Every passing day we go without a Johnny Gaudreau contract announcement, the more nervous Calgary Flames fans get. Not only is Gaudreau one of the most exciting players we’ve seen in recent Flames history, he’s also crucial for the team’s desired return to prominence. So why hasn’t a deal been reached yet? There are some pretty compelling answers to that question, but that likely doesn’t make you feel better as a fan.
News has been hard to come by on the Gaudreau front in recent weeks. Elliotte Friedman reported earlier this month Gaudreau’s desire to put a moratorium on contract talks during the upcoming World Cup of Hockey, but I sincerely doubt that’s a hard and fast rule.
The World Cup actually helps Calgary out in this case, because even if a deal isn’t reached until well into September, Gaudreau will still have a good chunk of high level hockey under his belt already. That should help mitigate the effect of missing any of training camp, so I don’t think there is as much urgency to get this deal signed as there would be in regular years. That said, we’d all like to see a new deal put to bed, so what has held things up?
From what I’m told, this is the biggest holdup to getting a deal done. The Flames would like to sign Gaudreau to a long term, seven or eight year contract in the same mould as Sean Monahan’s earlier this month. The problem is finding the right number for a long term deal to come in at. That’s if there’s even a long term deal in the cards. Let’s delve into that a little further.
For Calgary, a long term deal makes the most sense; Gaudreau is a franchise player and signing him to a shorter, bridge deal doesn’t really help the team much at all. I compare Gaudreau’s situation to what we saw a few years ago with PK Subban in Montreal.
Not able to come to a long term agreement, the Habs and Subban agreed to a two year deal in January 2013 as that year’s shortened campaign was getting going. While the cap hit was extremely manageable over the two year term, Subban grossly out-performed his contract and signed an eight year, $72 million pact a couple years later. Had Montreal signed Subban long term when they had the chance, his cap hit would have been significantly lower and maybe he’s still be playing there.
While it’s not a perfect comparison for Gaudreau, the moral of the story is clear. Signing franchise players to bridge deals rarely ever works. These are elite players for a reason and are extremely likely to outperform short term, more affordable deals. The Flames would much rather have Gaudreau at, say, $7.5 million now than wait a few years and be forced to pay him $9.5 million. As such, getting him signed long term now really does make the most sense.
The problem is, Gaudreau’s camp is well aware of this, too, because there’s plenty of reason to suggest a shorter term deal is better for the player in the long run. If Gaudreau signs, say, a three year deal and hits the 75-85 point range three times, then yeah, his case for a much bigger cap number is hard to argue. That’s where the finagling on a long term deal becomes the most complicated.
Because Gaudreau’s camp knows the benefit of a shorter term deal, they can leverage that into talks surrounding a longer term pact. To buy years of unrestricted free agency and to potentially lose the chance to cash in huge on a third contract, the AAV for a long term deal is going to have to go up incrementally for each additional year.
Much was the same with Monahan, in fact. The Flames and Monahan agreed on a seven year deal at $6.375 million per season, but as we wrote last week, there was a real back and forth about adding one extra year to get to the max term. In the end, the two sides settled on seven as an eighth year likely would have pushed Monahan’s AAV closer to $7 million.
If you extrapolate that to Gaudreau, things start to become even more clear. Gaudreau’s counting numbers are superior to Monahan’s, as is his underlying impact. Plotting Monahan’s WOWY in his two years playing extensively with Gaudreau will tell that story.
Monahan’s production dropped dramatically this past season when not on the ice with Gaudreau while his offensive zone time drops without him in both seasons. Gaudreau, on the other hand, doesn’t suffer without his typical linemate nearly as much.
From looking at those two tables, a few things are clear. First off, both players are better when playing with one another. But it’s also clear Gaudreau is able to have more of an impact when playing apart than Monahan is. When you add in Gaudreau’s advantage in overall point production, you can understand why his camp is looking for more than what Monahan ended up getting.
