Every year we spend one week in the summer talking about contracts. The best ones, the worst ones and then all of them — a team-by-team ranking of which teams are spending their future money the most wisely.
That’s the goal here today: An exhaustive look at league-wide contract efficiency where we place a dollar figure on every player for every year he has left on his deal and then compare that with what he’s actually paid.
Probability is never a guarantee, it’s the percentage chance of something happening. In this case, we’re looking at which players have the highest percentage chance of hitting on their deals (plus how much surplus value that gives each team). It’s the same criteria used in the best and worst contracts lists, just on a much larger scale.
When it comes to future outlook, age and future salary-cap estimates are extremely important. We measure each player’s value on the basis of cap hit percentage which fluctuates based on where they lie on the age curve. Younger players improve or hold their value much better than older players and that can compound a lot depending on term length. Future cap hits will also fluctuate based on the likelihood that the salary cap rises a considerable amount over the next eight years.
That’s the most important thing to keep in mind when looking at each player’s valuation according to the model. It’s a valuation that’s dependent on term length which will factor in progression and degradation based on age.
Each contract is graded based on a player’s expected surplus value and the likelihood that their value exceeds their cap hit. Keep this in mind as a guide with the understanding that this is based on an $83.5 million salary cap.
Here’s how each team stacks up with regard to the efficiency of all the skater contracts they currently have signed.
The goal here is to grade contracts empirically with the same context being applied to each player across the league: How much value does each player bring to the table and how likely will they provide positive value over the life of the contract?
The way that’s measured comes from comparing a player’s Net Rating and the expected salary that comes with it to a player’s current contract. Surplus value compares what they make with what the model believes they should be making (with the value of all future contracts being equal to the projected value), while positive value probability measures the certainty that a player will perform above his cap hit.
What players have already done holds no merit, this is about the future value of the deal. Contract clauses and bonus structure are important, but not considered in this assessment. Players on LTIR were not included. Players on ELCs were not included. Goalies were not included. Unused cap space for the 2023-24 season was considered as well as all future dead money (buyouts, retention, recapture) currently on the books.
Last season: 1st
Last year’s top team in contract efficiency remains at the top and it’s not hard to see why: There is arguably no better contract in the NHL than the one that belongs to Matthew Tkachuk. His market value comes in a shade below a league max deal and that’s due to the seven-year term where the salary cap likely rises to $100 million or more. Tkachuk, who may just be a top-five player in the league, at $9.5 million in that economy will be a steal. He already is now.
Beyond Tkachuk, there are some other high-quality deals, though aside from Aleksander Barkov’s many of them do expire soon. Carter Verhaeghe at $4.2 million is absolutely ludicrous and luckily has two years of term. Sam Bennett also has two years left at a very modest $4.4 million. After those two, the Cats are very fortunate to have Brandon Montour, Sam Reinhart, Gustav Forsling and Josh Mahura at the prices they do. For this year, anyway — they’ll all surely be much more expensive a year from now. Eetu Luostarinen is one example, but even his next deal comes in at a discount.
As for problem areas, there aren’t many outside of Sergei Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight, both of whom don’t count for this exercise. Aaron Ekblad fell off last season, but a return to form isn’t out of the cards. Niko Mikkola’s new deal is much more worrying. The model doesn’t rate him very highly at all and it’s a bit off that he was given that price tag with term. Feels like a rare misstep for the Panthers.
Last season: 7th
The Carolina Hurricanes are so good with their accounting that they are allowed one free-agent overpayment as a treat. Dmitry Orlov is the “worst” contract on Carolina’s books and given how good he is, the team’s excellent use of cap space and the short-term length, it’s absolutely a bet worth making. Jordan Staal is the other big negative, but that’s entirely due to a four-year term he likely doesn’t see the end of anyway.
Now it’s time to play the hits.
A top pair of Jaccob Slavin and Brent Burns for $10.6 million combined over the next two seasons? Banger.
Tony DeAngelo, Brett Pesce and Stefan Noesen all making $2 million less than they should next year? Bangers.
The new Sebastian Aho extension? Banger.
