On July 13, Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau will become an unrestricted free agent. He’s one of four big pieces of impending off-season business for general manager Brad Treliving.
What kind of deal should we expect to see for Gaudreau?

Gaudreau, so far

Gaudreau is 28 years old. He’s in his eighth full pro season right now. He began his career as a top six winger and very quickly established himself as a top line NHLer.
Here’s how his career has gone thus far:
  • 2013-14: 1 NHL game (1 point)
  • 2014-15: 80 NHL games (64 points)
  • 2015-16: 79 NHL games (78 points)
  • 2016-17: 72 NHL games (61 points)
  • 2017-18: 80 NHL games (84 points)
  • 2018-19: 82 NHL games (99 points)
  • 2019-20: 70 NHL games (58 points)
  • 2020-21: 56 NHL games (49 points)
  • 2021-22: 20 NHL games (23 points), so far
This is the sixth (and final) year in Gaudreau’s second NHL contract. After his entry-level deal (2013-16; $925,000 AAV plus bonuses), he signed his current deal (2016-22, $6.75 million AAV). At the time he signed his contract, his cap hit matched then-captain Mark Giordano’s. In the cap era, only Jarome Iginla and Matthew Tkachuk ($7 million each) have had higher cap hits than Gaudreau among Flames players.
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Recent contracts for somewhat similar forwards

Gaudreau turned 28 in August and he’ll be 29 in the first month of his new contract. Every single season from here on out on any contract is, by definition, a free agency year bought.
So far this season, Gaudreau has 23 points in 20 games. Let’s assume his production dips 20% over the remaining 62 games. If that holds, he’ll have 574 points in 602 games when the season ends, for a career average of 0.954 points per game. He’s almost a point-per-game player over 600 games, which is remarkable.
Here’s a quick rundown of somewhat similar players who signed at ages 27, 28 or 29.
GP
PTS
PTS/GP
Contract
Aleksander Barkov
529
465
0.879
8 years x $10 million
Sean Couturier
692
443
0.640
8 years x $7.75 million
Mika Zibanejad
604
434
0.718
8 years x $8.5 million
Gabriel Landeskog
687
512
0.745
8 years x $7 million
Matt Duchene
727
547
0.752
7 years x $8 million
Anders Lee
425
258
0.607
7 years x $7 million
Barkov, Couturier and Zibanejad are centres, while Landeskog is primarily a winger. Depending on your perspective, the “bump” for being a centre as well as a high offensive producer seems to be around $1.5 to $2 million. And you’ll note that there aren’t any prominent players with this level of production and this general age that didn’t sign for a long time, because players that are this good tend to get locked up for the long haul.
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Taylor Hall, who signed for four years with a $6 million cap hit with Boston this off-season, was a career .876 points per game player when he signed. Based on these other recent signings, that feels below market value and probably doesn’t reflect Gaudreau’s circumstances.

Projections

If Gaudreau wants a long-term deal – six, seven or eight seasons – he’s probably looking at around $8.5 million as a cap hit. He’s one of the most consistent offensive producers in the league, but he won’t get tip-top money because he’s not a centre.
If he wants a shorter deal, the cap hit probably creeps up a little bit – the aforementioned longer deals would cover his declining offensive seasons as he enters his mid-30s – so a three, four or five year deal could be in the vicinity of $9 million or so. (It’s hard to find a comparable deal because so few players as good as Gaudreau ever sign those mid-range contracts.)
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He’s a premium player, and he’s likely going to get paid like one.

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