Tuesday, July 25, 2023

The return of Cap Court, with a twist: Which NHL stars have great contracts?

We’re into late July, and with apologies to Vladimir Tarasenko and Matt Dumba, the free agent frenzy is pretty much done. And this year, I think we can all agree that it was… fine? That’s about it, right? There weren’t many big names available, and the flat cap meant that there weren’t as many big deals flying around as we’re used to seeing.

That’s probably good news for the 32 teams, who tend to make the worst mistakes when the UFA market opens. Looking back at this year’s deals, there were certainly a few overpays, but nothing that seems outrageous. Maybe GMs are finally learning. Or maybe the flat cap meant they just didn’t have enough to spend, and will be right back to setting piles of money on fire next summer.

Either way, this sudden burst of thriftiness feels like something worth recognizing. So this week, I’m breaking out an old gimmick with the return of Cap Court. That’s the feature where we pick five contracts and put them on trial, judging the deals based only on the years that are left and the cap hit they carry. We’ve done five of these over the years, meaning 25 verdicts have been handed down, and it’s fair to say that every reader agreed with 100% of them.

But this time, there’s a twist: We’re not looking for bad contracts. This time, we’re looking for great ones.

As always, we’re viewing this from a team’s perspective, meaning we want to know which contracts are “great” the way Nathan MacKinnon’s was for the Avalanche for all those years. MacKinnon himself might disagree with the idea that that was an especially great contract, since it ultimately cost him tens of millions of dollars. Or maybe not, and he’d tell you that he was happy to leave some cap room for his team to build a winner around him. Players always say that when their contract is tossed into the “great” pile. Some of them might even mean it.

I’ve picked five contracts that I think you could argue are great ones from a team perspective, but could also fall into the range of merely good. That doesn’t mean that I think these are the only five deals on the league that could qualify, and in fact I’ve left some off the list that are pretty obviously huge bargains. Leon Draisaitl, Cale Makar, Brad Marchand and Jason Robertson are all underpaid, relative to what they bring to the table. So is Connor McDavid, even though he carries the second highest cap hit in the league. Jack Hughes might be one more big season away from becoming the new MacKinnon as far bargains go. I’m not sure anyone would argue any of those, which means we don’t need to waste time putting them on the docket.

The five names I’ve chosen should be at least a little tougher. So court is now in session: Are these good contracts, are do any of them rise to the level of being great ones?

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