Martin Necas, who scored 71 points last season, making just $3 million? Banger.
And the coup de resistance: Andrei Svechnikov, one of the league’s best wingers, signed for six more years at the paltry price of $7.8 million. Another banger.
Even Jesperi Kotkaniemi has turned into a player worthy of his deal after some sticker shock when he signed.
The lesson is to always trust the Hurricanes with whatever they do. They have the highest positive value probability of any team for a reason. They are smarter than me, you and everyone else in the room. They’re building something special in Carolina and it’s only a matter of time before it pays off.
Last season: 3rd
Nathan MacKinnon had the power to command a lot from the Avalanche. On an eight-year deal that stretches into an era of big cap growth, MacKinnon sold himself short, using Connor McDavid’s cap hit as an anchor rather than the cap hit percentage as a guide. Over the next eight years he’s worth 15.9 percent of the cap on average, a shade less than the 16.7 percent mark McDavid signed at. The end result for a lengthy eight-year deal would be a $15.4 million valuation. His loss is once again Colorado’s gain as MacKinnon once again has one of the league’s most team-friendly deals — all while being the league’s highest-paid player.
And yet, he doesn’t even have the best deal on his team. That honour obviously belongs to Cale Makar who, for reasons unknown, signed for just $9 million per season. On a per-year basis, he’s the league’s most underpaid player. His partner, Devon Toews, isn’t far beyond as he’s making just $4.1 million next season. He’ll be due for a big raise, no doubt.
Along with those three, the Avalanche also get big surplus value from Valeri Nichushkin, Artturi Lehkonen and of course Mikko Rantanen — three excellent wingers who are all modestly paid for what they provide.
After the big guns, though, there is a bit less to love — most of which transpired this summer — which dampers things. I’m not convinced Ryan Johansen can be a capable second-line center anymore and I’m not a fan of his price tag. Ross Colton was a bit overpaid for what he currently is and Miles Wood was a lot overpaid for a long time. Those deals aren’t a huge issue with how much value they get from the top end of the roster, but it does feel like there were better ways to spend that money. That being said, Colorado deserves the benefit of the doubt given how well run the organization is. The Avalanche rank second for good reason.
Last season: 5th
The Bruins aren’t dead yet. Yes, the likelihood of losing their top two centers will sting badly, not to mention a plethora of other strong players. A repeat of last year’s best-ever season — or anything close — is extremely unlikely.
But that season created a solid foundation to build off of, a lot of which still remains. The top of Boston’s roster remains elite and that group all comes in at a very light price. Both David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy made the cut for the league’s 10 best contracts as they both get the “underpaid superstar” treatment. Boston saves $6 million per year from them alone. Same goes for Brad Marchand who remains a very effective winger, as well as Jake DeBrusk who has blossomed into a formidable two-way star for the Bruins. Hampus Lindholm’s deal looked a bit questionable at this time last year, but after a Norris-worthy season, he’s now a bargain.
There’s a lot to like here with only a few mishaps (Charlie Coyle, Derek Forbort) to worry about. No team gets a higher surplus value per player than Boston at an average of $4.3 million per. It’s The Bruins Way.
Last season: 11th
There’s just one thing holding the Devils back from moving up further into the top five and that’s Ondrej Palat’s deal, which has four years remaining at $6 million per. It seemed like a fine idea at the time, but it’s looking much harder to justify these days as the 32-year-old continues to decline.
That’s no matter because every other deal here ranges from perfectly adequate to devilishly good. The team’s top six is especially worthy of envy, not just for the price attached to each entity but also the term. The Devils are set to build a superteam for years to come with seven years of Jack Hughes, four years of Nico Hischier and eight years each of Jesper Bratt and Timo Meier. That’s an elite core four where the combined expected value over the life of their contracts is $44.7 million. The Devils are actually paying just $32 million — enough savings to fit another superstar if they wanted to. Or a lot of depth.
It helps that they were able to lock up Hughes and Hischer before either became the elite centers they are today. The Devils have two of the best contracts in hockey as a result of fortunate timing.
