Zach Werenski and Connor McDavid play two different positions on two different teams and, while they aren’t in the same income range at the moment, the contract signed by one could have a profound impact on the other.
We’re talking about McDavid’s recently-signed mega-extension with the Edmonton Oilers, a deal that pays him in excess of $12 million per season for eight years beginning next summer. It’s a transformative contract for many reasons, but at the forefront is its effect on the “second contracts” for young star players coming off their entry-level deals.
The entry-level contract is generally predictable; based on where a player was drafted, their base salary will fluctuate slightly and various bonuses are worked into every agreement. You won’t see too many surprises here.
But (there’s always a but, isn’t there?) the next contract has traditionally been the tricky one for NHL GMs looking to lock up their budding superstars for the long haul. In the past, players and their agents have sacrificed salary for term, but now with a maximum eight-year term under the current CBA, salaries are back on the rise (with ample signing bonuses) as the threat of a 2020 work stoppage looms.
Where the McDavid contract comes into play for Werenski is with that second contract: as Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman astutely noted in his final “30 Thoughts” column of the season, the $6 million range was the sweet spot for many young studs as they negotiated their second contracts.
One year ago, the number was six. Not “The Six,” just six. Young, emerging stars were getting that on their second contracts. Filip Forsberg landed square on $6M. Mark Scheifele came in at $6.125M, Nathan MacKinnon $6.3M, Sean Monahan $6.375M and Johnny Gaudreau $6.75M. That area looked to be “the new normal” for this group.
McDavid’s contract, one could say, is a reflection of his accomplishments at a young age: he’s an Art Ross Trophy winner, a Hart Memorial Trophy winner, but has yet to win a championship. Stanley Cup wins, Friedman notes, were previously one of the benchmarks for success in negotiations – in the wake of the McDavid extension, there are some agents and people within hockey who believes those days are officially over.
So, if we’re talking individual awards, it’s reasonable to think Werenski will win a few of those, and perhaps next season. He was a Calder Trophy finalist this past season and, in a different year that didn’t include the existence of Auston Matthews, may have been a runaway winner.
And if individual recognition is now fair game in contract negotiations for the league’s top young players, the Blue Jackets might be shelling out some serious money (well, they’ll probably be doing that anyway) to secure Werenski on a long-term deal. If it cost $5.4 million to sign Seth Jones – who put up 31 points in 81 games before signing his extension with the Blue Jackets – what will the cost be for Werenski, who nearly broke the 50-point plateau as a 19-year-old on one of the league’s best teams?
Whatever the Blue Jackets projected that potential cost to be a year ago, there’s a good chance the number is higher now than it was then.
One GM looked up and down the league, naming teams who need to worry and those who don’t. He listed Boston, Calgary and Tampa Bay as examples of those who shouldn’t be affected. They have “internal caps” with their best players signed long-term and no superb talent ready to surpass them.
He labelled Columbus (“What if Zachary Werenski wins a Norris in the next two years?”), Los Angeles (Doughty), Ottawa (Karlsson), Toronto (Auston Matthews et al) and Winnipeg (Patrik Laine, Jacob Trouba) as those who have thrown their previous projections in the garbage and hurriedly re-programmed spreadsheets.
In a league where the youth is driving the bus and moving the needle, it appears as though the cost of doing business will be to pay those players earlier. And if you’re Werenski, Patrik Laine or another of the NHL’s next wave of stars, you can kindly thank Mr. McDavid for blazing that trail.