Last week we went through the league’s best and worst contracts, but that was only the tip of the iceberg — a sneak peek toward a much larger outlook. It’s now time to look at every contract through the same lens.
The best and worst contracts are usually the most interesting (especially the worst), but those are teasers for a grander scale project where the league is graded on a whole according to their contract efficiency. It follows the same criteria as the best and worst contracts: How much surplus value will the deal provide and what’s the likelihood of providing positive value? That likelihood is important as nothing is a guarantee in this sport.
Probability is not destiny, but it is a good way of showing which teams are likely to get the most value out of the deals currently on the books, and which are not. The contracts being graded include every healthy, non-ELC skater who carries a projected value from the model. Also, any dead money (buyouts, retention, recapture) on the books counts too.
This exercise also doesn’t factor in unused cap space as part of the equation as there’s no telling exactly how that space will be used (or misused). This is all about the value currently on the books (as of July 29); spending to the salary cap isn’t a bad thing if a team is good.
Age matters a lot here (all future projections are adjusted), as does term length as surplus value can compound over longer deals, for better or worse. Players peak between the ages of 22 and 26, so older players don’t earn a lot of grace here, with some exceptions.
Each contract was graded based on where a player’s combined surplus value and positive value probability fall on the following percentile scale:
Here’s how each team stacks up in regard to the efficiency of all the contracts they currently have signed.
The goal here is to grade contracts empirically with the same context being applied to each player across the league: How much value does each player bring to the table and how likely will they provide positive value over the life of the contract.
The way that’s measured comes from comparing a player’s GSVA and the expected salary that comes with it to a player’s current contract. Surplus value compares what they make with what the model believes they should be making, while positive value probability measures the certainty that a player will perform above his cap hit. Every contract grade is based on those two factors (with twice as much weight being placed on surplus value) looking outward. What players have already done holds no merit, this is about the future value of the deal. Contract clauses and bonus structure are important, but not considered in this assessment. Players on LTIR were not considered.
Last season: Second
There’s a whole lot of blue on the books here as no team in the league gets value quite like the Panthers. So much so that the team was able to flip two expiring sweetheart deals into one that now looks to be among the league’s very best. The Matthew Tkachuk sign-and-trade is what put Florida over the edge here. He would’ve made the best contracts list if the deal was done a couple of days earlier as he’s projected to be one of the very best forwards in the league — and is on a deal that pays him like a high-end first-line forward. He’s elite and locked up through his prime, with a salary cap figure that’s likely to explode.
The Panthers have more to love here than just Tkachuk’s deal. Aleksander Barkov may not be underrated anymore, but even at $10 million he’s underpaid. Aaron Ekblad still has three years left on a deal he has definitely grown into. And then there’s the team’s under-the-radar support system that has found another level in Florida. Anthony Duclair, Carter Verhaeghe and Gustav Forsling have been found money on this team and are on very modest deals as difference makers. That gives the Panthers six A-level contracts; the highest total in the league.
But even after that, there isn’t much to hate. Among the skaters, Florida has zero problem contracts on the books. Patric Hornqvist qualifies to an extent, but with one year left it’s hardly a worry. Last year’s biggest issue, Sam Bennett, has proved his post-trade explosion was no fluke either.
Really, it’s just Sergei Bobrovsky’s deal that’s the big stinker. Florida is lucky that doesn’t count here — but even he was showing signs of redemption last season. It’s no wonder this team won the Presidents’ Trophy last season and they should be well-positioned to the same.
Last season: Third
Despite qualms from the mainstream media that have been echoed by the loudest fans, the Leafs have always graded well here and that continues this season.
Yes, it could’ve been much better if the team’s internal cap structure wasn’t blown up, but the Leafs are still getting value from the majority of its big-ticket contracts. Auston Matthews has gone from a player being paid full market value to someone who is now on a steal of a deal for what he brings to the table. An MVP winner for 14.6 percent of the cap is very good. Mitch Marner has gone from hilariously overpaid as an RFA to a bargain who has been named the NHL’s top right winger in back-to-back years. Those two have delivered (in the regular season). So much so that the duo has made Michael freakin’ Bunting look like a superstar. Tack some of his stupidly high surplus value onto Matthews and Marner too. It’s really hard to pay superstar RFAs, and the Leafs’ dynamic duo is a testament to that.
That duo is a big reason Toronto ranks second, up one spot from last year, but it’s also because of the team’s darling pair of Mark Giordano and Timothy Liljegren, signed for a combined $2.2 million for the next two seasons. The results from that duo were ridiculously good and the pair should have zero trouble surpassing the expected value on that deal.
Those five players drive the bus here in terms of contract efficiency, but it’s still more good than bad overall. William Nylander has grown into his deal too, Morgan Rielly’s deal isn’t bad (yet), and most players are on the right side of the ledger. As it should be for a team that finished top five last season.
Even John Tavares, often viewed as the team’s biggest problem contract, isn’t valued that far off from where he should be at that price. Keep in mind he’s not being graded as “fifth highest paid player” where he is obviously failing, but at what $11 million should buy which is 3.1 wins per season. Over the next three years, he’s projected to be around 2.7 on average.
The Leafs’ cap structure is nowhere close to being as bad as it’s made out to be (though that Calle Jarnkrok deal doesn’t look pretty). Of course, that would be easier to see if the team wasn’t cursed to an eternity of first-round losses in seven games. Sigh.
