Only a few more days and then we are off to the playoffs. This is an exciting time of year for both the players and the fans. It’s also a bit of a nice change that the salary cap doesn’t count during playoffs, and we don’t need to focus on managing our fantasy teams every day. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t implications from these playoff games. Some players turn one shining playoff run into their peak career contract. Just think about what Joel Ward did in 2010-2011. As a refresher, he put up 29 points in 80 regular season games with the Nashville Predators, before putting up 13 points in only 12 playoff games. That summer, he cashed in, doubling his cap-hit from $1.5 million, to a $3 million AAV for four years.
Below are four players to watch in the post-season, as their playoff performances could very well have a large effect on the outcome of salary negotiations this summer.
Mike Smith (G) – Calgary Flames
Current Cap Hit: $5,666,667 (with Arizona covering $1,416,667 of it)
Having lost the starting job earlier in the season, Mike Smith has now started six of the last nine games, and is looking like the go-to starter come playoff time. He is 37 years old, and the last time he played a playoff game was the Spring of 2012 (Nail Yakupov was drafted first overall that June, to give you a sense of how much time flies). Smith hasn’t really had a chance to prove himself in the playoffs, but with Calgary, he has the opportunity to really shine with a solid team in front of him. Back in Smith’s 19 career playoff games (coming in 2011 and 2012), he was saving 95% of the shots he faced, and allowing less than two goals per game. If the Flames get goaltending close to that level, they may walk through the Western Conference.
For Smith, this could be his last chance to cash in with the contract of a starting goalie. It may not be at the forefront of his mind through the playoffs, but it is definitely something to think about. If Mike Smith takes a similar pay cut to the contract Pekka Rinne signed with Nashville, he would be signing a deal at around $4 million per year. However, if he is a large reason as to why the Flames get to (or even past) the third round of the playoffs, it is tough to see him making less than $5 million next season (on a short-term deal of course).
Jacob Trouba (D) – Winnipeg Jets
Current Cap Hit: $5,500,000
As a restricted free-agent this summer, Jets defenceman Jacob Trouba has one more year of arbitration eligibility before he is free to sign wherever he likes. He has shown all he can in the regular season, but the playoffs are a different animal, especially for stalwart defencemen. With the Jets’ number one defenceman Dustin Byfuglien having missed half of the season, he may not be fully up to speed, and be able to carry the load of 30-minute games. This is where the 25-year-old Trouba can shine. If Winnipeg is going to keep him, they will need to lock him up long-term this summer. Contract discussions up to this point have seemed to be contentious, so if Trouba goes into the summer and goes through arbitration again, he is likely gone from Winnipeg. If Winnipeg goes deep into the playoffs, and Trouba picks up Byfuglien’s slack, I would be more hopeful about seeing a big, long-term deal between the two.
Jordan Eberle (RW) – New York Islanders
Current Cap Hit: $6,000,000
Jordan Eberle has been underwhelming in fantasy circles since leaving Edmonton, and maybe even before then. His market value based on my model is about a $4.9 AAV. If he wants to get close to his current $6 million cap hit on his future contracts, a deep playoff run with some impressive production is necessary. Eberle has the talent to produce, but his track record in the NHL playoffs is way below disappointing – two points in 13 games. If there’s another disappointing playoff run, he is going to be slapped with the label of being an underwhelming playoff performer, and his contract is going to suffer along with the reputation.
Robin Lehner (G) – New York Islanders
Current Cap Hit: $1,500,000
Robin Lehner has really gotten his career back on track this season, and no matter what happens in the playoffs he is going to get a raise. However, Lehner only has two playoff appearances, both way back in the 2013 shortened season, with the Ottawa Senators. As a result, Lehner’s postseason track record is greatly lacking, and however he does this year will hold huge sway in potential negotiations this summer. If the Islanders get bounced in the first round this year with Lehner playing three games, and losing at least two of them, it won’t look great, and team that come calling may not want to pay as much as his regular season numbers from this season may have dictated. In that case, he may re-sign with the Islanders at a similar cap hit to Thomas Greiss, and they would form a solid duo for the next few seasons.
However, if he gets the reins over Thomas Greiss, and carries the Islanders through at least one playoff round win, then I could see a deal similar to what Devan Dubnyk signed with the Wild in 2015. The – at the time – 28-year-old Dubnyk had just gotten his career back on track, posted outstanding regular season numbers, carried Minnesota to the second round of the playoffs, and then signed a six-year deal with an AAV of $4,333,333 (approximately six percent of the cap at the time). Robin Lehner is currently 27, but the rest of it checks out. If the Isles make the second round of the playoffs (or better), pencil in Lehner’s AAV at about six percent of our estimated $83 million cap next season, meaning about $5 million.
All salary cap information courtesy of capfriendly.
Previous Capped articles:
That caps off this week’s record article, thanks for reading. If you have any other thoughts on players we should be looking out for, have your say in the comments. As always, you can find me on twitter @alexdmaclean.
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