Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Does Logan Couture have a bad contract? How about Tyler Seguin? Cap court is back in session

Please rise. Salary cap court is back in session.

If you’re new to cap court, the concept is simple. We’ll take five NHL players who might (or might not) have a bad contract. We’ll weigh both sides of the argument, then deliver a verdict. This will be the court’s fourth session, with previous editions having seen us weigh in on names like Erik Karlsson and Jonathan Toews, Carey Price and John Tavares, and Nicklas Backstrom and Jacob Trouba.

For those keeping track at home, the dreaded “bad contract” verdict has been delivered six times out of 15, so we tend to be pretty generous. Some of the decisions hold up better than others, and there were certainly some moments when we tip-toed right up to the line but couldn’t quite convict. Will we get that sort of unsatisfying conclusion again today? Probably, yeah.

The key thing to remember is that we’re judging contracts based on how they look from this point on; we’re not worried about the past. It’s possible that a player’s deal could have been reasonable at the time it was signed, but looks bad now due to declining play or the flat cap or shifting circumstances or whatever else. If so, that’s a bad contract. There’s no room for appeals on the grounds that “it was good for the first few years”.

We’ve got five new cases on the docket today, and they total 40 years of commitment and $326.4 million. That’s a lot. But is it too much? Let’s find out…

Tyler Seguin, Stars

The details: The forward, who turns 30 at the end of the month, is in the third year of an eight-year deal that carries a cap hit of $9.85 million that was signed in 2018.

The case that it’s a bad contract: The cap hit ranks tenth among forwards, ahead of names like Nikita Kucherov, Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Mark Stone. Of the nine players ahead of him, eight have won an award or been a postseason all-star; Seguin hasn’t done either. (The only player with a higher cap hit who hasn’t won anything is Jack Eichel.) Put simply, Seguin is being paid like an elite player and has never really been that, topping out as a guy who could score a point-per-game or maybe a bit more.

And that was before a hip injury threatened to derail his career. He missed almost all of last year, and this year’s comeback, while inspiring, hasn’t been especially productive. It looks increasingly unlikely that Seguin will ever be an elite offensive force again, which is bad news when a contract that pays you that way still has five full years left to go.

The case that it might be OK: We’re focused on today and the future, but it’s still worth making the obvious point that the Stars didn’t know Seguin would get hurt when he signed his deal. (Like every other team in this post, they also didn’t know the cap would be flat for years due to a pandemic.) Given what Dallas knew at the time, the contract wasn’t outrageous when it was signed.

Still, bad stuff happens and we said we’re only judging contracts based on what they look like right now. This one admittedly doesn’t look great. That said, let’s wait and see what Seguin looks like when he’s fully recovered. He’s been a very good scorer in this league before, and it’s possible that this year’s numbers are partly due to the grueling recovery he went through just to get back on the ice. If he can get back to his point-a-game ways, this deal won’t seem awful as the cap slowly rises and other centers pass him on the cap hit list.

Key witnesses: Other guys near Seguin’s age and cap hit include Artemi Panarin, which isn’t a flattering comparison, and John Tavares, which is a little better. You’d probably still take Seguin over fellow 29-year-old Jeff Skinner’s $9 million, even as Skinner is more productive this year. And while it’s depressing for Stars fans, the closest comparable might be 31-year-old Jamie Benn at $9.5 million.

The verdict: We haven’t mentioned it yet, but the deal is also heavy on bonuses, meaning a buyout doesn’t offer much relief. Seguin’s hip problems weren’t something anyone could have predicted, but this deal was on shaky ground even before then. Now? It’s a bad contract.

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