guys and getting to know them,” Ceci said on March 5. “So soon as you stop guessing, you get back to just playing hockey … I’m just trying to skate a little more. Get more pucks to the net … and get back to how I was playing.”
The revised NHL window to begin negotiations for players on one-year contracts opened on March 12. So, the new Penguins front office led by Brian Burke and GM Ron Hextall has exclusive rights to negotiate with Ceci from now until the start of NHL free agency, which begins on July 28.
From his play beside Marcus Pettersson and Mike Matheson, and even P.O. Joseph, Ceci is having a resurgent year.
“I think he’s getting a lot more comfortable within our team concept and how we’re trying to play. He’s done a really good job joining the rush. I think he’s helping also the breakouts. He’s defending hard,” Penguins bench boss Mike Sullivan said. “He’s done a nice job on both sides of the puck. And I think a lot of it is he’s just getting more comfortable in the surroundings, both with his teammates, his coaches…”
The seeds were planted last season in Ceci’s up-and-down year with the Toronto Maple Leafs. When he signed with the Penguins on Oct. 17, he knew his role.
“I’ll come in and kill some penalties and play strong defensively,” he said at his introductory media Zoom meeting. “…I think I’m a two-way defenseman. Kind of got away from that a little bit last year, so just looking to add that offensive side back a little more,” said Ceci. “Always been pretty steady defensively and play hard, so that’ll be there.”
Ceci’s Advanced Numbers
For those who put stock in the publicly available advanced stats, Ceci’s Corsi rating with all of his defense partners hovers around 50%. More importantly, with his primary partner Mike Matheson, his expected goals-for is 64% in their first 92 minutes played.
The Matheson-Ceci pair will unlikely keep their extraordinary expected goals-for ratio, but it’s yet another sign of Ceci’s value to the Penguins.
Advanced stats over a seven-year period can provide some insights into a player’s performance (and the team they play on). This season, Ceci is setting career marks in every single category. From the simple Corsi to the more complicated expected goals-for, Ceci has experienced a two-year uptick which has peaked with the Penguins system this season, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.
Ceci scored between 17 and 26 points during his six-year Ottawa career, defined by the Guy Boucher years, playing beside Erik Karlsson but a low scoring team.
The biggest surprise this season has been Ceci’s offensive pressure. While six points, including two goals, won’t set the hockey world ablaze, his pinches and aggressiveness on the blue line have led to more offense. Ceci has been an all-around positive for the team.
What is the next Cody Ceci Contract Worth?
Here’s the million-dollar question, literally. Ceci is playing this season for $1.25 million. The salary cap doesn’t figure to rise for a few years or more.
Ceci’s age fits with the Pittsburgh Penguins mid-20s motif. His game is fitting in perfectly. However, Ceci has never signed a long-term deal. After his ELC expired in Ottawa, he signed a pair of bridge deals. The second one was for one-year and $4.3 million. Last season, he inked a one-year tender with Toronto for $4.5.
In Toronto, it didn’t go so well. He scored only eight points (1g, 7a) in 56 games and had only 48 shots on goal.
Unlike the previous Penguins regimes, which splashed the cash on young defensemen like Olli Maatta, Marcus Pettersson, and John Marino, Ceci hasn’t been able to buy green bananas for several years.
Sometimes, a player finds a good fit. It sure seems like Ceci fits with the Penguins.
The Penguins would have to make cap room as Ceci won’t come as cheaply, again. Because of the aforementioned young defensemen making north of $4 million, the Penguins don’t have resources aplenty to devote to their blueline. However, if Joseph is inserted next season, that probably forces out an LHD at a few million savings.
All right, enough stalling.
Baseline, Ceci is probably worth a three-year, $9 million deal in this market. Former Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz signed a two-year, $8 million deal with Washington, so we’re using that $7 million-$10 million range to define Ceci, too.
Perhaps the Penguins could get Ceci on a bargain deal with more term. One thing to note, Ceci is repped by high-profile agent J.P. Barry, so don’t expect a big discount without giving something back.
Given everything you’ve seen and every stat, Ceci is easily worth a few million to balance the Penguins blue line. If needed, he could step into a big minutes top pairing role, and he can shepherd a rookie, too.
The window is open, and the Pittsburgh Penguins shouldn’t hesitate. When you find a dollar on the ground, pick it up. Sign Cody Ceci.