Last season: First
The reigning Stanley Cup champions were of course going to be highly situated on this list, though they’re knocked off their previous perch as the No. 1 team. Losing Andre Burakovsky and likely Nazem Kadri hurts, as does a new, more expensive deal for Valeri Nichushkin. Samuel Girard’s decline last season didn’t help, as he once had an A-level contract.
The big thing, though, is that Nathan MacKinnon is now one year closer to free agency and that means the silly amount of surplus value on his deal lessens. He’s a superstar who will no doubt still be underpaid on his next deal — it just won’t be to his previous level. Without that deal on the books yet though, his surplus value is capped at $9.1 million. On an eight-year extension, anything below $14 million per season would add to that total. It’s very likely MacKinnon raises the contract bar above Connor McDavid’s current $12.5 million.
The big ticket, though, remains Cale Makar, owner of the league’s best contract. It’s still so absurd to me that the Avalanche were able to lock him up for only $9 million per season. He’s generational. It helps to have Devon Toews for $4.1 million for another two years. He’s also elite and deserves a much bigger payday. If he was making Makar money he’d still be worth it. That’s how good he is — and how underpaid Makar is.
There’s a lot to love here, but also some missteps according to the model that held Colorado back from the top seed. Neither Darren Helm or Andrew Cogliano are beloved by GSVA, even as depth players, and they hurt Colorado’s standing a bit. Same with Kurtis MacDermid, though we already knew that. The bigger issue, though, is Josh Manson, who looks very pricey for what he currently brings to the table. We’ll see if he can elevate his game a bit more now that he’s away from Anaheim, but for now, that looks really rich.
4. Minnesota Wild
Last season: 14th
It is absolutely, *ahem*, wild that Minnesota ranks so highly considering the Wild have $32.5 million in dead money sitting on the books. But hey, that’s $18 million less than last year! Progress.
The reason the Wild are here is that they proved the 2021 season was no fluke; this team is the real deal. That means a lot of the team’s contracts look better than they did a year ago. Joel Eriksson Ek and Jared Spurgeon had good deals last year, but now they look even better. Jonas Brodin’s deal looked like an overpayment before, but now it’s a subtle underpayment as he’s grown into a legitimate No. 1 defender.
Ryan Hartman probably had the biggest glow-up of all, proving to be a top-six center last year. Mats Zuccarello qualifies in that regard, too. Remember when he signed what an overpayment the last few years would look like? Not anymore after having a career year with 79 points in 70 games.
At the center of it all is Kirill Kaprizov, the most important player on the team and the primary reason the team not only ranks so high but can put together a strong lineup despite all the dead money on the cap. He was the catalyst for a super-charged top line featuring Zuccarello and Hartman and has blossomed into one of the league’s very best wingers. He’s a bargain at $9 million and this time last year wasn’t signed. The Wild have a very efficient cap sheet, but Kaprizov is what puts the team over the top.
Last season: Fourth
The Bruins are perennially at the very top of this list as they’ve cultivated an incredible internal structure — and have gotten pretty lucky with timing. Patrice Bergeron was always elite, but he was paid before the analytics boom might have got him a bigger payday. Brad Marchand only became a superstar after signing a long-term sweetheart deal, and the same thing basically happened to David Pastrnak. The latest and greatest is the Charlie McAvoy contract, given before he proved his do-it-all power with an added offensive flair this past season.
The Bruins have always had a few of the league’s best contracts and though Pastrnak’s deal is almost up, the tradition remains with Marchand and now McAvoy. I can only imagine what silly deal Bergeron will sign for if he comes back, but it won’t be anywhere near market. The team’s core has been underpaid for a long time and that’s allowed the Boston machine to keep churning. There are some other strong deals on the books because of that with Craig Smith, Taylor Hall and Jake DeBrusk all looking solid up front, and Matt Grzelcyk and Mike Reilly having good deals on the back end.
All the good deals mean more room for error though, and the Bruins potentially have two big ones, both of which were deadline acquisitions that turned into long-term commitments. Charlie Coyle once looked like a future answer at 2C for Boston, but now looks like a salary anchor for four years. On a per-year basis, it’s Boston’s worst deal. But the Bruins arguably added to that with Hampus Lindholm this year, immediately extending him for eight years at $6.5 million per.
The issue there is age. Lindholm is 28 and paying that much for a defenseman’s 30s while already in decline has huge potential for disaster. It’s why Lindholm ended up as an honorable mention for one of the worst contracts.
Having said that, Lindholm was excellent next to McAvoy since joining the Bruins and there’s a decent chance the model isn’t properly accounting for teammate effects here. He doesn’t have to be the guy anymore, and $6.5 for a solid No. 2 isn’t bad. If Lindholm can keep it up in the short term, that deal definitely isn’t as bad as suggested here — but it still comes with some risk given his play with the Ducks.
Last season: 12th
No Gaudreau, no Tkachuk, no problem. The Flames still rank highly by contract efficiency — though they’d rank a lot higher if they were able to retain the services of their two superstars. The surplus value on those two deals was astronomical and while Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar are vastly underpaid in their own right, it’s just for one year. With Gaudreau and Tkachuk on their current deals, Calgary would’ve ranked first. Ouch.
For the Flames, it’s a tale of two position groups. The forwards look pretty damn rough, while the defense looks stellar. Classic Darryl Sutter team, right?
