Can You Be Competitive With a Max Contract?

How many players would you do whatever you can to make sure they are a part of your team long term? For me it would be 4. Connor McDavid, Erik Karlsson, Sidney Crosby, and…. Wait for it… Auston Matthews. These four are just amazing, franchise changing players. You *should* do whatever you can to keep these guys on your team. This may include giving them a max contract, which is 20% of the current salary cap. The question then becomes ‘can you be competitive with a max contract?’ That is what I aim at finding out. With all the rumblings of Drew Doughty and Karlsson talks I thought it would be a great time to take a look at this.

The Process

How I am doing this is by taking data from Cap Friendly. I am going to be using the Ottawa Senators as my main example. Now Karlsson may not want a max contract. He has said he wants to get what he is worth. This could mean a number of things. It could mean max contract, or it could mean no hometown discount.

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However, for argument sake let’s say that a max contract is what he wants. Can Ottawa offer that and still be competitive? Now lots of things will change by next off-season. The cap is expected to go up to around $80 million alone next year. Guys like Cody Ceci and Mark Stone still need to be re-signed this off-season. We’ll get to that in a little bit.

To Start

To start us off we need to define the max contract. A max contract according to the CBA is 20% of the current salary cap. So, for next season’s $80 million that would be $16 million a season. Now this is a ton of money to tie into one player, which is what makes it so hard to be competitive. If the Senators gave Erik Karlsson $16 million they would have $64 million left for the other 22 roster spots. Now let’s look at the additional contracts that would be added on to that for 2019.

Current Contracts

Now it is time to look at what money Ottawa will already have tied up for the 2019-2020 season. Who we know has a contract on the books currently is Bobby Ryan at $7.25, Mike Hoffman at $5.1, Zach Smith at $3.2, JGP at $3.1, Phaneuf at $7, Boro at $1.2, Anderson at $4.75, Condon at $2.4, and Chabot at $800K. Including the max contract that is $50.8 million dollars in 10 players. Or 64% of the cap for 43% of the players. Now this is very troublesome. As they are still missing many key players, and outside of Karlsson, Hoffman, and Chabot that is not a great 10. Clarke MacArthur is also still rostered however if the Sens need cap room they can throw him on LTIR.

This Off-Season

This is where things get tricky. This off-season the Sens have 4 RFAs and 2 UFAs up this year. The 4 RFAs are Ceci, Claesson, Harpur, and Stone. UFAs are Wideman and Oduya. It is a fair thought that both Wideman and Oduya will be gone, so there should be no worry there. The tricky ones are the RFAs. Who knows what Ceci is going to get? For this exercise, and because the Sens need the space, I am going to pretend the Sens trade Cody Ceci. Now this is very unlikely, however for simplicity sake we are going to imagine it does. I have no idea what this would be for, but let’s say it’s a pick or a prospect. They then have Claesson and Harpur to sign.

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I reached out to Matt Cane on twitter who has a model that predicts future contracts. It is one of, if not the best out there, and he was kind enough as to help me out. His model has Harpur signing a deal that pays around $750K AAV short term deal. He has Claesson signing a $1.5 million AAV deal short term. That puts Ottawa up to $47.5 guaranteed for 2019-2020. Mark Stone is the other big one that Ottawa needs this summer. Chace wrote about him here, and guessed that his contract may be near 5×5. Matt Cane’s model has him at $7.5 million for 8 years. That puts the Sens at $60.5 in 2 years, and about $71.5 mil or so for next year. That is still a decent amount of cap space for one year that the Sens could use to go get another D or some forwards on one year deals.

Next Off-Season

Two seasons from now the Sens have 7 UFAs up. Among them are Duchene, Brassard and Dzingel. They also have White’s ELC up. If the cap is at $80 million the Sens will have about $19 mil to re-sign everyone. Duchene is a tough one because of his performance. Last year he had a bad year on a brutal team, and this year his numbers just haven’t been there yet. Given this; Matt Cane’s model has him getting a 1 year $2.5 million deal. Now obviously that is very low, and should probably go up with some more scoring. However, unless he completely lights it up for the next year and a half I am not sure how you justify giving him $6-7 million. We will say for this Duchene’s points improve enough, and the Sens give him a $5 million dollar deal for one or two years. That puts the Sens at $65.5 million. That then leaves them with $14.5 million to sign 9 more players. His contract all really depends on how he performs and steps up in the next year and a half. It could end up that he plays like the guy the Sens thought they were going to get, but it could also end up that he doesn’t. The numbers point that he should start finding some points soon however.