Last season: 4th
No team has more dead cap on their books than the Wild who will be paying Zach Parise and Ryan Suter a combined $14.7 million in each of the next two seasons not to play hockey for them. Dead cap space is factored into each team’s efficiency rating so it says a lot that the Wild rank sixth despite all the wasted space. Without it, the Wild would’ve ranked first.
The reason for that is the Wild have arguably the cleanest cap sheet in the league. Not a single player is overpaid by more than $500K per season which is something no other team can boast. When the biggest problem a team has is Jon Merrill making $1.2 million, they’re probably in really good shape. It’s the reason the Wild are fielding a playoff-caliber team that still has $7.2 million in cap space despite lighting $14.7 million on fire.
What puts the Wild over the top and on the cusp of the top five are four A-level deals with an 80 percent chance or higher of succeeding.
In an era where top-line wingers are getting $8 million, getting Matt Boldy’s entire prime for $7 million with a rising cap to boot is a dream. When all the fringe two-way top-line centers are getting $8 million or more per year, having Joel Eriksson Ek at $5.3 million for six more seasons is a luxury. When the league’s best talents are all starting to make $10 million or more, having Kirill Kaprizov at just $9 million for three more years is a blessing. And lastly, there’s Ryan Hartman, who is a solid second-liner making just $1.7 million next year.
Put it all together and the Wild are getting huge value from four forwards who all deserve a lot more than they’re getting. The difference? About $15 million. Funny how that works.
Last season: 9th
The defending Stanley Cup champions are champions for a reason and that’s because they get a lot of value across the roster. Vegas has been a consistent team within the top 10 and has one of the league’s highest positive value probabilities, ranking second in the league at 58 percent. Fantastic cap hits for key players like Chandler Stephenson, Jonathan Marchessault, Shea Theodore and Brayden McNabb are a big part of that. The same goes for depth pieces that played a big role in Vegas’ Cup win.
What keeps Vegas from landing higher is that all the team’s best contracts are light on term. It’s going to be difficult to keep the band together going forward for that reason with Vegas’ three worst contracts at four years or more. Those contracts aren’t problems, especially given how well William Karlsson and Alex Pietrangelo have served the team. Even the Ivan Barbashev deal is somewhat defensible for how he performed during the playoffs. But the top five is tough to crack and while those three deals may not be problems, they are a bit overpriced at the moment.
Last season: 16th
As long as Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are on their current deals, expect the Oilers to rank highly. The length of term left for each is getting shorter and shorter, but they’re still A-plus deals with a high probability of success and big surplus value. Both players are underpaid by $5 million with McDavid being the one player in the league worthy of a league max deal.
Joining them are the other two stars of Edmonton’s lethal power play, Zach Hyman and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. There were many people who were concerned with Hyman’s deal when it was signed. Not this model though, which has always had a soft spot for Hyman’s play-driving ability. He put it all to good use last year in his most Kunitz-like season yet. At $5.5 million that’s a steal. Same goes for Nugent-Hopkins who put up a stunning 104-point season, though without the same five-on-five value. In any sense, the Oilers get a lot of value from their top four forwards.
The same can’t be said for their highest-paid defenseman, Darnell Nurse, whose $9.3 million deal remains mindboggling to this day. Nurse has emerged as a top-pairing defenseman, but that’s only worth around $6 million over the next seven years given how he’s expected to age.
It’s a deal that undermines the goodwill of McDavid’s and Draisaitl’s deals and serves as a cautionary tale for the next superstar who dares to take less to help build a winner. Oftentimes the money just ends up being wasted on players far less deserving.
Last season: 27th
Up until this point there probably weren’t too many surprises in the top eight, but I’m guessing the Arizona Coyotes landing at ninth certainly qualifies. The former league money-laundering outfit ranked 27th last season but has really seen its cap sheet clean up over the last little bit. Bad money is few and far between as the Coyotes are ready to start rising up the ranks.
The Coyotes have a few solid deals on the back end between Juuso Valimaki, Sean Durzi and J.J. Moser, but Arizona’s big wins mostly come from the team’s four most dynamic forwards. That starts with Clayton Keller and Nick Schmaltz, two players who signed contracts well above their talent level a few seasons ago with the expectation that they would grow into them. It was a savvy risk that’s now paying off big time as the duo are both modeled $2 million higher than their current deals. They’ve exploded over the last two seasons with Keller especially starting to look like the franchise player he always had the potential of becoming.
