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.

TEAMPLAYER# of YEARSTOTAL $CAP HIT
LONG TERM
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
IN BETWEEN
Cale Makar6$54M$9M
Kirill Kaprizov5$45M$9M
BRIDGE DEALS
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.

More reading…

Trouble Contracts

By JD Lagrange – Marc Bergevin has done a lot of good things during his nine plus years as the Canadiens’ GM. But like any other man in his position, he has messed up in a few occasions. We won’t get into his trades and signing records as it’s been done over and over again. Let’s focus on his contracts negotiations skills instead.

People look at the current cap situation and feel like the former GM was brutal when negotiating contracts. They easily forget the contracts to Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher, both 30-plus goals’ scorers. Pacioretty signed for six years at $4.5 million cap hit. Gallagher was also signed for six years at a cap hit of $3.75 million. Jake Allen made $4.35 million when Bergevin acquired him. He re-signed him for two years at $2.875 million… while in his prime! Allen just signed for another two years at a million more per season, at the tail end of his career.

It’s easy to look at today’s situation out of context and blame Bergevin. I won’t sit here defending him as it’s not going to change anyone’s opinion anyway. I’ll just say that a lot of the issues with the current contracts have to do with the toll the COVID pandemic took on the team. Price, Weber, Edmundson, Gallagher, Byron and even Drouin are only a few who have suffered through the short schedule and a long playoffs’ run, through a rash of injuries.

Now what?

Moving forward… Regardless of what happened in the past, we must live in the present and that’s exactly the way Kent Hughes is looking at the situation. There were – and still are – a few trouble contracts on the Canadiens and it’s somewhat hampering their ability to do what they want to do.

You will notice that I’m not including Joel Edmundson in those contracts because when healthy, he’s worth every penny. But if his back issues don’t get resolved, he will be added somewhere in the following categories.

Pending UFA’s

The Canadiens have over $20 million potentially coming off the books just in pending UFAs by the end of the season at the latest. A lot of it should be gone by trade deadline, if the team is not fighting for a playoffs’ spot by then, as everyone expects they won’t be.

Dadonov – $5M

They have traded Shea Weber’s LTIR contract, he who will never play a game again. To do so, they had to pick up Evgenii Dadonov’s one year, $5 million contract. So in sort, it’s a good deal for the long term, but it is handicapping the team at least until trade deadline, while contributing to the clutter in the forwards group.

Drouin – $5.5M

Jonathan Drouin

There is still a slim glimmer of hope that Martin St-Louis can turn Drouin around this season but most fans have given up all hopes to see the player we all wanted to see. The good news is that he is in the final year of his contract, but his $5.5 million weighs heavy on the payroll. Like Dadonov, he could very find another home by trade deadline.

Monahan – $6.375M

As if the contracts situation wasn’t bad enough, Hughes decided to take on Monahan’s contract in order to get another first round pick. That one is not on Bergevin. Like Dadonov and Drouin, the former Flames is on the final year of that contract and if his hips hold out, his stay in Montreal could be short lived. If he can rebound, perhaps Hughes will be able to manage another pick at trade deadline for him? In the meantime, will it cut on Kirby Dach’s ice time at center?

Byron – $3.4M

Ti-Paul was a blast to have on the Habs… when healthy. Perennial 20-goals’ scorer, fast, exciting and great to see killing penalties. But his hip is giving him serious issues, so his $3.4 million contract has become a problem. This is also his final year and due to his health, he has absolutely no trade value. It’s too bad for such a honest worker and genuine good guy.

Term left

Then, you have some trouble contracts with term left. Admittedly, some would be harder than others to move although at this point, none would be easily dumped elsewhere.

Gallagher – 5 years at $6.5M

Potentially the biggest issue due to both the length of the contract and the cap hit. Gallagher is hoping to rebound this season after a season which saw him score only seven goals in 56 games, after four 30 (or on pace for) goals seasons. This contract is currently impossible to move and the Canadiens can only hope that Gally returns to form.

Hoffman – 2 years at $4.5M

Mike Hoffman has been in the rumour mill ever since Bergevin was fired, or so it seems. Yet, he’s still on the team in spite of the surplus of players, which pretty much tells us that there hasn’t been any offer worth taking if you’re the Canadiens. Hughes might need to add a sweetener like he did for Petry (including Poehling) in order to make a trade happen.

Armia – 3 years at $3.4M

Perhaps one of the most frustrating players to watch, Joel Armia shows flashes of who he could be. But then, he disappears for games at a time. In the playoffs’ Cinderella run, he was dominant on a line with Corey Perry and Eric Staal. At the Worlds’, he was one of the best players in the tournament. But he simply can’t find the consistency needed at the NHL level. Very serviceable however, he is poised for fourth line duties this year and his contract becomes expansive for that.

LTIR

Last but not least, you have the LTIR money and as it stands, only one name… but it’s a big one!

Price – $10.5M
Carey Price

We all know the story. In the recent playoffs’ run, Price proved to everyone in the hockey world that when healthy, he’s still a dominant force out there. But his knee simply won’t heal up and that has become a serious source of concern both for the team and mostly, for the player himself. After missing all season, he only played five games at the end of last season and he could be out all season again. This could very well be another Shea Weber situation, unfortunately.

Conclusion

As you can see, that’s a lot of money being classified as trouble contracts. In total, we’re talking about just over $45 million in cap space, or 55% of the $82.5 cap limit! And the team won’t be competitive in large part because of the production – or lack of thereof – from those players.

To make matters even worse, there are some very good young prospects trying to make a push for a spot on the team, but because of those bad contracts, there is simply no room for them to crack the NHL roster, and very little ways to trade to make room for them.

The positive? By trade deadline, there should be a bit more breathing room. Up until then, managing the cap will be like walking through a mine-field.

More reading…