Next Big Name

The next Sen is Brassard. I would imagine they let him walk and hope they can replace him with a guy like White or Brown. This seems like the whole point of the Zibanejad trade. Get some experience for 3 years, but then once the Karlsson contract comes up this allows you to let him go. ELCs will have to be key when dealing with a max contract. If you can have a guy like Brown or White step up on ELCs, that helps like crazy when it comes to saving cap space.

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The other question brought up was if Duchene keeps struggling, do the Sens look at signing Brassard instead? It is highly unlikely they keep both, but Brassard’s contract may be around 5 million as well. However, look for the Sens to see if a guy like White can take on the role of Brassard in the upcoming season. They will most likely decide from there, and let one of Brassard or Duchene walk.

Remaining Nine

The average contract for the last 9 guys would have to be about $1.6 million. Some of the UFAs are Burrows, Thompson, Pyatt, Dzingel, and Dumont. This is very little for each guy however it is do-able. This is where the ELCs come in. If you can get guys like Brown, Jaros, Chlapik, White and McCormick to contribute while being on ELC or at least cheap, it allows you to keep some of the bigger guys. Once you fill in most the spots you then can look and see what there is on the open market. There are always decent guys out there you can find for $1 million or under, it is just a matter of finding them. I’m not entirely sure who this would be in 2019, but I am confident with the right moves you could fill out a roster. I don’t really see a need for the Sens to resign Burrows, Thompson, or Pyatt. Given most of their age and skill level. A guy like Dumont could be looked at as a 12 or 13F option for around league minimum or for sure under $1 million. He would fit into the category of decent cheap guys to plug in and play as depth pieces. Another one to look at may be DiDomenico if you can resign him for under a million. 

So Is It Possible?

It’s possible to do however being competitive may be a different story. As of my situation right now the Sens would have a team looking like:

Hoffman – Duchene – Stone

Dzingel – White – Ryan

DiDomenico – Brown – Chlapik

Smith – Pageau – Dumont    13 Forward: McCormick

Claesson – Karlsson

Chabot – Harpur

Phaneuf – Jaros        7th Defence-man: ??? 

Anderson/Condon     3rd Goalie: Hogberg 

This is a very, “meh” lineup in my opinion, or at least not one I would consider a contender. This lineup relies heavily on prospect development. To have any success you need to see guys like White and Chabot turn into legit top line guys. Also need to see guys like Chaplik, Brown, and Jaros turn into at worst, bottom 6 players. You also need to hope that guys like Ryan, Phaneuf, and Smith don’t regress too much. The other worry is Andy will be 38 and Condon is a fine backup, but certainly not a starter or tandem guy. That goalie duo could cause some headaches for the Sens. I have a very hard time seeing this team as a contender, but if given help by the young guys could at least make teams work for points against them.

How Could You Make It Easier?

One of the biggest ways to make it easier is to not sign terrible deals. If the Sens didn’t have Ryan/Phaneuf on the books that is almost $14.5 million extra open space that you can use on much more talented players. Another helpful thing is not tying a bunch up into depth players. As of right now the Sens are paying their bottom line, 3rd pair, and back up goalie almost $10 million. Now that doesn’t seem like much but it adds up. Especially when you need space for the big guys. Teams that can use ELCs and youth will be much more effective. The last way is get good guys on steals. Contracts like Crosby’s, Stamkos’, even a guy like Pasternak’s. All of these great players with discounts help a team out like crazy. Obviously you will not get most of the categories of players, but if you can get say a Stone to agree for $5-6 million that helps like crazy. If the Sens or any other team ever looked at giving out a max contract they could use at least one or two of these contracts to be competitive.

In Conclusion

If we ever see a max contract it would be very interesting to see to who, and from whom. I doubt we ever will, or at least not for a long time. However, if a team give one out the key things to help them stay successful and competitive would be to not sign other big/bad deals, keep depth cheap, and try and get some steals on other players. What do you think? Do you think we will ever see a max contract, or can a team even do it? Let me know here or on twitter @nhlsensandstuff!

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