Along for the ride between those two was Barrett Hayton, who last year finally started showing off some of the promise that comes with being a top-five pick. Better late than never and it comes at a perfect time with only one year left on his deal.
The team’s best deal, though, might just be its most recent: a $3.4 million pact that spans three years for Matias Maccelli, who was super impressive during his rookie season. The model is extremely keen on him after he scored at a 63-point pace last season while posting some excellent two-way impacts at five-on-five. If he can repeat that or build on it, a $3.4 million cap hit is a pittance.
Last season: 21st
Before last season I had some doubts about how high-end Ottawa’s core could be, which is the essential recipe to a contending team. Just look at Detroit. But after last season those doubts have been subsided and the Senators enter the top 10 in contract efficiency for that reason. Tim Stützle and Brady Tkachuk have blossomed into legitimate franchise players and are locked into extremely reasonable deals for their entire prime.
Stützle is the biggest win for the Senators as they extended him to a big money deal before the season began. That deal was just in time for him to post 90 points, a figure that potentially could’ve pushed him to a $10 million contract. That’s Ottawa’s gain as a rising cap coupled with Stützle’s continued growth gives the Senators one of the league’s best contracts. Tkachuk is valued a little lower and his contract is a little shorter, but he’s also on an excellent deal. Drake Batherson, signed for four more years at $5 million, rounds out a strong trifecta up front. Meanwhile, new addition Jakob Chychrun is a steal at his current price, though he only has two years left on his deal.
There are some OK deals after that, but there are two deals that do keep the Senators in the back half of the top 10. Not every $8 million deal for a core player is created equally in Ottawa. Josh Norris and Thomas Chabot don’t currently project to be $8 million players; a contract closer to $7 million is more appropriate. With lengthy term attached to both, there’s a chance the two players can get there, but for now, it’s just more time for some slight negative surplus value to add up.
Last season: 24th
There’s a reason the Rangers sit outside the top 10 and their names are Artemi Panarin, Barclay Goodrow and Jacob Trouba. Three deals with medium term left for three players underperforming their current cap hit.
This was always going to be the case for Panarin at some point. He comfortably delivered the goods worthy of his deal at the start, but now that we’re in the back half it’s getting a bit more difficult to justify an $11.6 million cap hit for three more years. Panarin is still a high-end player, it’s just that his work at five-on-five has waned over the last few seasons.
The much larger issue is Goodrow and Trouba. Goodrow’s deal looked like a landmine from the jump and last year saw his effectiveness at both ends of the ice noticeably decrease. A $3.6 million chunk of the cap may not seem like much, but that’s money that could be used on valuable depth — the kind of depth New York has lacked the last two seasons. It also makes the team’s cap sheet tighter than it should be. Same goes for Trouba, who would be a good bet if he were paid half of what he’s currently being paid. I thought there was a chance he could prove himself as a No. 1 when he was traded to the Rangers, but that just never came to be.
Fortunately, the Rangers have some solid deals elsewhere that make up ground. The deals for youngsters Kaapo Kakko, Filip Chytil and K’Andre Miller are all tidy and new depth additions Blake Wheeler and Erik Gustafsson are steals at their price tags.
But the obvious reason the Rangers land here is Adam Fox making under $10 million for the next six seasons. Fox is on one of the best deals in hockey as a perennial Norris candidate who is arguably the second-best defenseman in the world behind Cale Makar. To cover his entire prime at that price is a gift.
Last season: 18th
As noted last year, the Stars are the kings of chaos, owners of some of the absolute best and worst deals in the league. In terms of core pieces, there’s been a changing of the guard which has led to some excellent deals for Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz and Miro Heiskanen. The elite trio should easily clear $10 million, Robertson and Heiskanen especially, but all three are around the $8 million range instead. That makes up ground lost by the unfortunate deals for Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, which just haven’t aged very well at all.
