Grading 11 Long-Term NHL Contracts Signed This Offseason
The NHL offseason is in full swing, and when we look back on the summer of 2022, we'll likely look at this as the summer of the long-term contract.
In recent years, we've seen teams shy away from free agent megadeals because it's not always smart business. A seven-year deal handed out to a 30-year-old means paying for decline on the back end.
It can also complicate the salary cap in the later years, preventing younger players from getting their due as restricted free agents and forcing teams to offload players they wouldn't otherwise.
However, there comes a time when teams need to "go for it," and that means signing a pricey free agent to a multi-year contract and managing the cap. Currently, teams are also contending with a relatively flat salary cap, and only minimal relief is expected in the coming years, so there was some incentive to lock up elite players for the foreseeable future.
In this particular exercise, we'll say that a long-term contract is at least four years. The following are 10 of the more noteworthy and influential deals, and we'll examine why in order to hand out grades.
With that said, class is in session.
Andre Burakovsky to the Seattle Kraken
Terms: Five years, $27.5 million ($5.5 AAV)
Burakovsky notched a career-high 22 goals and 39 assists for the Colorado Avalanche last season. He makes a positive impact on the ice, typically controlling the shot-share and expected goals-share with his linemates. He can play on the left or right wing, is a deft puck-handler and brings a ton of speed.
His $5.5 million cap hit at 27 years old allows the Kraken to continue to bring in pieces throughout the next two years to aid in their building process. Plus, he's won two Stanley Cups and has shown a knack for scoring timely goals in the postseason.
Burakovsky might not have been a leader on the 2018 Washington Capitals team or this year's Avs team, but the playoff experience is invaluable for a brand new team like the Kraken that is still developing a culture.
However, Burakovsky is a streaky scorer, capping his grade. If he can improve on this season and drive play on the Kraken's top line, then we might look back on this and bump his grade.
There is no doubt Seattle improved over the summer, adding players like Burakovsky, fourth-overall draft pick Shane Wright and forward Oliver Bjorkstrand in a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets, but it remains to be seen whether or not the defense and the goaltending can hold up this season.
Valeri Nichushkin Extension with the Colorado Avalanche
Terms: Eight years, $49 million ($6.125 AAV)
Nichushkin is also coming off a career season with the Avs, scoring 25 goals with 27 assists. The "Chu Chu Train" lived up to his nickname with 15 points in 20 playoff games, including six in the Stanley Cup Final.
The big winger is three years removed from his infamous zero-goal season, and he's made steady improvements since then. Nichuskin has always been defensively sound, but now he has the offensive game to put it all together. Plus, he uses his 6'4", 210-pound frame to add a physical component.
Colorado couldn't afford to keep much of their championship team together, but they keyed in on Nichushkin right away and extended the 27-year-old for eight years. The AAV isn't exorbitant and will allow the club to extend their most important player, center Nathan MacKinnon, who will be a free agent after next season.
Nichushkin has clearly excelled in Jared Bednar's system, and he'll be an even more important role moving forward with the Avs needing to make up for the scoring losses of Burakovsky and possibly Nazem Kadri.
Johnny Gaudreau to the Columbus Blue Jackets
Terms: Seven years, $68.25 million ($9.75 AAV)
The winger provided hockey the shock of the year when left money on the table with the team that drafted him and turned down an offer from the team that calls his state home to sign with the rebuilding Blue Jackets.
No one saw this move coming. The Calgary Flames had Stanley Cup aspirations the last few seasons with Gaudreau leading the way, and Columbus has never been a premier destination in the NHL. Gaudreau clearly saw otherwise and could be the player to change that narrative.
The top free agent of the 2022 class is an elite winger and perennial point-per-game producer. He's speedy and drives play, and he elevates his linemates. He's so dynamic that he could single-handedly change a team.
This deal was crucial because of where he went. The location was a driving factor for him and his wife, Meredith. It was important for him to be in the Metropolitan Division, where he isn't quite as far from his home in southern New Jersey, and to have some control over his situation.
