Johnny Gaudreau is a special hockey player.
Way back when, in 2011, the Calgary Flames selected him in the fourth round and hoped that his speed, tenacity and puck-artistry from the United States Hockey League could someway, somehow translate to the collegiate level and that hopefully he’d turn into a decent professional someday. And here we are, roughly four and a half years later, and the Gaudreau selection seems like one of the most significant steals of the past few years of NHL drafting.
But now that Gaudreau has established himself as a bonafide, top-flight NHL scorer, the Flames will have to open up their pocket-book and pay the man. So what should we expect to see when Gaudreau’s new deal is announced?
GAUDREAU VERSUS ALL FORWARDS
First off, let’s ignore ages and everything else. Compared to current NHL forwards, how does Gaudreau stack up?
GOALS: Right now, Gaudreau is just outside of the NHL leaderboard for goals. However, he’s tied for seventh in even-strength goals (behind Tyler Seguin, Vladimir Tarasenko, Mike Hoffman, Taylor Hall, Joe Pavelski and Jeff Skinner). Considering Calgary’s bad power-play, that’s pretty good. He’s tied for second in game-winning goals and is the league-leader in overtime goals.
POINTS: Gaudreau is tied for seventh in points (with Tarasenko), behind Patrick Kane, Seguin, Benn, Hall, Daniel Sedin (and defenseman Erik Karlsson). On a per-game basis, he’s sixth outright (ahead of Hall, Tarasenko and Sedin).
GAUDREAU VERSUS THE 2011 DRAFT
Gaudreau is 11th among all players from the 2011 Draft Class. Everyone
ahead of him have played more games (Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat
have played 50 and 70 more games; Gaudreau’s five points behind Kucherov).
Goal-scoring: same number of goals as Boone Jenner. Ten more than Ryan Strome.
So compared to the others from his draft-class, Gaudreau’s 11th overall in points but on a per-game basis, he’s out-produced everyone in terms of goals and points by a sizeable margin. The comparable players that have a long-term post-entry-level contract among this group are Landeskog ($5.571m AAV), Nugent-Hopkins ($6m AAV) and Saad ($6m AAV), and Gaudreau has out-scored them on a per-game basis by a lot. The only argument when comparing Gaudreau to this group to keep his cap hit down is that he’s played fewer games than everybody else.
GAUDREAU VERSUS THE 2010 DRAFT
A lot of the players from the 2011 Draft that are comparable are also pending RFAs, so to some degree teams may be waiting on each other to set the market in terms of players with similar games-played to Gaudreau like Ryan Strome, Boone Jenner, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov. So we look to the 2010 Draft, and players that have already played through their entry-level deals and have cashed in.
Again, Gaudreau compares very favourably to this group on a per-game basis. He’s got more points-per-game than everybody except Taylor Hall (though Seguin and Tarasenko are close), and more goals-per-game than everybody but Seguin, Hall, Skinner and Tarasenko.
So the comparable group from 2010 includes Seguin ($5.75m AAV), Hall ($6m AAV), Skinner ($5.725m AAV) and Tarasenko ($7.5m AAV). Like Pat, I agree that Tarasenko’s a good comparison, but if I’m the Flames I make the argument that Tarasenko’s super goal-scoring should make him higher paid and arguably pushes him slightly out of the comparison range.
HE’S GONNA CASH IN
Every comparable player we’ve identified from a similar age group as Gaudreau makes between $5.5 million and $6 million, with Tarasenko being an outlier at $7.5 million. But Gaudreau out-scores basically everybody in the identified peer group (or scores at a very similar rate), so it’s very realistic to expect him to sign for around $6 million per year, if not slightly north of that. The only arguments that could keep his cap hit down are sample-size arguments – that he hasn’t maintained a high level of offensive production over the long-term yet. If that’s all you have, and Gaudreau’s established himself as a top-flight NHLer that the Flames rely upon to generate offense, those arguments will be discarded very quickly.
Remember, the idea is that for every season of unrestricted free agency that a player gives up by signing long-term, you’re expecting his cap hit to go up a bit from what it “should” be. Right now the market places Gaudreau’s value around $6 million and change, but if he signs for the maximum eight-year extension (and gives up a few seasons of free agency) his cap hit should probably be closer to $6.5 million.