Those are the obvious wins and losses that color the Stars cap sheets, but there are more subtle ones throughout the lineup worthy of attention.
Joe Pavelski is still putting up elite results and his $3.5 million contract is a gift in line with the Patrice Bergeron donation to Boston last year — just without the same press. Matt Duchene won’t be a bargain at the same level, but it is stunning that he could only command $3 million.
On the flip side, it’s amazing Radek Faksa makes more than someone like Duchene considering how obsolete he is without the puck. As far as defensive fourth-line centers go, there are few who are better without the puck, but that’s undermined completely when it comes to offense. On the back end, many Stars fans were dismayed when Ryan Suter wasn’t bought out and it’s plain to see why here.
Last season: 22nd
It’s always awesome to see a player’s glow up when it comes to contract efficiency. The pressure of being worth a public dollar figure is an intense reality that many rarely consider. A few years back, Josh Morrissey, after a down year, looked like a bad bet to be worth his deal. But he put in the work, got better and better, and now has Winnipeg’s most valuable deal at $6.3 million for the next five years. He’s turned into a true No. 1 defenseman thanks to his offensive explosion and now projects to be underpaid by $2 million per year.
Winnipeg made some solid bets contract-wise this summer to augment that. The team is in a state of disarray at the moment with key players one foot out the door, but the Jets are doing good work to set themselves up for the future. New deals for Morgan Barron and Dylan Samberg look promising while a bridge deal for Gabriel Vilardi looks like an absolute steal. He was the centerpiece of the Pierre-Luc Dubois trade and has a very promising trajectory that puts him at a price tag worth almost double his cap hit.
Up front, the Jets have a lot of solid deals from stalwarts like Nikolaj Ehlers, Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele and newcomer Nino Niederreiter. Nothing overwhelmingly good though, which means some of the work is undermined by expensive pacts to Adam Lowry, plus Nate Schmidt and Neal Pionk on the blue line. A $6 million cap hit for the next two years for both of those guys is Winnipeg’s biggest issue here by far. It’s what puts the Jets closer to the league’s middle — a familiar place for this group.
Last season: 2nd
For years the Leafs were perennially at the top of this list, but the reason for that is their best players had some term attached to their deals. That’s no longer the case and the team has added some iffy propositions in the meantime.
Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander have caught a lot of flak for their deals, but all three are projected to be worth well above what their cap hits are. They’re the reason the Leafs usually ranked highly. Matthews and Nylander have just one year left and there’s a lot of speculation over where their next deals should end up. Matthews, as a top-five player in the world, will likely be underpaid regardless of the cap hit given how the current market operates for superstars. Nylander’s new deal is a little more questionable given the current temperature between the two, but a deal at his jersey number ($8.8 million) for eight years would be right on the money.
The other members of the core don’t come out looking so good. John Tavares has just two years left but is closer to a $9 million player these days. As for Morgan Rielly, he has the opposite problem of Marner: a below-market rate deal that he likely struggles to live up to. Rielly was a beast in the playoffs and is worth $7.5 million and more if he keeps that up, but last year’s regular-season effort did leave a bit to be desired.
The rest of the lineup is pretty hit or miss and the Leafs seem to do a lot better at paying defensemen compared to forwards. Timothy Liljegren, Jake McCabe and Mark Giordano all put up quality results and cost a combined $4.2 million, with TJ Brodie rounding things out on a perfectly fair deal. It allows an overpay on potential for John Klingberg.
The forward group is a bit iffier, with few wins for the depth forwards and some big losses on new deals for David Kampf and Ryan Reaves.
Last season: 12th
The Lightning have long been the class of the league when it comes to contracts and they’re still getting a lot of value out of their core. Add Mikhail Sergachev’s new deal to that list and things look good to that end, especially if you ignore Victor Hedman’s valuation — a product of a troubling 2022-23 season that he seems likely to bounce back from.