Ondrej Palat to the New Jersey Devils
Terms: Five years, $30 million ($6 million AAV)
Palat was sort of the consolation prize for the Devils after Gaudreau chose Columbus, but he's an impact player who tends to make an even bigger impact in the postseason. This is good for the Devils, considering the club is eager to finally make a return to the playoffs and end this arduous rebuild.
Palat does a little bit of everything, playing on the power play, killing penalties, scoring and defending. He can play on a top line or he can play a defensive checking role. He's also fast and can play physical, and now that the Devils have Miles Wood re-signed through next season it's fun to imagine those two on a line together.
Palat does just about everything well, which is why he got a hefty AAV after only scoring 18 goals in the regular season. His postseason production made up for it (21 points in 23 games), and the fact that he is a two-time Stanley Cup winner and a playoff veteran means he'll play a big leadership role in a locker room full of emerging young players like Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, Dawson Mercer, Yegor Sharangovich and John Marino.
The reason for the B? It's a big payday for someone that has only scored 20 or more goals in a season once in his career, and that came back in the 2013-14 season, his first full NHL season. At 31 years old, it's possible his production drops off in the last two or three years of this contract.
But that's what happens with free agents—you accept the decline with the hope of squeezing what's left out of their prime.
Patrik Laine Extension with the Columbus Blue Jackets
Terms: Four years, $34.8 million ($8.7 million AAV)
It was unclear whether or not the Blue Jackets would be able to re-sign another high-scoring winger in Laine when Gaudreau came aboard.
General manager Jarmo Kekalainen still has some work to do to get under the salary cap by opening night, but two elite scorers like Gaudreau and Laine have the potential to make Columbus one of the most dangerous teams in the Metro.
Laine was traded to the Blue Jackets in another blockbuster move in 2021 and struggled his first season in Columbus. However, he returned to old form in 2022, averaging more than a point-per-game for the first time in his career.
He likely would have produced more than the 26 goals and 30 assists had he played in more than 56 games, but he took time away after the death of his father, Harri, and missed games with two injuries.
Laine is still only 24 years old and this AAV could be a bargain in a few years. It's also not so high that the club won't be able to get out from underneath it.
Vincent Trocheck to the New York Rangers
Terms: seven years, $39.375 million ($5.625 AAV)
The Rangers needed a replacement for Ryan Strome on the second line, and they got that in Trocheck, a solid two-way center. Anyone who skates on a line with Artemi Panarin will get points, but Trochek is also capable of some high-end playmaking.
He's signed through 2028-29, giving the Rangers a strong presence up the middle with Mika Zibanejad for several years to come.
However, what will the salary cap look like in the later years of his contract? There is already big money committed to Panarin, Zibanejad, Chris Kreider and Adam Fox. Meanwhile, Jacob Trouba is still on the books at $8 million AAV through the next four seasons.
Luckily, Igor Shesterkin is still on an affordable contract, but the Rangers could be in big cap trouble in the coming years with some of the club's top young players needing raises and no indication of a major increase in the salary ceiling.
Kaapo Kakko only agreed to a two-year bridge deal. Filip Chytil, who is coming off of a breakout Stanley Cup Playoffs campaign, Alexis Lafreniere, and K'Andre Miller will all be restricted free agents next summer. Braden Schneider will be an RFA in 2024.
Ultimately, this is the type of money and term the Blueshirts needed to commit to getting a player of Trocheck's caliber. There are pros and cons with every deal, and in this case, the pros outweighed the cons with the 29-year-old Trocheck.
Jonathan Huberdeau Extension (Trade and Sign) with the Calgary Flames
Terms: Eight years, $84 million ($10.5 million AAV after 2022-23)
You can't trade away a unicorn player like Matthew Tkachuk without getting an absolute haul in return. And the return for Tkachuk did not disappoint, with Huberdeau, defenseman MacKenzie Weegar, center prospect Cole Schwindt and a conditional first-round pick in 2025 going to Calgary.
It plugged some major holes, but the package would have been diminished if Huberdeau and/or Weegar opted not to return after this season.
