Even with a relatively flat salary cap for the foreseeable future NHL teams have not been shy about handing out significant long-term contracts this offseason.
Since July 1 there have been 15 contracts (re-signings and free agent signings) signed that are at least five years in length and carrying a salary cap hit of more than $5 million per season. There is always some risk with that in a salary cap environment, especially when it comes to free agency. As we already know, most long-term contracts signed in free agency tend to end in a buyout or a trade.
With that said, let’s try to look into our crystal ball and assess the risk of each long-term contract signed so far this summer.
Wise investment: These deals should work as planned
Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning (eight years, $76 million; $9.5 million salary cap). Point is a superstar, one of the best players in the league, still in the prime of his career, and even if he does decline toward the end of the contract he is starting from a much higher level than most other players. He should retain significant value. A no-brainer contract.
Adam Pelech, New York Islanders (eight years, $46 million; $5.75 million salary cap). Normally I am skeptical of long-term contracts for non-superstars, but this seems reasonable for New York. Pelech is the rock of the Islanders’ defense, he is young enough to retain a lot of value, and the salary cap number is extremely manageable.
[Related: Every free agent signing by all 32 NHL teams]
Dougie Hamilton, New Jersey Devils (seven years, $63 million; $9 million salary cap). Given the contracts signed by a lot of other defenseman this offseason this contract actually looks like a little bit of a steal. He makes less than money than Darnell Nurse, Zach Werenski, and Seth Jones (for fewer years!) and is better than all of them.
Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche (six years, $54 million; $9 million salary cap). If he continues on his current trajectory (there is no reason to believe he will not) he will probably end up outperforming this contract’s dollar value and still only be 28 years old when it ends. He has another significant payday in his future. Probably the best contract of the offseason for everybody involved, team and player.
Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars (eight years, $67.6 million; $8.45 million salary cap). Heiskanen is part of that group with Makar, Quinn Hughes, and Adam Fox of emerging superstars on the blue line. Outstanding defensive player with still some untapped offensive upside. We have seen flashes of it.
Some risk, but probably worth it
Zach Werenksi, Columbus Blue Jackets (six years, $57.5 million; $9.583 million salary cap). Did they overpay? Yes. But Columbus needed to keep somebody after a constant exodus of star players over the years. At least Werenski is an outstanding player with a contract that only takes him through the rest of his 20s where he should remain an impact player. I am okay with a small overpay here given the circumstances. They had the money to spend, they could not let somebody else go, and he is a good player.
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals (five years, $47.5 million; $9.5 million salary cap). Even if he starts to break down or slow down you know you can put him in that circle on the power play for the next 10 years and know he is still going to score 35 goals for you. He is the franchise. He is chasing an all-time record. You are still better with him than without him on the roster. What the hell else are you supposed to do here other than give him the check?
Joel Eriksson-Ek, Minnesota Wild (eight years, $42 million; $5.25 million salary cap). He is the right age for a long-term contract, is a homegrown core player, his defensive impact is enormous, and the offense really started to arrive this year. The latter point here will be the key to this working out. If he repeats his 2020-21 performance across the board (offensively and defensively) this contract is great.
Buyout or salary retained trade is in the future
Jaden Schwartz, Seattle Kraken (five years, $27.5 million; $5.5 million salary cap). Schwartz has been a really good player for a long time, and he should give Seattle a few really productive years. But he is starting this contract at age 29, and I can not see him maintaining a 25-goal, 50-point pace into his mid-30s. And if he does not, Seattle is going to look for a way out.
Zach Hyman, Edmonton Oilers (seven years, $38.5 million; $5.5 million salary cap). The classic “like the player, hate the contract” situation. A seven-year contract for a 29-year-old that has never been a top-line producer or player is the type of contract that gets celebrated the day it is signed (good move to help the team!) and then ripped to shreds a few years later for being a mistake (why didn’t we see this happening?). If he plays four years in Edmonton before being traded or bought out we should be surprised.
Phillip Danault, Los Angeles Kings (six years, $33 million; $5.5 million salary cap). One of the best defensive forwards in hockey and an outstanding two-way player. Short-term? He will make the Kings a lot better. But he is 28 years old and needs his offense to bounce back at least a little bit from what we saw this season. Contract will not be a problem now. But in a few years the Kings might be looking to get out of it.
Philipp Grubauer, Seattle Kraken (six years, $35.4 million; $5.9 million salary cap). Very good goalie that is coming off of a great year playing behind an elite team with what might have been the best, most talented defense in the NHL. Now he is going to an expansion team that will not have any of that. He is also 29 years old and with what is, again, a very good but not elite track record. Goalies can be fickle. Sign them long-term at your own risk.
Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche (eight years, $56 million; $7 million salary cap). I get why the Avalanche felt they had to do this. He is a great player, he is their captain, he is a perfect fit on their top line with Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen. The only real concern here is how well his playing style and production holds up over the next eight years.
Potentially nuclear contracts
Darnell Nurse, Edmonton Oilers (eight years, $74 million; $9.25 million salary cap). Let’s not kid ourselves here: If he does not score 16 goals in 56 games because of an outrageously high (for a defenseman) 10.2 shooting percentage there is no way he gets anything close to this contract. No way. The Oilers paid for a shooting percentage spike. Nurse is a good player, but when his shooting percentage levels off and normalizes in future seasons and he goes back to scoring five or six goals as a solid No. 2 defenseman he is going to face unfair criticism for not playing up to his contract (the Oilers are creating an unrealistic expectation here for him), and the Oilers are going to get roasted for giving out the contract.
Seth Jones, Chicago Blackhawks (eight years, $76 million; $9.5 million salary cap). For whatever reason Jones’ play has taken a significant step back the past two years. It just has, and he has not been the player that he was earlier in his career. In most cases a two-year stretch like that would significantly hurt the player’s value. That did not happen here, not only in terms of what Chicago had to pay in a trade, but also the contract they had to agree to give him. If Jones can rebound from these past two years, maybe this is something that can work. But if they are his new standard? This is going to be a problematic trade and contract for Chicago.