The 2022 offseason has been a particularly memorable one thus far and is still not over. When we think back to this offseason years from now, the likely storyline that will be remembered most will be the major contracts and superstar shuffling that primarily involved the Calgary Flames. In a matter of days, Calgary lost franchise cornerstone Johnny Gaudreau to the Columbus Blue Jackets in free agency, found out that their other cornerstone Matthew Tkachuk would not consider a long-term extension with them, traded Tkachuk with an extension in place to the Florida Panthers, who proceeded to send their own franchise player in Jonathan Huberdeau back to the Flames alongside star defenseman MacKenzie Weegar, with Huberdeau ultimately signing his own massive extension.
That’s enough franchise-altering transactions to last some teams a decade or two, but Calgary fit it in in under a month, and all of this before even considering the impact these all had on Columbus and Florida. With the dust finally starting to settle and only Weegar left to deal with in Calgary, the attention can begin to turn to how these players will fit in with their teams, how their teams will build around them, and of course, how these contracts will ultimately play out.
Seeing as the three star forwards have a combined zero games played on their current contracts, it feels a bit premature to judge the contracts. However, given previous history with big-money deals like this and the fascinating nature in which they all came about, seeing how they all compare to one another and what each team might be faced with is an interesting exercise. Because it’s premature, we’ll look at previous history and we’ll consider what is more probable to happen rather than what is possible to happen. In other words, it’s possible Huberdeau immediately regresses into a third-line winger, but not probable. Instead, it’s probable he’s a similar player to the one he has been with some regression in his mid-30’s.
So, on this quiet Sunday in the NHL, take some time to carefully compare and contras these different contracts, not only to each other, but those from recent NHL history.
The Contract: Gaudreau signed a seven-year, $68.5MM contract on the opening day of free agency with Columbus, who was then considered a surprise dark horse for his services. The deal carries a $9.75MM cap hit, comprised of $7.75MM in base salary and a $2MM signing bonus in each year of the contract. It also comes with a no-movement clause and a modified no-trade clause in the final three years of the deal where Gaudreau can submit a list of 10 teams he is willing to be dealt to.
Reasons for Optimism: Even at just 29, Gaudreau is a seasoned veteran of the NHL who has had plenty of personal and team ups and downs throughout his career. He was fortunate to have by far the best season of his career prior to hitting the free agent market, but this wasn’t exactly a breakout season either. Gaudreau put up 115 points this season, 40 of them goals, but has had as many as 99 points in the past, 36 of those goals, in 2018-19, a season where offense wasn’t up nearly as much as it was this year.
Also worth considering is Gaudreau’s production while playing alongside players like Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm, and Andrew Mangiapane. Some may argue that players like these simply serve to enhance Gaudreau’s numbers, however he was able to balance his need for puck control along with the needs of his teammates, creating a heap of goals and assists for not only himself, but the others, Tkachuk and Lindholm hitting the back of the net 42 times apiece and Mangiapane 35 times this season. On top of this, his 90 even strength points this year serve to show Gaudreau’s impact is not simply felt when his team is in the most offensively-favorable situations, but rather when the game is at its most balanced.
Reasons for Concern: Listed at 5’9″ and 165 pounds, Gaudreau is among the smaller players in the league, though size hasn’t been an issue thus far. The primary reason Gaudreau has been as great as he has, even with his size, is his elite skating. Gaudreau has been able to utilize his speed in order to protect the puck, create plays and make space for himself and his teammates, driving much of his dynamic gameplay. The forward hasn’t taken much of a step back and doesn’t figure to for a few more seasons, however as he gets into his mid-30’s, it stands to reason that some of his speed may be lost, and though he’ll be far from slow, what impact that has on his play style, especially given his frame, could have an impact on his performance.
Another worry as far as the value of the contract is concerned is Gaudreau’s previous inconsistencies. Yes, he has played near this level of elite in the past and his “lesser” performances have still been All Star level, but with a cap hit of $9.75MM, now Gaudreau’s ability to perform at this elite level year in and year out will be a prime factor in how his contract is evaluated long-term.
The Contract: Unlike Gaudreau and Tkachuk, Huberdeau’s contract doesn’t kick in for another year. The longtime Panther forward signed an eight-year, $84MM contract that will begin in the 2023-24 season, with one year at $5.9MM remaining on his current deal. The upcoming contract carries an AAV of $10.5MM with varying signing bonuses and base salaries.