Capped: Projecting Player Salaries (Part Two)

by Alexander MacLean on January 11, 2018
  • Capped
  • Capped: Projecting Player Salaries (Part Two)


This week's Capped continues our series looking into how to project player salaries.


I look forward to the World Juniors every year, more so than anything hockey related outside of the Stanley Cup playoffs. This means that when I had the opportunity to travel to Buffalo and see the Canadian World Junior team in the finals this past week, I jumped at the chance. It was a great experience, in part because I really enjoyed scouting some of these youngsters firsthand, but also just because the game itself was so much fun to watch. The fans north of the border really took advantage of the low ticket sales, basically turning it into a home game for the Canadians.

Last time there was a World Juniors tournament hosted in Buffalo, they didn’t have an attendance problem. This year, it was evident that the city has lost a bit of interest. Even with two of the Sabres top prospects in the tournament (Alex Nylander of Sweden and Casey Middlestadt of the U.S.) they couldn’t muster a strong showing. Perhaps if the Sabres could up their on-ice product, then we may see the attendance numbers straighten out and rise again. In the meantime, they may have a tough time correcting the course if they let free-agent forward Evander Kane walk. The 26-year-old winger is in the middle of a career year, just in time for a new contract. So how can we project his value next year in cap leagues with so little to go on? Last week started outlining the basics of the projections, and this week we will use Kane, along with a few other examples to try and give you an edge on your deadline shopping when it comes to impending free-agents.


Evander Kane (LW) – Buffalo Sabres

Cap Hit: $6,000,000

Projected Cap Hit: $7,662,747

Projected Number of Years: Eight


I will preface this by saying that this projection differs from the estimate published in the Evander Kane Capped article from a few weeks ago. The model is in the process of growing, and I am tinkering with it as it goes. The players are also playing games and changing the inputted stats, which in turn means a modified output. As a result, the numbers may change slightly, but the range should still be good. If we want to factor in the 10% margin for error that the model is now experiencing, with the last estimate for Kane that saw him earning $6.1 million per season (at 15% error), we see a small overlap at the $7 million range. This is where Kane should be expected to land, depending on certain other factors, and whether he is looking more for upfront payment or long-term security.

The eight years projected for the big Buffalo winger is also interesting, because as fans, we can see that no GM is likely to lock himself in that long with such a loose-cannon. The bottom line however is not the number, as fantasy players are not typically concerned with contract length, especially when it is out in the six to eight-year range. What it shows, is that Kane deserves, and will likely receive, a longer-term deal.

This does highlight a problem with projections: “garbage in, garbage out”. If a model doesn’t have every single variable, like knowing that Kane is a wildcard off the ice, then certain values won’t project properly. This is why watching the players and doing your own research is so important. No projection will be perfect, which is why they are projections, and why the game is played. It is important to keep that in mind, and not take projected numbers as gospel.


John Tavares (C) – New York Islanders

Cap Hit: $5,500,000

Projected Cap Hit: $16,547,276

Projected Number of Years: Eight


John Tavares has been the best bargain in cap leagues for the last number of years, and is due to be compensated after putting up career numbers through 43 games this season. Many expect Tavares to sign for more than double what he has been making the last few years, and the model agrees. The projected value is actually higher than the maximum allowed under the CBA. In the model, $80 million is being used as the projected salary cap for next year (it is rumoured to be increasing to the $78-82 million range). This means that the maximum salary he can see any given season would be 20% of the $80 million cap, being $16 million. (Evidently, I now need to include the max salary cap in the contract model.) It would be surprising to see Tavares get a max deal, but it is extremely possible that he eclipses Connor McDavid’s 12.5 million signed last summer.

The New York Islanders star centre may not be returning to Long Island next season, but he does understand that in a cap world, if a team wants to be competitive, then they also must be well rounded. It is extremely tough for a team to manage around contracts close to the maximum allowed, so if he is going to a contender, expect him to take a bit of a discount.

Tavares’ upcoming deal should see him with max term, seven years on the free-agent market, or eight years should he re-up with the Islanders. There really isn’t much doubt about this, and it would be shocking to see him take a deal any shorter than six years. For those in leagues where the salary is counted, and not the cap hit, keep in mind the recent trend of star players shifting their pay around the possible lockout year of 2019-2020. For the next two seasons we could see Tavares actually getting paid out $16 million, while only counting around $13-14 million against the cap.


John Carlson (D) – Washington Capitals

Cap Hit: $3,966,667

Projected Cap Hit: $8,972,324

Projected Number of Years: Eight


John Carlson is the highest profile defenceman on the market this summer, and he is having a season to prove it. It seems likely that this will be the second year in a row with the Washington Capitals losing their marquee free-agent rearguard. Last year it was Kevin Shattenkirk, and this year (especially if the Capitals exit the playoffs early again) Carlson can be expected to do the same.

Initially, Carlson’s projected salary looks massive, but if we break it down, it starts to not look so crazy. Keep in mind some comparisons. A few weeks ago I broke down here, how Erik Karlsson and Drew Doughty will be asking for massive raises in the summer of 2019. They will be looking at P.K. Subban’s contract, and asking to be paid accordingly. Based on that alone, it would appear that Carlson could be headed for a similar payday. Add in the rising cap, the shortage of right-shot defencemen, and his current career-year stats, the $9 million price tag doesn’t seem so inordinate after all.

Will Carlson be worth $9 million to whomever signs him? It’s possible. Will he be worth it to your fantasy squad? Probably not, but then again, most cap leagues still find room for P.K. Subban and Shea Weber, so there should be a niche for Carlson. Either way, he is a sell at this point, because there is never going to be a time to get more in return for him.



That caps off another Thursday. While we wait for next week, I would love to hear if anyone else has tried to model contracts before, or if you use other methods to approximate what players will be making, for the sake of future planning in cap league. Let me know in the comments.


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.