Elias Lindholm leads the charge up front, though it’ll be interesting to see how much value he retains in the absence of Gaudreau and Tkachuk. Huberdeau’s presence alleviates that and gives Calgary two A-level forward deals. The rest leaves a lot to be desired, headlined by Milan Lucic’s continuously awful deal and the ghost of Sean Monahan earning $6.4 million. Even Blake Coleman’s deal is starting to drift downward after a single season.
The defense is a different story entirely. Rasmus Andersson had a complete turnaround and has gone from the team’s worst contract to its best. He looked like a real top-pair defender last year and four more years at $4.6 million is terrific. The rest of the top four also looks vastly underpaid. Newcomer Weegar is an elite force and only earning $3.3 million while Noah Hanifin and Chris Tanev round it out, bringing in far more value than their mid-range salaries.
One last thing: The average cost-per-win for all the contracts listed in this article is $3.9 million. No team pays less than Calgary’s $2.6 million per win. That’s part of the reason the Flames rank so highly.
Last season: Seventh
The Hurricanes were seventh last year and they remain seventh this year. Carolina had a very strong offseason where it got Max Pacioretty (a B+ contract) for free (???), got San Jose to retain the exact amount of salary for Brent Burns to be positive value, and added Ondrej Kase at half the cost of his value. Add a below-market deal for Ethan Bear and the stingy Canes did very well for themselves. No surprises there.
Those deals get added to a strong baseline that includes Andrei Svechnikov and Jaccob Slavin — two of the best deals in hockey (both should be closer to $9 million, at least). Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen and Brett Pesce only have two years left, but they’re all pretty underpaid as well. It all looks very strong and doesn’t even include Frederik Andersen, last season’s MVP, who is on a pretty team-friendly deal for a goalie who played at a Vezina-calibre rate last year.
Really, there’s just a single blemish and that’s Jesperi Kotkaniemi who looks richly overpaid for what he’s shown to date.
At least, that’s what this model says anyway. Whenever Carolina does something the model disagrees with, I’ve switched from “man, what are they thinking?” to “man, what am I thinking?” In this case, Kotkaniemi has a lot of potential that Carolina is banking on, and if the Hurricanes believe in it, so do I. We’ll see how that deal looks next year once Kotkaniemi is placed in a top-six role, but at this juncture, it’s difficult for the model to see much value based on what he’s accomplished so far.
Last season: Ninth
Basically, any player that even sniffed the Montreal home locker room last season gets dinged pretty hard by the model this year. You’ll see even better later, but it’s why Jeff Petry, the team’s prized acquisition this summer, comes in looking not so rosy. He doesn’t have the worst contract on the team — those belong to Jason Zucker, Rickard Rakell and Brock McGinn — but it doesn’t look as pretty as some might expect for his talent level. A down year sunk his value.
Overall though, there’s a lot more good than bad across the lineup. Pittsburgh stays in the top 10 because its top-of-the-lineup players continue to bring high-level value above their contracts. Jake Guentzel remains the most underpaid of the bunch, though he only has two years remaining. Bryan Rust just signed this offseason and though six years is a lot for an accessory player, the cap hit is low enough to make it a very strong deal. Of course, playing with Sidney Crosby helps a lot and some of their excess value should be added to his ledger. Even as his contract winds down, he remains a player worthy of $11 million annually. Lucky for the Penguins he is very superstitious because he left a lot of money on the table for an $8.7 million cap hit.
The big news though comes from the Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang extensions. It would’ve felt very wrong if either player played literally anywhere else, and though Pittsburgh sacrificed on term, the small cap hits make it worthwhile. Both are bargains. For now, anyway.
Last season: Fifth
Personally, I’m not really loving Vegas’ “give away good players for free” strategy over the past two offseasons. I’m not quite sure why giving away Pacioretty was the move, but it speaks to the difficulty of moving money around in this current cap climate. A player with one year left and surplus value couldn’t be traded for a positive return.
Part of that is the corner that Vegas painted itself into. The Golden Knights are the “well, well, well, if it isn’t the consequences of my own actions” of hockey teams.
The Golden Knights, when healthy, are still a strong hockey team — but they continue to receive karmic justice for their lack of loyalty. They went all in on star players, a worthy cause, but those two stars — Jack Eichel and Alex Pietrangelo — are hilariously their two worst contracts right now. Both players have loads of talent and should bounce back, but right now neither is living up to their respective deals. That’s a problem, especially when the team has to ship out quality assets to accommodate those deals.
But hey, at least Shea Theodore still exists. Until he gets traded in 2023 to bring in the latest star player, that is.
Last season: 16th
It took a long while, but the model is starting to warm up to the Capitals again. In this case, it’s primarily because of the team’s defense corps, where all seven players are underpaid to some extent. John Carlson leads the way with four years left on his deal at $8 million, a deal that should be closer to $10 million. There was a lot of concern when he signed the contract, but so far he’s aged fairly gracefully. He’s the best deal on the team. Even after him, there’s a lot to like, as all four of Nick Jensen, Erik Gustafsson, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Dmitry Orlov are underpaid by at least $2 million. The quartet only has one year left, but they’re a collective bargain at that price.
The forward group isn’t as rosy with the team being unfortunately weighed down by legacy contracts to their three best forwards. Evgeny Kuznetsov is not worth his deal anymore, though he got closer last season with a strong comeback. Alex Ovechkin is a little worse — he was on track to be at that level during last year’s first half, but faded heavily down the stretch. The worst culprit though is Nicklas Backstrom, who is being paid more than double his current worth. That’s high-end first-line center money and he just isn’t that anymore.
