The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn released a full-on breakdown of the NHL’s contracts on Wednesday. The Minnesota Wild did very well, finishing fourth among the teams in contract efficiency. With the exceptions of Brandon Duhaime, Matt Dumba, and Tyson Jost, Luszczyszyn projects every wild contract to out-deliver its cost.
Heck, even the bad contracts are good. Each is only one year, and they’re projected to provide a value of just -$2.4 million less than the cost, combined. Freddy Gaudreau’s $1.2 million deal is projected to deliver $2.2 million in surplus value, nearly canceling that out by itself. Then Minnesota’s got Kirill Kaprizov, Ryan Hartman, Joel Eriksson Ek, and many more players delivering surplus value. It’s a good spot to be in.
Of course, some of it is by pure necessity. The Wild have two extremely inefficient blights on their salary cap, with Zach Parise and Ryan Suter’s buyout penalties leaving a nearly $13 million crater in their cap. With that, Minnesota has to go bargain hunting, eschew long, inefficient free-agent deals, and be selective in re-signing players.
That’s a big reason they moved 85-point scorer Kevin Fiala out after this season. They couldn’t afford him. “We don’t have cap space,” Bill Guerin said at the time. “Honestly, to keep him, we’d have to trade three guys and deplete the team more. It just didn’t fit.”
It just made sense. Trade the guy who’s about to get a lucrative contract so that you can keep multiple pieces on the team. Package that with a reasonable return in a draft pick that became Liam Öhgren and Brock Faber, and it’s case closed. Right?
Then you scroll down to the team in 13th place, the Los Angeles Kings. Who topped their list of best contracts? None other than Fiala.
Luszczyszyn gave Fiala’s 7-year, $55 million deal to A. He projects the contract to deliver $19 million in surplus value to the Kings over the life of the trade while giving him a 67% chance of out-performing the deal. It’s one of 36 contracts to receive an “A” grade or better. Even better, from here on out, Luszczyszyn projects only 13 of those deals will exceed Fiala’s surplus value.
Simply put, this is one of the best contracts in the league. It’s better than anyone on the Wild, except for Kaprizov, whose deal Luszczyszyn gives an A+ and expects to bring in $22 million on surplus value. Or we can consider this another way. Having Kaprizov at a $9 million AAV and Fiala at his $7.9 million freight would give Minnesota $8.21 million in surplus value combined. That in itself would offset about 65% of the buyout penalties.
Instead, the Wild are stuck with a lot of “good” contacts that somehow aren’t particularly useful or moveable. Sure, a deal like Hartman’s would always be in demand, as would Eriksson Ek’s, Jared Spurgeon’s, or Jonas Brodin’s. But as you descend down the lineup, you start to see contracts that rate as more efficiently than their actual value to the league is.
Take Alex Goligoski, for example, who signed an extension mid-season to a two-year deal worth $4 million total. Luszczyszyn projects that deal to deliver $11 million in value, but that doesn’t quite add up. Goligoski’s ice time dropped as the season went on, and he seemed to be most effective alongside Spurgeon. He’s almost certainly not going to be with Spurgeon next year, and he turned 37 last week. Is Minnesota really betting on getting significant value from this deal?
Then there’s Jake Middleton, signed to a three-year extension ($2.45 million AAV) that’s expected to bring back an extra $2.9 million in value over the next three seasons. That’s banking on Middleton not regressing after coming out of nowhere in his age-26 rookie season. Luszczyszyn’s model only has him at 56% to out-deliver a relatively modest contract. Not much better than a coin flip.
Dmitry Kulikov ($1.5 million projected surplus value on a $2.3 million AAV contract) is basically untradeable, despite Luszczyszyn’s model liking his contract. He’s currently on the outside looking in on the Wild, meaning they might bury him in the AHL once Jon Merrill gets healthy. Speaking of Merrill, Luszczyszyn expects him to deliver $1.5 million annually on a $1.2 million contract. That’s right, locked in for three years to get less than $400K of savings per year. Don’t spend it all in one place.
The best of Guerin’s contract decisions since last season (aside from Kaprizov) was extending Jordan Greenway. He inked Greenway, with a projected worth of $4.5 million per season, on a $3 million AAV deal. That’s good! But is it as good as getting a $10.6 million player at under $8 million? Probably not!
When added up, these deals probably aren’t bringing in the surplus value Fiala will bring. Combined, Luszczyszyn’s projections believe the contracts of Goligoski, Middleton, Kulikov, Merrill, and Greenway will combine for $17 million of surplus value. That’s less than the $19 million Fiala will likely bring in. So, maybe not having three guys would’ve been worth it. Maybe even four or five. Perhaps more, if you consider, say, taking on Jost’s contract for next year.
Maybe there were other good reasons to move Fiala. It’s very possible Guerin and Dean Evason were right to be cool on him. Perhaps you think the return for him, especially if you include the flexibility to take a swing on Danila Yurov, was worth it. These are all valid.
What’s not valid, though, is the idea they couldn’t afford Fiala. As we said back in April, this decision was made by the front office prioritizing certain players over Fiala. It might work out in the long run. But when you stack up the Fiala contract against many of the others Minnesota signed over this past year, it looks like they might have made the wrong decision to go with depth over star power.