Monday, October 1, 2018

Best NHL Contracts 2018

What are the best NHL non-entry level contracts of 2018? By this I do mean the “best bargain” contracts, not just the most valuable assets. We see other people do similar lists where they just list the 15 best players and whatever they make is a great contract. Being a valuable asset certainly helps on the bargain scale, but I prefer to define “bargain” as a contract for less than 10% of the salary cap. It is also no great honour for a player to appear on this list because it means that they are earning significantly less than their market value.

There is a strong preference given to players with more term remaining on their contracts. If we were simply asking who is the most underpaid NHL player in 2018, that's probably still Kucherov, but it only has 1 season remaining. Click here to view last year's list.

1) Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado, 5 more yrs @ $6.4M: MacKinnon was barely edged out by Taylor Hall in MVP voting, and arguably should have won the award depending on who you talk to. Year one of this contract he scored 53 PTS, year two he scored 97 PTS in fewer games. His best point total in his first 4 NHL seasons was 63, so there’s at least some chance that last year’s offensive explosion was a fluke; but if this is the new normal, the next 5 years will be a ridiculous bargain. The emergence of linemate Mikko Rantanen likely helped MacKinnon take his production to the next level and the Avs will be able to keep this duo together for the length of this contract.

2) Seth Jones, Columbus, 4 more yrs @ $5.4M: Jones jumped from 41 PTS in 2016/17 up to 57 PTS last season, finishing 4th in Norris Trophy voting. It did not take long for this contract to become an extreme bargain. He also fired 249 shots on goal last year, which would be high for a forward, but for a defenseman is elite (in the top 20 for D in the salary cap era). That trade has started to look bad for the Predators, as you won’t see Ryan Johansen’s current contract anywhere near this list. Although the Preds did need centers more than they needed defensemen.

3) Roman Josi, Nashville, 2 more yrs @ $4M: This is a player who would command $8M to $10M if he went UFA tomorrow, so the fact that the Predators are paying him half that for 2 more seasons is practically robbery. He scored 34 PTS in 100 GP in the last 2 seasons of his entry level, then scored 95 PTS in 153 GP over the first 2 years of this contract. His game jumped to the next level very early in this 7-year deal, which will end up costing him many millions in career earnings when all is said and done.

4) Aleksander Barkov, Florida, 4 more yrs $5.9M: In year one of this contract he scored 52 PTS in 61 GP, year two he scored 78 PTS in 79 GP and finished 4th in Selke Trophy voting. They’ve got 4 more years of a Selke Trophy candidate at a great price. He’s had some injury issues over his first 5 seasons, but last year was the first that he was able to stay healthy and he was awesome. At age 23, his best years should still be ahead of him.

5) John Klingberg, Dallas, 4 more yrs @ $4.2M: Klingberg had only played 65 NHL games when he signed this contract. You rarely see a contract this size for a player with that little experience, but the gamble paid off immensely for the Stars. His point totals over the first 3 seasons have been 58, 49, and 67, finishing 6th in Norris Trophy voting in 2017/18. The number of defensemen who have scored more PTS for less money in the salary cap era is a short list (which includes Duncan Keith, John Carlson, and Victor Hedman).

6) Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg, 6 more yrs @ $6.1M: The kid scored 61 PTS in 71 GP before signing this contract, jumping up to 81 PTS in year one. Last season he was in the MVP conversation prior to sustaining a shoulder injury that cost him 20 games. He is now a legit #1 center that this team can build around for years to come. The Jets might be wise to try to use this contract to try and squeeze Patrick Laine into a more team friendly deal, using the “we don’t think you should be making more than player A” tactic. It’s worth a shot.

7) Vincent Trocheck, Florida, 4 more yrs @ $4.8M: Trocheck scored 53 PTS in 76 GP before signing this contract, and by year two he was up to 75 PTS. At age 25, he is entering what should be his prime years of production at a bargain price. Between him and Barkov, the Panthers have a great 1-2 value punch at center for the next 4 years. If they are able to build the right pieces around this core, they could be a contender very soon. We’ll see if that helps sell tickets.