Aside from those three, the team is mostly okay, with the new Dylan Strome deal being the best on the books. But the most important three being at the bottom is slightly concerning. Really, it depends on how they continue to age and Backstrom’s current injury is definitely far from ideal in that regard. Ovechkin and Kuznetsov may be able to keep up enough value to be okay, but Backstrom’s current deal is very hard to justify.
Last season: 11th
As the Devils continue to grow, there’s a strong chance they can move into the top 10. A Jesper Bratt extension will surely put them in the conversation already.
Really, it’s about Jack Hughes continuing on the trajectory he showed last season. The model still underrates him due to his weaker priors, but even with that being considered, he’s already worth his mega-deal. That wasn’t the case when he signed it and it’s only going to look better by this time next year. Further ascent from Nico Hischier should also help.
The Devils don’t have a lot of problem deals, but their two big free agents over the last two summers come in at the bottom. Ondrej Palat feels like an immediate overpayment due to his age, but in the short term, it might be what this team needs.
Dougie Hamilton is a different story. There were plenty of concerns about how his game would translate on a weaker team and those questions weren’t answered positively in his first season. I believe he can bounce back when healthy, but a trying first season with New Jersey has moved him from a positive value player into an overpaid one. We’ll see who he is in Year 2.
Last season: Sixth
The Lightning have long been the front-office pinnacle, an unbeatable franchise builder that culminated in sustained playoff success, headlined by back-to-back Stanley Cups — and a trip to the Final right after. This is The Team of the last generation. But nothing lasts forever. Generations end. Empires fall.
The Lightning aren’t there yet … that would be foolish, but there will be a time to pay the piper and that started with the four long-term deals the team signed this summer. They are now the team’s four worst contracts on the books and single-handedly dropped the team out of the top 10.
Eight years is a long time. A very long time. That’s the biggest issue with the trio of extensions for Anthony Cirelli, Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak. A salary-cap explosion in future years will help, but for now, that’s already too rich for a center who provides little offense, a defender who isn’t a bonafide No. 1, and a rugged defenseman who likely won’t age well. They might be fine — this is the Lightning we’re talking about and it feels foolish to doubt them. But at this juncture, I don’t like the odds. Add a seven-year deal for Nick Paul and it’s a tough offseason for Tampa Bay (though to Paul’s credit he played really well in the playoffs and may be worth it for a little bit).
There are still a lot of great deals on the books, namely Nikita Kucherov’s and Victor Hedman’s, but there’s a lot more red than usual. It’s un-Lightning-like. Even Brayden Point had a bit of a down year that’s put his deal’s standing into the red. It’ll be very interesting to see how this all plays out and how everything looks when we do this next summer, but for now, I am mildly concerned about this team’s future cap outlook.
Last season: 31st
Talk about a glow-up. Flip the 31, it’s a 13 now. We love to see it.
Kings fans were on me all year last season, starting bright and early in the summer, due to my overtly pessimistic view of the team. They were right to be and the team’s cap picture looks a lot rosier this summer than it did a year ago.
A lot of that is because of Kevin Fiala. A lot. There is still a lot of red here, but his deal more than makes up for a lot of it. At a shade under $8 million, he has a strong chance to be a very positive asset for the Kings. The resurgence of Viktor Arvidsson and the emergence of Trevor Moore also played a role, thanks in part to the addition of Phillip Danault. The trio formed the team’s best line last season and all three saw their value rise big time as a result. That was the case for a lot of Kings players last season.
No one had a bigger return to form than Drew Doughty, though. His contract is still extremely expensive and far too long, but he looked like his vintage self when healthy last season which makes his deal look far more palatable. Last year, his surplus value was $51 million in the red with just a six percent chance of positive value. That jumped to $23 million and 19 percent. Big difference.
Last season: 23rd
For eons, the Vancouver Canucks have floundered near the bottom of any list that spoke to managerial competence. Contract efficiency? Straight to the bottom. Front-office confidence? Bottom.
So this is a pleasant twist, and a partially unexpected one given the team still has two albatrosses on the books in the form of Tyler Myers and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Yes, those two deals remain quite bad — though Ekman-Larsson did have a decent return to form in his first year as a Canuck. Not enough to make his deal not one of the worst in the league. But surprisingly okay.
The biggest difference, though, was adding Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes to the books. Those are the team’s two cornerstone pieces that were unsigned this time last year. They bring a lot of surplus value and positive value probability to the table here.
15. Seattle Kraken
Last season: 8th
The Kraken were ranked in the top 10 last summer — eighth place — and that was wrong. We apologize for the error. This year they come in at 15th, earning slight boosts from signing Andre Burakovsky to a quietly good deal and trading a pittance for Oliver Bjorkstrand. If not for those two, the Kraken would find themselves much lower after a disastrous season where nearly every player looked far less valuable than previously expected. By the way, that doesn’t even include the Philipp Grubauer contract which looks horrific these days.
Jared McCann was one of the lone bright spots for the team last year so it makes sense that he comes in with the best deal. It’s an extension he signed with Seattle during the season and it’s one he should make due on. Many other forwards on the team can’t say the same thing and are all overpaid to varying degrees. Jaden Schwartz and Alex Wennberg, the team’s two big UFA signings last year, coming in at the bottom is far from ideal.
