One nice thing about the NHL, is that they aren’t the NBA. Let me explain. In the NHL, players don’t collaborate to stack a team, challenging the integrity of the game. The structure of the NHL is a lot more random, where the depth players play a much greater role, and the stars can only control a game so much. None of the NHL players play the full game like in basketball (as much as Erik Karlsson and Drew Doughty may try). As a result of the randomness, parity and depth throughout the league, players have not been as in control of their salaries to the same extent as some athletes in other sports. However, that may be changing with the free-agent group of 2019, specifically, Doughty and Karlsson, whose contracts both expire July first of 2019.
There are three main quotes here:
Doughty on his next contract: “I know I’m going to talk to Karlsson back and forth, kind of see what money he’s looking for”.
Karlsson on his next contract: “When I go to market, I’m going to get what I’m worth, and it’s going to be no less, no matter where I’m going”.
Finished off by Doughty giving some context: “Right now, I guess we’d be gauging off what P.K. makes. I think both [Karlsson and I] deserve quite a bit more than that.”
What does this all mean? Well let’s go through what it means for three main parties here.
Current Cap Hit: DD – $7,000,000 / EK – $6,500,000
Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson were due for raises, but there were some of us fantasy owners that were hoping they wouldn’t be breaking the bank, and might take a discount to play for the right team, like Kevin Shattenkirk did this past summer when signing with his hometown New York Rangers. The quote that sparks the biggest red flag, is the comment about gauging off of P.K. Subban’s contract. P.K. Subban is currently the highest paid defenceman in the NHL, almost halfway through his eight-year contract that sees him paid $9 million per season. Cap league owners may see the comments about deserving “quite a bit more than that”, and think: okay, add 10-20% onto that contract, and we’re looking in the $10-11 million range. That’s expensive, but in the wake of Connor McDavid’s contract of $12.5 million per season, it’s palatable. Unfortunately, there is more to it than that.
At the time when Subban signed his deal, it was 13.04% of the cap space for the Montreal Canadiens. Recent word from Gary Bettman has shed light on the likelihood of the salary cap seeing a large rise this off-season, up to the $78-82 million range. Taking 13% of that, would see a total of about $10.5 million, and then taking into account that Karlsson and Doughty see Subban’s contract being too low for their standards, they may end up in McDavid territory, of $12-12.5 million per season. That would be a lot for fantasy owners to handle, especially when even in the best of cap leagues, pricier defencemen can be harder to find room for.
My projection model pegs Karlsson’s expected contract at about $14 million (I haven’t had to put in the league max before because no one has hit it yet – McDavid projected just under $13 million last season). Drew Doughty is pegged at just under $12 million, but I expect the name value to drive that even a little higher. As a result, seeing them both over $12 million seems to make more and more sense the more we look at it.
The Teams Signing Karlsson & Doughty
Depending on who signs the two, and assuming that it is not the same team (because what team would be crazy enough to pay two defencemen a combined $25 million), we are staring down the barrel of a very large power shift in the NHL. No team has ever paid a defenceman over $10 million per season. The Montreal Canadians in 2014-2015 are the closest we have seen, paying Subban the $9 million we discussed above, at the lowest salary cap ceiling during the length of the contract. The first year of his contract, Montreal rode a solid defence core, and a breakout season by Carey Price to first place in the Atlantic Division.
However, over the course of the next few years, the team struggled to keep a core together and happy, failing also to accumulate enough depth to insulate the handful of top players. Nashville is managing the P.K. Subban cap hit right now with an increased cap ceiling, and some other bargain contracts on defence. Teams have also been paying their top centre increasingly more money as the years have gone on, but a team paying such big money to a defenceman is going to have to take a hit elsewhere.
The Rest of The League
Looking at the other big names set to enter free-agency that summer, if even a handful of them also decide they are going to drive up their price alongside Doughty and Karlsson, then the bar is going to be raised. As much as I mentioned being careful of the 2018 free agent class in my last article, the 2019 class is maybe the real one to be wary of. There are going to be some big names looking for new contracts, and maybe some shorter term, big money deals to follow.
This may also bring up the defenceman market, bringing the top defencemen closer to the top forwards, and narrowing the gaps between the middle tier groups of forwards and defencemen as well. Building off of another comment from last week, finding those players that have a decent contract with longer term will be crucial to holding value in cap leagues over the long haul, especially on defence.
That caps off another Thursday. Thanks for reading! As always, you can find me on twitter @alexdmaclean where I post some of my other smaller musings that don’t make it into the articles.
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