8) Nikita Kucherov, Tampa, 1 more yr @ $4.8M: This was last year’s best bargain contract, but has fallen on the list as it will soon expire. That’s an unbelievable price to pay for 39 Goals and 100 PTS. He was coming off a 30 Goal season when his RFA contract expired, and Yzerman made him sweat it out until October to squeeze him into this bridge deal. He even got him at this discount for 3 years, probably using the low taxes in Florida to convince him to sign. The average price of an RFA coming off entry level contract having just scored 30+ goals is $6.7M AAV (adjusting for cap inflation). Where were the offer sheets?

9) Andre Vasilevsky, Tampa, 2 more yrs @ $3.5M: That’s a ridiculously low cap hit for a goalie who finished in the top 3 of Vezina Trophy voting. He signed this deal on July 1st a full year before becoming a restricted free agent, after playing just 24 games as Tampa’s back-up goalie. He had never carried the full load as a team’s #1 goalie and the gamble paid off for the Lightning. Year one of this contract he put up 44 Wins and a .920 SV %.

10) Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary, 4 more yrs @ $6.8M: Mr Hockey held out until October 10 before signing this contract in 2016, contributing to a disappointing first season with 61 PTS. Then in year two he exploded up to 84 PTS, establishing himself as one of the more dangerous offensive threats in the league. He also has elite level gentlemanly behavior, locking down the Lady Byng trophy in 2018. As a GM, you can’t put a price that…

11) David Pasternak, Boston, 5 more yrs @ $6.8M: He scored 70 PTS in the last year of his entry level contract, then jumped up to 80 PTS in year one of his new deal. His emergence as a dominant offensive force helped elevate the Bruins last season into a Stanley Cup contender, playing on a dominant first line with Marchand and Bergeron. There is no way Boston will trade this kid, unless maybe he's a party animal or a huge nerd who enjoys visiting museums.

12) Erik Karlsson, Ottawa, 1 more yr @ $6.5M: The fact that this contract will expire at the end of the season is the only reason it is not higher on the list. He can pretty much name his price when he hits the UFA market, so getting him this year at $6.5M is a huge win for the Sharks. The big question is, will he accept less money to play for a contending team? My guess is 80% chance he will sign an extension with the Sharks. He’ll love being in that dressing room, and would doesn’t love living in San Jose.

13) Shayne Gostisbehere, Philly, 5 more yrs @ $4.5M: The Ghost had 39 PTS in 76 GP in the last year of his entry level, then shot up to 63 PTS in year one of this contract. Defensemen who produce that much offense tend to be much more expensive, so having him for 5 more years is tremendous value during what should be his prime years of production. Going that low on the AAV and that high on the term will end up costing Shayne many millions in career earnings, similar to Josi. RFA defensemen coming off 60-point seasons average $6.5M AAV (adjusted for cap inflation). The Ghost should have bet on himself, a similar mistake was made by the next guy on the list.

14) Rickard Rakell, Anaheim, 4 more yrs @ $3.8M: Rakell scored 43 PTS the season before signing this contract, then jumped up to 51 PTS in year one of this deal and 69 PTS in year two. That’s a great price for a 30+ Goals. He ranks very favourably on the “dollars per point” scale, which is great for the team, less good for the player. His agent made a mistake locking his client up for this long at this price. This should have been a 2-year bridge deal, not a 6-year at that price.

15) Mattias Ekholm, Nashville, 4 more yrs @ $3.8M: The decision to sign a 7-year contract under $4M AAV will ultimately cost Ekholm millions of dollars in career earnings. He will be 32 years old when it expires, at which age it will be difficult to hit a home run in free agency. This contract is incredible if you are David Poile, but not if you’re the player. This was not a “bet on yourself” type of contract, when clearly Matty should have placed a wager on himself. He turned out to be far better than you’d expect at that price.

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