But there’s trouble with the team augmenting the core group with lengthy deals for auxiliary core members. Generally, that’s not where a team should give out term, as it leads to lessened flexibility that’s harder to work with. In Tampa Bay’s case, it also didn’t lead to much in terms of salary discount. Anthony Cirelli, Erik Cernak and Nick Paul are key components of the Lightning machine and I understand the allure of locking them up, but at their prices, they don’t bring enough to be worthwhile. All three excel defensively, but not enough to overcome offensive shortcomings to be worth their cap hits.
The Lightning make up for that with core deals and by targeting undervalued players like Brandon Hagel — owner of one of the absolute best one-year deals in the league — but the next level is a bit concerning at each player’s current rate of play. And a rising cap isn’t quite enough to mitigate that.
Last season: 19th
To this day I’m still flummoxed that the Lightning were able to get out from the Ryan McDonagh deal scot-free. The cliff he was about to approach was obvious when he was traded and the 34-year-old McDonagh indeed fell off it last season. He’s still an average-quality defender, but that’s not what $6.8 million should net a team for the next three seasons. That deal, along with puzzling pacts for depth pieces (Colton Sissons, Luke Schenn, Jeremy Lauzon) are Nashville’s biggest concerns.
Aside from those deals, and perhaps a slight overpayment for star forward Filip Forsberg, the Predators land right in the middle because they have a lot of fair deals but not a lot of outright wins. Roman Josi is the obvious exception to the rule and should play at an $11 million level over the next five seasons. They also have Cody Glass and Thomas Novak for cheap. But aside from those three, it’s a whole lot of meh.
Last season: 13th
Drew Doughty spent some years headlining the league’s worst contracts list and while he isn’t home free yet, he’s a lot closer to where he needs to be than he once was. He’s been much better these last two seasons, it’s just hard to stay at that level at 33 — hence the pessimistic valuation.
Aside from Doughty, the Kings have a pretty clean and average cap sheet. Nothing to really celebrate or scoff at. Kevin Fiala and Pierre-Luc Dubois are over- and underpaid by nearly equal amounts and cancel each other out. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dubois finally blossom as a King and live up to that deal, but for now, he comes in $1 million shy of where he should be. This Kings team is on the rise and he’ll help with that.
The best deal on the books though might belong to someone fans outside of Los Angeles aren’t as familiar with. Mikey Anderson is Doughty’s primary partner and there were some who were skeptical when he signed for eight years at $4.1 million given his lack of offense. He’s worth it though for what he brings to the table defensively and is quickly turning into one of the game’s premier shutdown defenders.
Last season: 14th
The best deals in Vancouver shouldn’t surprise you at all. They belong to Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes, both of whom are handsomely underpaid as many expected when they signed their deals. That’s good for the Canucks on the Hughes front since he’s signed for four more years. Not so much on the Pettersson front as he’s up next summer and could command a massive raise if he can repeat the damage he did last year. He was a top 10 player in 2022-23 and a similar venture could see a cap hit that easily eclipses $10 million. Even then he’d be worth it and would likely land at the top of this list again next year.
The Canucks do have some good value on the books with Andrei Kuzmenko and Filip Hronek. Recent free-agent signees Carson Soucy and Ilya Mikheyev are perfect and deals for Ian Cole and Teddy Blueger are fine, too. This is as close to the middle as the Canucks have been in a long time and it helps that Tyler Myers’ awful deal is almost up and they sent Oliver Ekman-Larsson to the shadow realm. J.T. Miller’s deal is the lone albatross left and even that one isn’t quite as bad as his biggest detractors claim it is.
Last season: 23rd
Tage Thompson and Alex Tuch proved they were star players last season and now have the best contracts on Buffalo, bar none. Some defensive improvement for Thompson would go a long way toward placing him with the league’s very best and making his contract an even bigger steal.
Rasmus Dahlin has potential to join those two depending on the term length of his next deal. He’s projected to be worth $9.6 million next season — but given his age, trajectory and a rising cap he’s worth closer to $12 million on an eight-year deal after that. Unless the Sabres make him the highest-paid defenseman in the league, he’s still going to have a very worthwhile contract this time next year.
Aside from Dylan Cozens’ perfect contract and a nice one-year pact for an improving Casey Mittelstadt, the rest of the Sabres cap sheet doesn’t look great. They’re paying five league-minimum defenders much more than they deserve (though they’ll all be up in a year) and there are several forwards who are much richer than they should be.
