Caufield: To Bling or Not To Bling

By JD Lagrange – Ah the delicate topic of signing young players based on potential instead of, like in the “old days”, based on what they have proven to be worth. This is today’s NHL, which reflects today’s society with this alarming feeling of entitlement even before having fully proven yourself. But I digress and will likely be told to “get with the times”. Yet, my gut tells me that in a hard salary cap world, it makes no sense to take that kind of risk, unless you have a McDavid-type player.

The talk around Montreal is the “need” to sign Cole Caufield to a long term contract right at this moment. Not in the summer, not after Christmas, not after seeing how he performs this season. No, right NOW!

A new trend

Paying a player big money immediately after his Entry Level Contract (ELC) is a trend that other teams have started. Not to be outdone, the Canadiens did the same with one if their players just recently.

Fresh off having lost Jesperi Kotkaniemi to an offer-sheet, Marc Bergevin had the trigger easy and signed Nick Suzuki to an eight-year, $63 million contract extension a full season before his ELC would end. That’s a $7.875 million cap hit for a player whose best season was… 41 points (in 56 games). Thankfully, Suzuki followed that up with a team-leading 61 points in 82 games last year, but it’s still a high risk. But hey, others do it so it must be alright.

Around the league

There are three ways of dealing with second professional contracts when it comes to good young players and all three have been used with key young players. Trying to determine why teams and players choose one over the other can be more of less tricky depending on the situation.

The first approach, is what teams have been doing, by polarizing huge percentages of their cap based on the player’s potential. You pay him on a long term deal in hope that he reaches the level you, as a team, anticipate he might attain three, four, five or eight years from now.

The second way of thinking is a more traditional way. It consists on signing them to a bridge contract, which will provide time to see how they actually perform. For the team, it’s safer that way and it also leaves money on the table for other players. You are basically paying players for what they are worth now, knowing that you might have to pay them more down the line.

The third way is what I call “sitting on the fence”. Teams pay the player more money, but not on a seven or eight-year deal, but also not on a three-year contract either. It’s kind of a bizarre way to go but I guess it’s some sort of compromise when negotiations break down?

Here are some examples of the three types of contracts signed fairly recently.

Andrei Svechnikov8$62M$7.75M
Jack Hughes8$65M$8.125M
Jordan Kyrou8$65M$8.125M
Robert Thomas8$65$8.125M
Miro Heiskanen8$67.6M$8.45M
Adam Fox7$66.5M$9.5M
Brady Tkachuk7$57.5M$8.2M
Tim Stutzle8$66.8M$8.35M
Thomas Chabot8$64M$8M
Joshua Norris8$63.6M$7.95M
Clayton Keller8$57.2M$7.15M
Cale Makar6$54M$9M
Kirill Kaprizov5$45M$9M
Rasmus Dahlin3$18M$6M
Elias Pettersson3$22.05M$7.35M
Jason Robertson4$31M$7.75M

Caufield’s worth

So you want to pay Caufield? Fine. Let’s go with that. He had a horrible first half last season. He did catch fire starting on February 9th, when Martin St-Louis took over as the Canadiens’ head coach. In pre-season this year, he has played well and scored four power play goals. In two games so far, he has scored two goals (in the first game) at even strength.

So what kind of contract do you offer him? It seems like the consensus is to avoid a bridge deal at all costs. So do you go with the long term deal? Do you go with the “on the fence” deal? And for how much money? Suzuki makes $7.875 million. It is doubtful that the Canadiens would want to give more than that to Caufield, right?

Need for second contract cap

According to Capfriendly, there are currently 13 teams out of 32 (over 40%) either at the cap or over it, having to use LTIR to get compliant. Another 10 teams have less than $2 million of cap space. Both combined, we’re talking about 72% of the teams! Yes, the revenue was stalled by COVID. But when revenues are up, the cap will also go up. And guess what? With higher revenues, most of those teams will also be able to better afford spending to the cap.

That’s why, with a hard salary cap in place, I feel that the NHL must find a way to impose a bridge deal to its players, with its own cap limit, similarly to the ELC. It will make for more competitive teams, guaranteed. But much like the NHL will if they pushed for that idea, I am expecting a lot of resistance… but resistance doesn’t mean that it’s not what’s best for the game.

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