On defense, the big anchor is Adam Larsson who simply isn’t the player many believe him to be. He is as one-dimensional as it gets in terms of stay-at-home defensemen and even that dimension is fairly overrated. He is the biggest thing dragging the Kraken down.
16. Edmonton Oilers
Last season: 13th
Even in contract efficiency, the Oilers only go as far as Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl can pull them. Every summer a year ticks off their contracts and some surplus value goes away, dropping the Oilers further down this list. The massive Darnell Nurse extension accelerated that, though Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’s deal certainly didn’t help either. Even Zach Hyman’s deal, which looked okay-ish when it was signed, has turned into the red here — though it’s still not a bad deal by any means.
As is always the case, the Oilers need more from the players not named McDavid and Draisaitl. Otherwise, they’re losing out on the biggest competitive advantage any team could’ve had over the last few years. Completely squandered. Last season was an obvious step in the right direction, but it still feels like the team should’ve been farther along in terms of sustained success. Perhaps the next wave with Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto, Evan Bouchard and Philip Broberg can help with that.
17. Anaheim Ducks
Last season: 22nd
Troy Terry at $1.5 million is one of the absolute best deals in hockey, but with only one year left the Ducks aren’t racking up tons of future value. He’s in line for a big extension soon after his big breakout and it’ll be interesting to see the price tag on it. Right now, he’s a $7 million player, but with some of the young forward contracts being thrown around, he may get overpaid on his next deal. Free agent acquisition Ryan Strome is the only other positive value deal, though he won’t have Artemi Panarin feeding him in Anaheim. Time will tell if he can maintain his current value on a new team.
John Klingberg was the team’s other big signing and while $7 million is a little rich for what he currently is, it’s a nice bet to make in terms of fit on a “prove it” contract. He’s only $1.4 million off and if he can clean up his defense with the Ducks, he can become worthy.
The Ducks don’t have a lot of big problem contracts, just a whole lot of little ones. Everyone else on the team is a shade overpaid with Jakob Silfverberg being the biggest offender. That used to be Cam Fowler, but he’s established himself as a true top pairing defender that’s close to being worthy of his deal.
18. Dallas Stars
Last season: 18th
The Dallas Stars are pure chaos, fielding both some of the best deals in the league and some of the worst. It’ll only become more chaotic once Jason Robertson signs for what will likely be too little for what he brings to the table.
Miro Heiskanen is an absolute steal at $8.5 million and he’s signed for seven seasons. There are few defenders in the league who have his effect all over the ice and he’ll only get better as he enters his prime. The team’s number one center, Roope Hintz is an underrated gem and signed at just $3.2 million. Joe Pavelski has had a resurgence in Dallas over the last two seasons and is also underpaid. Add newcomer Mason Marchment at a very reasonable cap hit and the Stars look pretty good at the top.
But that’s all undermined quickly by a trio of deals that haven’t aged well to the team’s former core. Tyler Seguin has the absolute worst contract in hockey right now and though injuries and other circumstances are mostly to blame for that, he’s still not close to delivering $10 million worth of value. He also has five years left on that deal. Seguin isn’t the only one though. Jamie Benn is right there with him and was damn close to having one of the league’s worst contracts too if not for a shorter three-year term. He’s being paid $9.5 million right now and is arguably worth only a third of that. Most controversial might be the grading of Radek Faksa’s deal. His reputation doesn’t fit what he brings to the table anymore and the model regards him quite poorly. So even though his contract is modest, it’s still far too much.
Last season: 30th
What a difference one year makes. The Predators still have a lot of problems on the books with four D-level contracts — Colton Sissons, Ryan Johansen, Mattias Ekholm and now Jeremy Lauzon — and they added another problematic deal with Ryan McDonagh. But the resurgence of the team’s best players has brought them out of the basement of cap hell and into the musty middle.
Filip Forsberg, Roman Josi and Matt Duchene had career years and that was enough to bring Nashville into the playoffs — and make its future outlook a little brighter. Forsberg resigned to a deal that looks very team-friendly from the outset while Duchene looks like an $8 million man again. This time last year his contract was rated a D-minus with a 19 percent chance of positive value. Welcome to that timeline, folks. That should give plenty of hope to fans around the league that all hope is not lost.
The biggest story is Josi, whose contract has flip-flopped from amazing to mediocre to amazing again. That one down season in the middle felt like it might be a sign of things to come, but last year Josi showed that he remains one of the league’s premier defensemen. That makes his contract one of the very best in the game.
Last season: 15th
Everyone seems to love the Yzerplan and the Red Wings rebuild and the team has done some strong work towards getting to the next step. The David Perron signing this summer was extremely savvy and Dominik Kubalik is a decent bet at his price point too. The Jakub Vrana trade from two seasons prior was strong too and those three mark up Detroit’s best contracts.
But for the most part, there aren’t a lot of great deals on the books and the team hamstrung themselves a bit with two signings in particular this summer: Andrew Copp and Ben Chiarot. Copp is a nifty utility player, but the price tag and term are a bit much for what he offers. Chiarot is the bigger issue as he’s being paid to be a solid number three on the depth chart and is probably better suited to a third pair role. This model (and any other) isn’t very fond of what he brings to the table so Detroit gets a big ding for that, maybe bigger than it actually should. Still, those two deals represent Detroit’s longest cap commitments which aren’t ideal.