But general manager Brad Treliving made a convincing pitch to the 29-year-old Huberdeau over dinner last week. Huberdeau, who is coming off of a 115-point season (second in the league behind Connor McDavid's 123), said Treliving made him understand how much the club cares about having him around past this season.
The trade itself set up Calgary for the short-term while this extension helps them in the long term.
Matthew Tkachuk Extension (Trade and Sign) with the Florida Panthers
Terms: Eight years, $76 million ($9.5 million AAV)
Tkachuk was headed toward salary arbitration with the Flames and had all of the leverage after informing the team he would not be signing a long-term contract. The loss of Gaudreau, the linemate he saw the most success with, triggered the exit, and it seemed like he was on his way to his hometown St. Louis Blues.
Instead, the Panthers pulled off one of the most exciting trades the NHL has seen in years and Tkachuk, an RFA, immediately signed a big extension. The 24-year-old brother of Ottawa Senators captain Brady Tkachuk is often referred to as a unicorn because of his rare blend of size, skill, speed and physicality.
He is a true power forward of the old-school variety but also brings dynamic scoring and playmaking abilities. His 62 assists were the 11th-most of all skaters last year.
Tkachuk is a win-now player on a win-now team. Let's hope this deal is the first of many like it.
Filip Forsberg Extension with the Nashville Predators
Terms: Eight years, $68 million ($8.5 AAV)
This is probably market value for a player of Forsberg's caliber at his age (27). He had a massive season last year with 42 goals and 42 assists. When there was no extension by the trade deadline, general manager David Poile's decision to retain him instead of trade him was met with plenty of skepticism.
If Forsberg had walked during free agency, it would have been embarrassing, but his eight-year extension showed that he still believes this team can contend soon.
This exercise is also about grading the front office to a certain extent, and the Predators did fine this offseason, but they're likely still quite a few players away from really contending again. Trading for Ryan McDonagh should help in front of goaltender Juuse Saros, and free-agent acquisition Nino Niederreiter will provide some offensive spark.
Outside of Forsberg and Saros, the core of this roster is on the wrong side of 30 and will need to get younger in the coming years. It was important to retain Forsberg, though, and Poile managed to lock him down.
Jack Campbell to the Edmonton Oilers
Terms: Five years, $25 million ($5 million AAV)
The Edmonton Oilers filled their most pressing need with Campbell. The confidence eroded in the tandem of Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith about midway through the season, and Smith was inconsistent in the postseason. Plus, he's 40 years old, so how much more mileage does he have left?
Campbell's deal brings him to age 35, and it's a manageable cap hit to work with for the next few years. Furthermore, there were not enough goalies to go around this summer, and it seemed as though just about every team was in the market for one.
There are some questions about Campbell's durability after the goalie struggled with injuries with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Nevertheless, he showed signs of being able to shoulder the load when healthy.
Campbell hasn't posted a save percentage under .900 in a full NHL season, and he was the top goalie on the free agent market. The Oilers went after what they wanted, and they came out better for it.
McDavid and Leon Draisaitl deserve a quality goalie behind them.
Darcy Kuemper to the Washington Capitals
Terms: Five years, $26.25 million ($5.25 million AAV)
Kuemper was one of the rare players to lose value during the Stanley Cup Final after some shaky goaltending in the Avs' title run.
He posted a .902 save percentage in the postseason, letting in some low-dangers and a few downright bad goals. Colorado decided to move on in favor of a tandem of Pavel Francouz and Alexandar Georgiev, even if Georgiev is somewhat of a reclamation project right now.
But the goaltending market worked out in Kuemper's favor, and he ended up with the Capitals, who need better goaltending to stay relevant in their quest to extend their window of contention.
Washington was first linked to the 6'5" 32-year-old after they traded Vitek Vanecek to the New Jersey Devils on the second day of the draft. It makes sense, and it's a good fit, but if Kuemper can get back to the level of play he displayed with the Arizona Coyotes, it would be an even better fit.