For the past six seasons John Klingberg has given the Stars one of the best bargain contracts in the NHL.
An elite, offensive defenseman who drives possession and plays big minutes while counting just $4.25 million against the salary cap. That cap number is 71st among all NHL defensemen. There are not 70 defensemen in the league better than him.
Klingberg is entering the final year of his seven-year contract and is now eligible for an extension, and you can be sure it is going to be significantly more expensive. Not only because he has wildly outperformed that deal and is deserving of a significant raise, but also because of the current market for NHL defensemen.
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Quinn Hughes of the Canucks is another defenseman in line for a significant contract extension this offseason.
But players like Makar, Hughes, Werenski, and Heiskanen are not really apples-to-apples comparisons for Klingberg given that they were still years away from unrestricted free agency. Jones and Hamilton are probably far better comparisons since they would have been eligible for UFA status (or already were a UFA).
So let’s compare Klingberg’s recent play and production to that of Jones and Hamilton.
The table below looks at the past three years performance for each player.
If you are John Klingberg and his agent how can you possibly look at the contracts given to Hamilton and Jones this offseason and not conclude that you are worth something similar? He is right there across the board in every category. And while Jones has similar numbers for this three year stretch, he has been trending downward the past two years while Klingberg has remained steady and consistent.
Age is the wild card
Given Klingberg’s recent play and the market it should be a safe bet that his next contract will place him among the top-10 salary cap numbers in the league for defenders. So more than $8 million per season.
Here is a list of the top-10 salary cap numbers for defensemen in the NHL, in order: Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty, Roman Josi, Cale Makar, Dougie Hamilton, P.K. Subban, Alex Pietrangelo, Miro Heiskanen, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, John Carlson.
Out of those 12 players mentioned Burns is the oldest player at 36, followed by Subban at 32. Everybody else is 31 or younger.
[Related: Next NHL defensemen in line for contract]
Here is the question: How many players on that list would you be comfortable having on your salary cap at their current price for the duration of their contracts?
Makar and Heiskanen probably for sure given their ages. Maybe Hamilton, Josi, and Pietrangelo right now? Who knows how that looks in another couple of years. The rest are players that have not aged gracefully or maintained the level of play that earned them those contracts into their 30s. Klingberg will be 30 years old when this next contract begins. You do not like to think that his career will decline that rapidly. But nobody really expected Erik Karlsson or P.K. Subban to have their careers follow the paths they did.
The Stars’ cap situation
With new contracts for Heiskanen, Esa Lindell, and the addition of Ryan Suter the Stars already have a pretty significant investment in their blue line. An $8-10 million contract for Klingberg will only add to that and eat a significant portion of their salary cap space. They would have roughly $30 million invested in their defense, which would put them at the top of the NHL in terms of allotted salary cap space going to their blue line.
They do have some significant money coming off the books after this season with Joe Pavelski and Alexander Radulov playing on expiring deals, but those top-six spots would still need to be replaced by somebody else. They will not be easy spots to replace. They could also shed a goalie salary for Ben Bishop or Anton Khudobin if Jake Oettinger proves capable of playing a major role.
The Stars can make this work, and there should be a lot of incentive for them to try. Klingberg is still a top-pairing player and with him, Heiskanen, Suter, and Lindell they should have what is one of the better defense groups in the NHL, and that does not even include the prospect of 2019 first-round pick Thomas Harley.
It will be expensive, it might carry some risk, but if the Stars want to keep him that is the price it is going to be.