Capped: Players in the Last Year of Entry-Level Status

Alexander MacLean



Last week’s Capped article went over some key players who are going into contract years, that you should pay attention to next year. It is no secret that there has been a trend of players putting up career numbers right before they are due a new contract. As a result, just like looking for the fourth-year breakout, and the player jumping up the depth chart, targeting some players in contract years for the next season can pay off in spades.

On the flip side, in cap leagues, we have to be aware of the possibility of a big pay-day. Having an unexpectedly large contract dropped on your fantasy team can throw a wrench in even the best laid plans. Even coming out of entry-level contracts (ELCs), many players are opting to jump straight into a long-term deal, rather than taking the bridge contracts, so we have to be ready for big paydays earlier than ever.

All the players listed below will be coming off entry level contracts next summer and can sign extensions at any time. Some of them will be sooner rather than later.



Auston Matthews & Mitch Marner – Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto’s young duo is going to get a well-deserved pay raise, while the team seems to be trying to emulate the strategy out of Pittsburgh from the last ten years. If these contracts come in at the expected prices, The Maple Leafs will soon have over a third of their cap space tied up in Marner, Matthews and John Tavares.

Matthews and Tavares should be forming an incredible duo at the centre ice position for the next number of years, and it would not be surprising to have Matthews sign a very similar contract to the one Tavares inked just under two weeks ago. Coming in on a long-term contract at an AAV of $11 million, Matthews would be paid according to his talent and potential, while not completely tying the hands of new GM Kyle Dubas.

Meanwhile, Marner projects somewhere in the $7-8 million range, between the recent contracts of Leon Draisaitl and David Pastrnak. If he keeps up his point per game play from the second half of last season – and there is absolutely no reason he can’t while flanking one of Tavares or Matthews – Marner should continue to be a sought-after commodity in cap leagues, even after the extension.



Patrick Laine & Kyle Connor – Winnipeg Jets

After having put up one of the most under-the-radar 30-goal seasons in recent memory, you would think Connor could step out from behind Laine’s shadow. That doesn’t appear to be the case however, as Laine put up a 40-goal season, and seems to just be in the process of taking off.

This situation doesn’t differ much from the pair in Toronto, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Laine end up with a very similar contract to Matthews’, and then Connor come in with a price tag just a shade under Marner’s. With all of the other pieces of the core in Winnipeg already set however, these two may need to take a tiny bit more of a pay cut if they want to try and keep the whole gang together. The recent signing of Connor Hellebuyck certainly helps though (and at almost exactly the cap-hit we discussed here in January!).



Brock Boeser – Vancouver Canucks

Due to Boeser burning a year off of his ELC at the end of the 2017 season, and then having his 2018 campaign cut short due to an injury, we have yet to see what a full season would be like. His 62 games last year were a career single-season high.

Had Boeser played a full season, would he have gotten worn down and tailed off? Can we expect a sophomore slump coming this year after he started last year off so well? Will there be any lasting effects from the small fracture in his lower back? Only time will tell on all of these questions, but let’s take a stab.

The initial recovery timeline was 4-6 weeks, and the only updates thus far are saying he is probable to be back to full health in time to train for the season. The longer time off however, in addition to the new focus on him by opposing teams could certainly lead to a bit of a sophomore slump. What this means, is that both Boeser and the Canucks are likely going to want to see how the first part of the season plays out before engaging in contract talks. We could see this pushed even as far as next spring before the two sides have enough to go on for the next contract. Teammate Bo Horvat signed in September 2017 as a restricted free-agent, and received a six-year, $5.5 million AAV contract. Boeser may get a little raise on top of that due to inflation, but the benchmark has been set before in Vancouver.



Will Butcher – New Jersey Devils

Butcher is an interesting case, as he didn’t sign his first pro contract until the age of 22. As a result, he only has a two-year ELC. What this means, is that New Jersey has a much shorter time frame in which to evaluate what they have in Butcher, and what he is worth long-term. Butcher has one season under his belt and has already passed the 40-point threshold.

As a comparable, Colin Miller just received a four-year, $3.875 million AAV after posting his first 40-point season. Meanwhile teammate Damon Severson landed himself a six-year, $4.167-million AAV contract last fall. He has yet to hit the magical 40-point mark in a season, and he wasn’t used exceptionally in a defensive role either. Butcher could use those as a floor for his contract talks, perhaps settling close to the $5 million mark when all is said and done.



Charlie McAvoy – Boston Bruins

McAvoy, like Butcher, only has one season under his belt, yet he only has a year left on his initial contract. McAvoy burned his first year off by emerging as a future stud blueliner in the 2017 playoffs. The young Bruin followed up a stellar playoff with a 40-point pace in his first regular season, eating up big minutes, and taking over from an aging Zdeno Chara.