The Red Wings rank 20th here, but one massive advantage they have is having Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider on ELCs. That’s a huge bonus that no other team possesses. If those two counted, they would drive up the surplus value by a decent amount. Seider is already an $8 million calibre defender while Raymond is close to a $6 million forward.
21. Ottawa Senators
Last season: 27th
Things are starting to look up for Ottawa, a team that’s truly back on the rise after a Hot Dorion Summer. The team traded for Alex DeBrincat, owner of the best contract on the Senators (though with only one year remaining), extended Mathieu Joseph to a tidy little deal, and added hometown boy Claude Giroux at a very reasonable cost. The one misstep was slightly overpaying Josh Norris, but on an eight-year pact that might not be a big problem. The team’s other cornerstone pieces, Brady Tkachuk, Drake Batherson and Thomas Chabot are all expected to bring in positive value too, especially Batherson. He should be closer to $7 million and that number could rise if he proves last year was no fluke.
There are three things holding Ottawa back from climbing higher: Nikita Zaitsev, dead money, and a high cost-per-win. Zaitsev’s deal is up in two years, but for now his negative surplus value exceeds his actual money owed. Ouch. The dead money is nearly equal to that and helps drag Ottawa below average. Because of it, Ottawa spends nearly $5 million per win, the third worst mark in the league.
22. Winnipeg Jets
Last season: 25th
As mentioned in the “worst contracts” article, it warms the heart to see a former worst contract get back on track. Check out Josh Morrissey who went from vastly overpaid to one of the most fairly paid players in hockey — just $100K off per season. I think a lot about this article from our own Murat Ates before the start of last season, explaining the changes to Morrissey’s game we can expect to see and how his value will increase as a result. Bingo. It’s an excellent example of the importance of context outside of data and how it can be applied. The numbers showed a signal towards Morrissey being ineffective, and it led to realized on-ice change for the better. That’s how it should be.
Of course, not everything can be perfect in Winnipeg after a trying year. Morrissey may have gone back to normal, but incidentally Neal Pionk saw his value decrease in lockstep. Probably not a coincidence. The team’s two other adds from the 2021 offseason also bring up the rear in terms of contract efficiency. The defense as it stands is pretty overpaid.
The forwards on the other hand are pretty hit or miss. Nikolaj Ehlers is on an excellent deal, one of the best in the league while the team’s other cornerstone pieces — Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor and Pierre-Luc Dubois — are a touch underpaid too. Unfortunately, that’s undone by two problem contracts: Blake Wheeler and Adam Lowry. Wheeler is closer to a $4.5 to $5 million winger now thanks to his inability to drive play… but at least his deal only has two years left. Lowry has four years left and $3.3 million is very rich for his current value which is pretty close to replacement level.
Connor Hellebuyck’s inclusion would help the Jets standing, but as far as skaters only there are a lot of mishaps here.
23. Buffalo Sabres
Last season: 29th
There’s only one reason the Sabres rank this low: Jeff Skinner. Despite a terrific bounce-back season, the odds are not in his favor to provide positive value over the life of his deal. A $9 million cap hit is a very tall bar to hit. He was pretty close last year though and the key to Buffalo continuing its ascent is for Skinner to show his renaissance season was no fluke. That campaign did help a lot though as Skinner was $41 million in the red this time last year. That’s a $15 million improvement year-over-year.
Aside from Skinner, the rest of the cap sheet is pretty standard. Tage Thompson: underpaid. Kyle Okposo: overpaid. Alex Tuch: underpaid. Victor Olofsson: overpaid. It’s what an average team would look like. If not for the one albatross deal, the Sabres would be pretty close to average.
24. New York Rangers
Last season: 21st
It’s very tough to rank this low with one of the best contracts in the league. Adam Fox is a steal at $9.5 million per year and gives the Rangers an epic head start. Chris Kreider, after exploding for 52 goals last year, adds a bit more to that. As does Ryan Lindgren, Fox’s primary partner.
But after that things get really dicey. Mika Zibanejad is fairly paid, but the team’s other best forward, Artemi Panarin, is seeing some real decline and is now in the big half of a big ticket deal. With his talent level, he can easily get back in the black, but the big surplus value New York used to see from him isn’t there.
The bigger issue comes from the team’s two free agent splashes over the last two seasons, Barclay Goodrow and Vincent Trocheck. They’re good players, but the contracts are a little too long for what they bring to the table. Trocheck may be worth $5.6 million now, but it’s unlikely he will be at that level for the majority of his deal. Goodrow was an overpayment from the get-go and his gritty style likely doesn’t age well. Those two really hinder New York’s cap sheet up front, while Jacob Trouba causes some headaches on the back end. Trouba is a top pairing calibre player, but $8 million is reserved for a player who can be a number one defender. He can’t and should be closer to $5 or $5.5 million. Combine the negative value of Trouba, Goodrow and Trocheck and the big lead that Fox’s deal gives the Rangers evaporates.
It’s not that the Rangers overpay a lot, they’re 16th in surplus value, it’s that the deals aren’t the best bets and they pay a lot to earn wins. The 42 percent positive value probability ranks 25th in the league while the team’s $5.2 million cost per win ranks dead last. No one pays more for a skater win than New York.
It’s worth keeping in mind that goalies aren’t included here and that would surely see the Rangers climb the ranks. The best goalie in the league at $5.7 million for three more years is incredible value. No one pays less for a goalie win than New York.