At the top of that list is Jeff Skinner, though his negative surplus value used to be much worse. His bounce-back last season was a very pleasant sight — it just doesn’t bring his projected value level up with his cap hit.
Last season: 6th
This time last year the Calgary Flames ranked just outside the top five in contract efficiency. This time last year they were still a team many expected would contend, one without a $10.5 million deal for Jonathan Huberdeau that spans the next eight seasons. Or a $7 million deal for the next six seasons for Nazem Kadri.
It’s good that both players secured the bag after years of being underpaid. They deserved it. But those contracts are now Calgary’s biggest problem and both players will need to do a lot to bounce back and be worth it. Especially Huberdeau.
Aside from those two, there’s a lot to like about Calgary’s cap sheet. The MacKenzie Weegar extension looks much more promising and they’re getting solid value out of key players like Elias Lindholm, Dillon Dube, Andrew Mangiapane, Mikael Backlund, Noah Hanifin and Chris Tanev. The problem is that Mangiapane, on a two-year deal, is the only one with a contract past this season. It’s especially troubling considering three of those players have already said they don’t want to be in Calgary after this season. Ouch.
The one to watch will be Lindholm as he has extreme potential to be the next Flame with a difficult-to-stomach contract. Don’t be fooled by the current valuation of $8.3 million. Lindholm will be months away from 30 when a new deal starts and his value over eight years will be closer to $7.2 million on average.
Last season: 15th
I thought a Vince Dunn extension would’ve been enough to push the Kraken up the rankings, but that was mostly because I didn’t actually expect him to earn $7.4 million. It’s still a good deal that he should outperform based on last season’s breakthrough — it’s just not the steal I expected. The team’s biggest steal belongs to Jared McCann who popped 40 goals last season and is making only $5 million for the next four seasons.
That’s fantastic value for the McCann deal, but it’s really the only thing propping the Kraken up as the roster is full of overpayments across the board. It’s possible the model is underrating a lot of players after last year’s big success, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see a lot of regression next season. That colors the modest valuations for a number of their players. Adam Larsson is a prime example: a player who was worth more than $4 million last season, but projects to fall back into that range for the next two seasons.
Last season: 8th
The Mikael Granlund trade remains completely unfathomable, a complete waste of cap space for a team that could’ve really used it for its core’s twilight years. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang all remain worthy of their deals and as long as that’s true the Penguins have a shot.
Pittsburgh’s biggest bargains over the last few years have been Crosby and running mate Jake Guentzel and a big reason the team has dropped from top 10 to bottom 10 is those deals are running out. Guentzel is up next summer while Crosby is due in two years. That limits the overall surplus value the team gets this year.
Aside from Granlund, there aren’t a lot of problem contracts on the books, but there are some considerable overpays — including some of Kyle Dubas’ first transactions, with a bit too much spent on bottom six players (Noel Acciari and Lars Ellers) and a bit too much term for Ryan Graves, leading to an inefficient deal.
It could be much worse, but it definitely could be better too.
23. Detroit Red Wings
Last season: 20th
The Alex DeBrincat contract was exactly perfect, no notes. The same can be said for new deals for Klim Kostin and Shayne Gostisbehere, two of the many new additions Steve Yzerman made this summer.
As for the rest of the roster? Some notes.
Daniel Sprong is an incredibly savvy addition to the team in the same vein as Jake Walman a couple years ago. Underused players with high efficiency ratings who have potential to move up the lineup. We saw how it worked for Walman and something similar for Sprong wouldn’t be surprising.
Finding the right defensemen has been a bit of an issue under the Yzerplan and last year’s deal for Ben Chiarot is already a huge disaster. Justin Holl and Olli Maatta aren’t on that level, but neither option looks to add positive value relative to their contracts.
The same thing goes for finding a capable center to play behind Dylan Larkin (who I expect will see his value jump with DeBrincat in town). Andrew Copp struggled in his first season and the J.T. Compher bet doesn’t look safe either unless he finds another offensive gear.