McAvoy is going to turn into a number one defenceman and it seems likely that Boston will want to get him locked up long-term with all the other contracts set to expire soon. Brandon Carlo and Chara each only have a year left on their contracts, while Torey Krug is an unrestricted free agent in two summers.

On a long-term deal, McAvoy would likely look at Cam Fowler, Aaron Ekblad and Marc-Edouard Vlasic as comparables, seeking something in the $7 million range per season. As is the case with all three of those comparables, this would be one of those contracts that turns out to be a better deal in real life than in fantasy, as McAvoy’s ceiling will be limited both by playing defensive minutes, as well as Torey Krug soaking up the prime powerplay minutes.



Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny – Philadelphia Flyers

Provorov played the majority of the Flyers’ first round series with one shoulder and still managed to be the most reliable Flyers defenceman on the ice. He is blossoming into one of the best value ROTO defencemen around as the only defenceman last season to post 200+ shots while also putting up over 300 combined hits and blocks (Shea Weber and Alex Edler had a chance at the marks but didn’t play the full season). Provorov also added 41 points, and a plus-17 rating. Doing this all on a rookie deal is unheard of. He is turning into the next Dustin Byfuglien (without the size).

Fantasy owners can take solace in the fact that Byfuglien has been worth every cent of his contract and Provorov won’t be earning more than his $7.6 million AAV for a number of years now. Teammate Gostisbehere signed a six-year deal with a $4.5 million AAV last summer. At the time, many people lauded the deal as a potential steal for the Flyers. Perhaps they can pull off the same thing with Provorov, but don’t keep your hopes up.

Konecny on the other hand has nothing to blame for a disappointing playoff showing, in which he averaged under 14 minutes a night. He ended up with one point in the six-game series against Pittsburgh. Add in that Konecny is entering next season with added competition on the wing in the form of James van Reimsdyk, coupled with the continued emergence Nolan Patrick, and it’s tough to see Konecny building much off last season.

His 2017-18 campaign was a nice step forward after his rookie year, however his shooting percentage was high (but not unreasonably – 13.6%), his PDO was high (especially for a team with poor goaltending), and he was riding the coattails of the Claude Giroux / Sean Couturier tandem. The line mates are not a guarantee next season, neither is the puck luck. We may see a small step back from Konecny, before signing a bridge deal, which allows him to break out in his fourth season, earning his bigger paycheck down the line.



Kevin Fiala – Nashville Predators

Fiala was the most popular vote when readers were asked both on twitter and on the forum, who the last feature in this week’s Capped should be (other options were Jacob Chychrun and Jake Guentzel).

Best known at this point for some highlight reel rushes and breaking his femur in the playoffs in 2017, Fiala seems poised to put it all together in 2018-19. You could even call last year a breakout (48 points), after he tripled his output from the year before. A large part of that was from a 12-point explosion in nine games. Coincidentally, that barrage of points came very soon after Kyle Turris was acquired from the Senators. The third member of the trio, Craig Smith, is a volume shooter, but may be usurped next season. Eeli Tolvanen seems like he may have the inside track on a top-six-spot and would fit in well with Fiala and Turris. Tolvanen is quite the dynamic scorer himself, and with that added presence, Fiala may be able to boost his totals up over the 50-point mark for the first time.

On the flip side, without first unit power-play time, Fiala’s ceiling will only be so high. He scored 13 points with the man advantage last season, and don’t expect that to improve as long as the JoFA line is still around. A modest increase in points seems to be in the cards, and with it, a shiny new contract for the start of the 2019 season. David Poile will certainly be on top of it and never seems to wait long to lock up any part of his core.

On top of that, with extensions to both Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson coming after they had produced only one 60+ point season each, having two seasons close to 50 points for Fiala would likely warrant something in a similar range. Fiala’s draft pedigree is also eerily close to Forsberg’s, meaning a $5 million AAV for the Swiss winger should be the expectation, if not the minimum that his cap-league owners are planning for. Planning for and hoping for are not always the same thing though, and with David Poile running a tight salaried ship in Nashville, it’s possible Fiala ends up with a deal close to Arvidsson’s.



Recent Capped articles:

Looking Ahead to Significant Contract Extensions

Reviewing the Free Agent Frenzy


And stay tuned for DobberHockey’s “Bubble Keeper Week” starting next Sunday!



That caps off another Thursday.


Over the last week there have been quite a few signings. If you want my quick take on those with fantasy relevance, you can follow me on twitter here @alexdmaclean


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