25. New York Islanders
Last season: 10th
Two years ago the Islanders ranked 21st as the model was skeptical of the roster despite its playoff success. Last year the team jumped to 10th, finally made into a believer. Now they’re down to 25th as the pendulum swings back the other way. The Islanders are not a bad team, but they are spending a lot of money to be average, with a lot of committed term to go with it.
Defense is the team’s calling card so it’s no surprise the Islanders grade out well there. Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock remain one of the best pairs in hockey and the team has the duo locked up at very sensible cap hits. Neither is a guarantee due to age and their positive value probability isn’t far off from 50 percent, but they’re still good bets.
It’s the forwards that really aren’t. Eight of them have a positive value probability lower than 40 percent. The team’s two top centers, Brock Nelson and Mathew Barzal, are fairly compensated, but much of the team’s depth afterwards is on the wrong side of the ledger. Anders Lee and Casey Cizikas are the biggest offenders being overpaid by around $3 million, and they also have the longest deals in the books. That adds up. All of Matt Martin, Josh Bailey, Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Ross Johnston are overpaid by at least $2 million on multi-year deals. Anthony Beauvillier, Cal Clutterbuck and Kyle Palmieri aren’t much better.
It’s a rough cap sheet with a serious lack of flexibility. It’s no wonder the team didn’t really have the ability to fit Johnny Gaudreau — it would’ve been way too hard to maneuver with so many anchors on deck. The Islanders are pot-committed to a losing hand.
26. St. Louis Blues
Last season: 20th
As if Blues fans didn’t hate me enough…
Well, here they are — one of the league’s top teams languishing near the bottom five in cap efficiency. Oops.
We know already that the model unfairly brings the Blues down a peg, and that will come across when grading the team’s contracts. A lot of players are better than GSVA makes them out to be and so the team’s contract efficiency is likely better than given credit for here. Players like Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko come in looking like slightly negative value contracts when they’re probably closer to slightly positive. Especially O’Reilly. Jordan Kyrou should look like a much bigger steal too, and Robert Thomas has the potential to really outproduce his deal.
However, that doesn’t excuse some of the longer term commitments for much older players. On the forward side, that’s Brayden Schenn who had a terrific bounce-back season in terms of production but has six years left at $6.5 million. He doesn’t drive play well enough to be worth that in the back half given he turns 31 at the end of the month.
The bigger issues are on defense. The new Nick Leddy deal is already rough, Marcon Scandella has two years left, and Torey Krug isn’t ageing very gracefully at all. The biggest issue, according to the model, is Colton Parayko. He’s sneaky old at 29 meaning his eight-year pact will cover his entire 30s — and he’s already declined from his peak. He was once one of the very best defensive defenders in the league, but he’s lost that element over the years and doesn’t have the offensive upside to deliver at his price tag. And that’s now. At age 37? Good luck.
There’s a chance he can turn it around — just look at Justin Faulk who was previously maligned using this very exercise. But the age concern given his style of play is very real.
27. Arizona Coyotes
Last season: 24th
When Nick Schmaltz and Clayton Keller signed, the deals seemed far too rich for what either brought to the table. Look at them now, earning that B-minus grade. Schmaltz is a little underpaid now while Keller is right on the money with six years left to grow into a star. That either was able to perform as well as they did last year with this franchise is a small miracle. Jakob Chychrun is also here providing positive value — and that’s even after a very trying season last year. His priors still make his deal a solid one. He should be closer to $6 million for what he can bring to the table.
The rest? Honestly, does it matter? This is a team of outcasts and misfits that know the only direction they’re going next year is down. The Arizona Coyotes are a money laundering scheme for other teams where bad contracts go. Andrew Ladd is still here. That’s fun. Sometimes it works out though with Nick Ritchie and Shayne Gostisbehere showing they still have game in the desert, but for the most part it’s an irrelevant cap sheet.
One funny thing here though is Dysin Mayo. Great name, not so great value. Mayo is rated as the worst player by GSVA and by this logic comes in as overpaid by nearly $15 million… on a $3 million deal. Ouch. Anytime I see a player so far in the negative like that, I think of Frank Ocean singing “‘They payin’ me, momma, I should be payin’ them,’ I should be payin’ y’all, honest to God,” on Futura Free.
Last season: 17th
When Chuck Fletcher said he was out on Johnny Gaudreau because it was “too hard” to move money around, it was met with eye rolls. Buddy, that’s your job.
And then you look at the cap sheet, and, well… too hard might’ve been an understatement. Of course, the quote had very “we’re all trying to find the guy who did this” energy, and that’s why it’s no surprise to see the Flyers land here near the bottom. A self-inflicted wound.
Did they need to sign Nicolas Deslauriers to a four-year deal? No. Did they need to sign Rasmus Ristolainen to a five-year deal? No. Boom, there’s a nice $6.9 million right there. And the team is better for it. That’s the problem here. Neither of those two moves the needle and in fact might actively be hurting the team. And yet, they take up almost 10 percent of the cap. For a long time.
Past failed free agents are also here taking up precious cap space with James van Riemsdyk being overpaid by $3 million and Kevin Hayes being overpaid by almost $5 million. At least van Riemsdyk’s deal ends this year…
It’s a whole lot of money for a whole lot of nothing. Even the team’s best deal, Tony DeAngelo’s, is because the model likes his offense a lot more than it should. It’s going to be a very different world for him in Philadelphia compared to Carolina.