With all the new faces and Detroit hoping for a jump it’ll be interesting to see where the team lands next season. Especially with Moritz Seider, Lucas Raymond and Jonatan Berggren all due for new contracts.
Last season: 28th
The Noah Cates and Cam York deals were tidy pieces of business and grade out really well for now — but it would’ve been nice to see Philadelphia take a bigger swing and go for a long-term deal on both. They only have one year of strong play under their belts so there’s obviously risk involved. It just feels like in both cases it would’ve been worth it.
The Flyers need those kinds of long-term wins because they have a lot of long-term losses on the books. Injuries to Sean Couturier and Cam Atkinson have soured the model’s view on their future outlook, while the back end has two onerous contracts in Rasmus Ristolainen and Travis Sanheim. The Sanheim deal looks particularly poor and landed on the worst contracts list after his game torpedoed last season, but there’s a chance for a bounce-back there.
Last season: 10th
It will never not be funny that the year the model was finally sold on the Capitals was the year everything imploded. Aside from John Carlson, who remains on track to live up to expectations, the rest of the team’s core is falling well below pace as they are finally defeated by Father Time. TJ Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom are a shade of their former selves, Evgeny Kuznetsov has completely fallen off a cliff, and Alex Ovechkin’s defensive troubles have become more burdensome than ever before. Those four will cost $32.3 million next season and are projected to be worth half of that. Oof.
Washington’s problem in recent seasons was that its top end wasn’t good enough to keep up with the other beasts of the East. Now the problem is exacerbated further. Recent additions like Max Pacioretty and Dylan Strome have been a savvy way to combat that, it’s just not enough when the team’s best players aren’t good enough. It’s an even bigger problem when they’re still paid to be and that’s why — barring a trip to the fountain of youth — the Capitals will be in tough to return to the postseason next year.
The team’s defense is less problematic mostly due to a sweetheart deal for Rasmus Sandin and relatively perfect contracts for Nick Jensen, Martin Fehervary and Trevor van Riemsdyk.
Last season: 32nd
Last year we had Nick Suzuki on the “worst contracts list” with the caveat of being “excited to see how wrong” it was. The actual concerns were valid and Suzuki once again struggled to fit as a top-line center outside of earning a lot of empty-calorie points (sorry). However, a change to the model (which rewarded players who play big minutes over players who are more efficient per minute) and age curve brought Suzuki to reality as a slight overpayment rather than an albatross-level one.
The real issues here all belong to Marc Bergevin, in what was his parting gift to the franchise and a last-ditch effort to save his job that horrifically backfired. Ever wonder how one of the league’s worst teams can also be one of the highest-spending ones? It’s a combination of Brendan Gallagher, Josh Anderson, Mike Hoffman, Joel Armia, Christian Dvorak and David Savard being paid almost $28 million — one-third of the cap — and having a combined Net Rating of minus-35. Above average money for well below average players, most of which was avoidable.
That’s Bergevin though, and he’s long gone. The reason to be optimistic is that there are a lot of really good deals on Montreal’s book courtesy of Kent Hughes. Kirby Dach was a terrific snag and they’re looking to follow the same playbook with Alex Newhook. Mike Matheson was a great acquisition, as was Sean Monahan, and they have some extremely solid gems in Rafael Harvey-Pinard, Jordan Harris and Jonathan Kovacevic. The Cole Caufield deal looks right on the money, too.
It’ll be hard to take a big step while Bergevin’s Blunders remain on the book, but Montreal looks to be in very capable hands with Hughes at the helm.
27. New York Islanders
Last season: 25th
“All I can tell you is it’s too long and it’s too much money.”
It’s probably not a good sign when the guy saying that about a contract is the guy who signed it, but that’s Lou Lamoriello for you. At that price, a four-year deal would’ve been palatable. At that length, a $7-to-7.5 million cap hit would’ve been fine. Bo Horvat got eight years at $8.5 million and it immediately became a problem contract for the Islanders. And they have a lot of them.
The Islanders have a lot of players overpaid to some degree. Up front, it’s Kyle Palmieri, Anders Lee, Jean-Gabriel P …
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