Two of the biggest storylines this season have been the extensions, or rather the lack of them, for two of the top centers in the NHL. And let’s be very clear here – Anze Kopitar and Steven Stamkos are definitely two of the top centers in the NHL.
There’s no reason, talent-wise anyway, that these two aren’t coveted players by any team, let alone the teams they’ve built legacies around. Kopitar has won two cups with the Kings, Stamkos went to the Stanley Cup Final last season and wears the C for a Lightning team that is looking to return.
But with the Canadian dollar falling below $0.70 USD for the first time since 2003, GMs have to be wiser than ever where they spend their limited cap space. Rumor has it that Kopitar is looking for 8 years at a $9.5m AAV (Average Annual Value), whereas Stamkos’ camp is hunting for something in the $10m range.
Projections, made when the Canadian dollar was at $0.80 USD, put the 2016-17 salary cap around $73m, a 2.5 percent increase. With the Canadian dollar even weaker, this could mean the cap falls below that initial projection.
If we assume that there’s somewhere around a 2.5 percent increase over the next three years, it puts both of these rumored salaries well over 10 percent of the cap for half of the expected contract length.
Since these charts show all situation numbers, they do take into account that Kopitar spends a lot of time killing penalties. Still, his numbers fall below what the current averages of players making 10 percent of the cap, especially offensively. Point production falls as players get older. Kopitar is already 28, which puts him at 36 by the end of an eight year contract. For someone who isn’t currently living up to the 10 percent standard, that should raise some red flags.
On the other hand, Stamkos has all the markers of a success under a big contract – except for the biggest accomplishment hockey has to offer. The Lightning’s postseason run last year was Stamkos’ closest brush with winning the Cup, and we know that those kinds of accomplishments have monetary value during negotiations.
With Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews setting the bar not only for career achievements but also for salary, it’s unsurprising that $10 million is the new number on which super stars are setting their sights. For teams hard up against the cap, like the Kings and the Lightning, this can make navigating these negotiations extremely tense.
For a $10m AAV to make sense from a team’s perspective, they’ll have to be able to offset the big name deals for their star centers with cheap depth on Entry Level Contracts (ELCs). For the Blackhawks, that meant letting go of a valuable RFA in Brandon Saad, and relying on the talents of Artemi Panarin, Teuvo Teravainen, Phillip Danault and a few others. Having $21 million tied up in two forwards is doable – if the organization has already planned for it.
Unfortunately for the Kings and the Lightning, this doesn’t seem to be the case. The Lightning have a tantalizing prospect in Brayden Point, who represented Canada at this year’s World Juniors, and the Kings have Adrian Kempe, who played for Team Sweden. But beyond that, they’re going to have few NHL-ready guys coming out of the prospect pool providing that much-needed cheap depth.
Neither the teams or the players have disclosed much about the talks, and it seems like all parties are getting anxious. In this week’s 30 Thoughts, Friedman mentioned that execs are preparing for the eventuality of Kopitar hitting free agency.
With even more uncertainty around the salary cap and decline of the Canadian dollar, it puts moves that seem unthinkable – like trading Kopitar or Stamkos at the deadline – in a new, more reasonable light.
The fact remains $10 million a year is the new super star standard. But it might also mean the end of the franchise player.