Seth Jones. Colton Parayko. Darnell Nurse. Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Until recently, Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson. Even Morgan Rielly is starting to join the conversation already.
What do all of these defensemen have in common? All of them are some of the biggest names in the league, and all of them are currently on contracts that are already being talked about as below the value they provide. Some of their deals are even considered among the worst in the league.
Now, it was universally agreed upon by the court of public opinion when almost all these deals were signed that they would not age well in the later years, but recently this is happening much quicker. Jones, Parayko, Nurse, and Rielly are all just in their first years of their extensions, and already many people in the hockey world are dreading the remainder of those deals.
So, why is this happening? Let’s break it down and take a look at some reasons that these deals are aging poorly quicker than expected. Not every contract will apply to all these reasons, but a lot of these will apply to at least a couple.
The Flat Cap
Let’s get the easy one out of the way first, especially since it’s not really the fault of the players or the teams that signed those deals: the flat salary cap.
When Doughty and Karlsson signed their eight-year extensions with cap hits north of $11 million in the summers of 2018 and 2019, respectively, they kicked off what was looking like the start of a new era in defenseman contracts. As arguably the two top defensemen in the league, they made bank on their first UFA contracts, and the market was starting to trend in the direction of a lot of high-end defensemen starting to get paid in eight figures, much like how Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane started that trend for forwards when they signed their deals in 2014 and Carey Price did for goalies in 2017.
But then, this weird thing happened. A global pandemic began, causing the league to go into a shutdown, and then when it finally reopened, it took more than a year to start bringing fans back into the arenas and allowing teams to profit.