To conclude this lengthy portion of the article, it’s pretty clear to me Gaudreau’s AAV is always going to be higher than Monahan’s over the same contract term. That’s why finalizing a seven or eight year deal has been difficult to this point and may continue to be. It’s also why I won’t be surprised if this ends up being a shorter term when the deal is finalized.
Lack of comparable deals
Finding a market for Monahan was relatively easy after deals elsewhere for Mark Scheifele, Aleksander Barkov, and Nathan MacKinnon were agreed upon. Things aren’t as simple in Gaudreau’s case because his is a rather unique situation.
How many 5’9 former fourth round picks light the league on fire like Gaudreau has coming out of college? It doesn’t happen very often and it makes finding a market for him slightly more difficult. While there are some comparable contracts we can look at, none of them are as ironclad as the ones we saw in Monahan’s situation.
The best, and most recent, comparable deal remains Vladimir Tarasenko’s in St. Louis. I think we’re all pretty familiar with Tarasenko’s deal at this point, but the Blues sniper signed an eight year, $60 million extension last summer to give him a cap hit of $7.5 million. While Gaudreau’s numbers are stronger than Tarasenko’s were in his first two years, this still isn’t a perfect comparison.
First off, Tarasenko signed his deal after playing three years on his entry level deal. Because Gaudreau was signed late in the season out of Boston College, he only played two years on his ELC before being ready for an extension. Tarasenko has also played on a much deeper, much better team in his three NHL years, which can work for and against Gaudreau when comparing their productivity.
As we continue the difficult task of building a market for Gaudreau, I’ve added Taylor Hall and Patrick Kane to the conversation. Both were very productive in their first two NHL years and both signed lucrative second contracts as a result. Below is a comparison of all the players in this section and how they fared in their first two full NHL seasons.
Gaudreau is the most productive of the bunch, even edging Kane by a little bit. Once again, though, the contracts are tough to compare because of when they were signed. It’s been almost seven years since Kane signed his first big extension while Hall’s second deal was signed four years ago now. The economics of the NHL have changed dramatically since both of those deals.
Let’s pretend for a second the above chart is what both sides are looking at, too. Because the economic climate has changed over the last number of years, it’s all guess work as to how Gaudreau’s worth would compare to deals signed four and seven years ago. Because we’re not talking about an exact science or anything close to it, this exercise has likely been very difficult behind closed doors.
This is an issue that has been raised by some people in the hockey community, but not necessarily an issue I put a ton of stock into. Because it has been discussed, though, it’s worth putting in this article. There is a thought the Flames are a little wary of Gaudreau’s longevity, and hence are somewhat wary of committing big money and big term.
I’ll play devil’s advocate here for a second and frame the argument. Because Gaudreau is a smaller player, some wonder if he’ll be able to consistently stand up to the physical rigours of an NHL season. Because of that uncertainty, perhaps Calgary would like a larger body of work before signing him to one of the biggest contracts in team history. I guess I can squint to see that logic, but I don’t agree with it.
Gaudreau has been nothing but durable since arriving in the NHL. Of the 176 games he’s been eligible to play in, regular season and playoffs, Gaudreau has appeared in 171. Most of those five games missed fall under the “coaching decision” category, so we’re talking about an extremely durable player thus far. The same can be said about his USHL and NCAA tenures, too. Gaudreau just doesn’t miss very many games.
The whole “smaller guys get hurt more” theory is largely a misnomer. The aforementioned Kane has been one of the league’s most durable players since entering the league in 2007, too. Of his nine NHL seasons, he’s only had two where he’s missed double digits in games and he’s missed two or fewer games in six seasons.
Gaudreau is going to run into an injury or two at some point because every player does. To suggest his stature makes him anymore susceptible to that happening is false, though. If and when the Flames sign Gaudreau to his extension, it should be done assuming he’ll be as durable as vast majority of NHL players.