Every team dreams of having their own Connor McDavid, who is making a case as the best player in the world at the tender age of 20. Having such a great player is not free, however; with a revolutionary player comes a steep price. This past summer, McDavid signed an eight year/$100 million contract extension with the Edmonton Oilers, resulting in a $12.5 million cap hit every season from 2018-19 to 2025-26. I don’t think that many would argue that McDavid is not worth his contract, as he is very good and will likely only get better. However, the inking of such a contract does raise the question: has signing this monstrous contract skewed the NHL market for young players?
McDavid’s new contract is the highest in the league, taking up 12.5 percent of the $75 million salary cap followed by each NHL team. It’s unreasonable to say that all young players will get even close to McDavid’s cap hit, but it does raise the issue of teams potentially overpaying younger players. This actually happened this past offseason, with Oilers center Leon Draisaitl. Draisaitl recorded 77 points during the 2016-2017 season, and earned a new contract with an $8.5 million cap hit. That cap hit puts him above proven high-tier players like Claude Giroux, Ryan Getzlaf, Phil Kessel, and Shea Weber. Draisaitl has just one season above 51 points, and although he seems like he is on an upward trend, there are no guarantees in hockey. Yes, Draisaitl had a solid season last year, but awarding him that much money in his first contract year seems like an unnecessary financial risk for the Oilers, and likely stems, at least partly, from McDavid’s huge extension.
This exact situation was in place when Ryan Johansen of the Nashville Predators was due for a new contract. Johansen, who was traded to the Predators during the 2015-2016 season. He scored 61 points one season later in 2016-2017, which was a contract year. McDavid had signed his deal in early July, and Johansen signed shortly after. His contract’s cap hit is at exactly $8 million. Now, Johansen has never scored above 63 points in a season, yet his cap hit puts him among players who have scored 70-80 points per season for a few years, like Giroux and Getzlaf. It’s fine if Johansen averages out at around 60 points per season, but paying him $8 million a season is an overpayment, if you look at players with similar point totals. This past season Nazem Kadri, Mike Hoffman, and Johnny Gaudreau scored 61 points; their respective cap hits are a $4.5 million, $5.1 million, and $6.7 million. All three are great players, but do not have the large contract like Johansen.
So the question is, did McDavid’s signing make Ryan Johansen seem more valuable than he really is? Will McDavid’s contract inflate the value of young players looking for new contracts in the coming years? Think of the Toronto Maple Leafs, with so many young great players, like Matthews, Marner, and Nylander, on the way up; will they have enough money to afford them all? Let’s say all of them average out at about 70 points during their contract year. If Johansen demanded $8 million per year scoring 60 points, how much will these young stars demand? John Tavares is due for a new contract next season; how has the McDavid signing affected him? He may argue that since he is the franchise center for the Islanders, he’s worth $10 or 11 million per year, when really a comparable player, scoring-wise at least, is Ryan Getzlaf, and Getzlaf has a cap hit of $8.25 million. The reality of the situation is that the salary cap in the NHL is not increasing quickly, and Connor McDavid signing his $12.5 million (annually) contract may have skewed the market for NHL teams trying to sign younger players to long, affordable deals.