The Calgary Flames have an important objective this offseason: sign Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau.
They are extremely important players for this franchise, both now and in the future. They play on the first line and finished this season top two in team scoring. And now, Monahan and Gaudreau will be looking to get paid.
To bridge or not to bridge
That is the question. When you’re dealing with players as young as Monahan (21) and Gaudreau (22), it’s quite common to see a bridge contract, usually two-to-three years in length.
The Columbus Blue Jackets opted to sign Ryan Johansen to a bridge deal in 2014 after he put up a 63-point season as a 21-year-old. He was given three years at $4M per season.
The Florida Panthers did something similar with 22-year old Jonathan Huberdeau before the start of this season. His 54 points last season earned him a two-year deal with a cap hit of $3.25M.
But the Flames would be wise to forgo the bridge contracts for Monahan and Gaudreau and go straight for a long term deal.
Bridge deals are often used as a precaution, making sure the player can produce consistently before locking them in long-term. This isn’t really applicable to Monahan and Gaudreau, as both have produced consistently over the past two seasons.
The other advantage of bridge deals is the short-term salary cap savings. Bridge deals are especially effective if the team signing them is close to the cap. More cases than not, the young player proves more valuable than his cap hit, and the team then has more cap space to make additions for a playoff run.
Given the youth of this Flames team, it seems logical to sign Monahan and Gaudreau to big deals now to capitalize on the long-term savings. By doing so, they avoid having to sign them to more expensive deals in their prime years, when the Flames will hopefully be trying to make a Stanley Cup run.
But just how much are these guys worth?
One of the most accurate ways of predicting future contracts is by looking at what similar players have gotten in the past. With that said, let’s take a look at a few players with similar status to Monahan and Gaudreau, and how their long-term contracts panned out.
There aren’t too many players that produce like Monahan and Gaudreau have at their age.
In the last five years, only four players under 23-years-old produced more in a season than Gaudreau’s 78 points this year. Those four? Steven Stamkos in 2012, Tyler Seguin in 2014, John Tavares in 2012, and Taylor Hall in 2014. That’s some elite company.
Gaudreau’s closest NHL comparable right now in terms of age and production is probably St. Louis’ Vladimir Tarasenko. After putting up 73 points in 77 games last season, then-23-year-old Tarasenko inked an 8-year deal worth $7.5M per season. He delivered in the first season of his new deal, putting up 74 points this past season.
As for Monahan, his 60-65 point average gives him a few more comparables. In January, 20-year-old Aleksander Barkov signed a 6-year, $5.9M/season contract with Florida. He finished the year with 59 points in 66 games.
A 23-year-old Max Pacioretty signed a 6-year, $4.5M/season deal after a 65-point season with Montreal. Even though Pacioretty has only marginally improved his production (his career high is 67 points), that contract is still a great deal for Montreal as average salaries continue to increase over time.
This offseason there’s also an unusually large amount of high-profile RFAs who will command hefty raises. Filip Forsberg, Mark Scheifele, and Nathan Mackinnon all produce similarly to Monahan, and will need new deals before next season. If one of those players signs, it could very well act as a benchmark for other contract negotiations.
It’s pretty rare for an organization to have two high-profile RFAs to sign in the same offseason. This leads to the possibility of signing matching deals. We’ve seen this a few times in recent years with Chicago signing Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to matching deals not once, but twice. Their contracts that kicked in this season made them the two highest paid players in the league at $10.5M/season.
The Edmonton Oilers did something similar when they signed both Hall and Jordan Eberle in the summer of 2012. Hall got seven years while Eberle got six, but both received $6M/season. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins signed a deal the following offseason that also had a $6M cap hit.
This concept of using previous contracts to determine future ones is important, and it’s something the Flames need to keep in mind with Sam Bennett set to become an RFA after next season.
In the modern era, managing the salary cap is essential in building a Stanley Cup contender. This summer, Brad Treliving will begin to lay the foundation.