Last season: 26th
The Blackhawks are tanking so it really doesn’t matter where they land on this list, but at the bottom is fitting. Only three teams are worse off and it says a lot when the team’s best deal is Taylor Raddysh’s. I guess.
The big question here is what to do with Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Seth Jones. The first two have only one year left and are pretty easily moveable. It’s pretty impressive that on the final year of his deal Kane is still worthy of his $10.5 million salary. At 50 percent retention, he would be a very attractive asset. As for Toews, unless he sparks a comeback this season, 50 percent retention would be needed to make trading for him palatable. That’s where an exercise like this comes in handy, especially now that moving dollars and cents is harder than ever.
So, what does that mean for Jones? It feels like his brand-name prestige could make him moveable. Hell, Oliver Ekman-Larsson was traded just last year. But man is that ever an expensive deal for a player who probably isn’t an elite number one and who turns 28 in October. Good player, but $9.5 million for age 28-35 feels real dicey. I feel for Jones as he wanted to go to a contender — he deserves some playoff hockey where he really shines — but that deal is going to be extremely difficult to move. He might be stuck here, and that means Chicago’s cap efficiency likely stays at the bottom for a while.
Last season: 28th
If not for the miracle signing of Johnny Gaudreau, there’s no doubt the Blue Jackets would be dead last on this list. He gives this team hope. Not a lot of it, but some of it.
When Columbus traded Oliver Bjorkstrand in a cap-clearing move, my first thought was “wait, why did the Blue Jackets need to clear cap space?” I still don’t understand how a team can spend this much for those results, but Gaudreau alone ain’t fixing that. Losing one of the team’s best wingers in the process only hurts the situation further.
Small cuts add up. Gustav Nyquist, Sean Kuraly and Erik Gudbranson don’t make a lot of money — but the three free agent adds are all very likely to struggle to live up to their deals. That’s $12 million the Blue Jackets likely wouldn’t miss if they weren’t signed.
The biggest issue though has been the cost to retain star players — arguably the wrong kinds. We talk a lot about players who can drive play and players who are complimentary pieces. The former are players you can contend with. The latter are players who help the former, but can’t be counted on to be The Guy to contend with. Patrik Laine and Zach Werenski are highly skilled players, but neither looks well-situated to be The Guy. They need help to get the most out of their games and Columbus is spending $19 million for them to be not enough.
Maybe the addition of Gaudreau changes that, but this team is still several pieces away from being competitive with no cap space to be that. It’s what made Gaudreau’s choice so puzzling in the first place.
I do hope I’m wrong, because there are few better fanbases than Columbus’s when the team is winning. But it’s hard to see a winner with the way money is currently allocated.
31. San Jose Sharks
Last season: 32nd
For my money, this is still the league’s worst cap picture. Four D-level contracts with huge term and negative surplus is a big yikes. One of them, Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s, is one of the league’s least likely to be positive value contracts in the league and still has four years left. Erik Karlsson had a bounce-back season which is nice, but is still paid way too much and can’t stay healthy. As for the team’s two centers making $8 million, Tomas Hertl might be able to live up to his deal on another team — but not this one. Logan Couture is just not that guy anymore and is worth closer to half of his price tag.
It’s those four deals that hurt the most here and they hurt a whole lot. It’s difficult to get out of that hole. Nico Sturm was a nice find in free agency and Timo Meier turned into a rock star last season, but if that’s the only nice thing that can be said then this is a bad scene. Even Meier only has one year left, so it likely only gets uglier in the short term.
The Sharks also have almost $19 million in dead money on their books, second worst to only Minnesota. Too bad the rest of their deals aren’t half as efficient as the Wild or they might have a competitive team next year.
32. Montreal Canadiens
Last season: 19th
Some folks were rightly concerned seeing Nick Suzuki on the worst contracts list. I knew that would happen and tried to get ahead of it, especially because it wasn’t something I agreed with either. The most common take: “it’s not even the worst contract on our team!” Fair enough, Josh Anderson is right there. He was close! The issue was three fewer years of term as Anderson indeed has a lower positive value probability and a higher negative surplus per season. That was the difference.
Either way, there’s a bigger problem and it’s evident by Montreal ending up dead last, with other contracts around the league from former Habs also ending up near the bottom. We’ll call it, the Ducharme Disposition.
You can probably throw out every piece of data from the first part of the season where Dominique Ducharme was head coach and be in a much better place projecting each Montreal player going forward. Using prior data should help with most situations of that nature to figure out true talent levels, but it might not be enough for extreme situations. Montreal’s 2021-22 season qualifies. It’s helpful info because it shows the players may not have been as good as we thought, but even with regression the degree to which they’ve declined in value may be overstated.
Ethically, it’s a very grey area for a model when you start manipulating data — it’s something I’ll never do. But having a model is only half the battle. Analyzing is the other half. We can talk around the issue and discuss how every Montreal contract is a different degree of horrible. It’s the Ducharme Disposition.
Now, obviously, some of these are rightfully bad. Maybe even the same amount. But maybe not this bad. It’s why coaching effects are so vital to team analysis, yet something models will genuinely struggle with. Suzuki was a changed man once Martin St. Louis was brought on board and if that’s the player he can continue to be, he’ll be much higher in contract efficiency next season. There’s a good chance a lot of the rest of the team will be too.
Data via CapFriendly and Evolving Hockey
(Top photo: Sam Navarro / USA Today)