Who will get the next Malkin-like NHL contract?

June 13, 2013, 8:46 PM

So how did the Pittsburgh Penguins reward Evgeni Malkin for not scoring a single point in the Eastern Conference final? An eight-year, $76 million extension.

All jokes aside, the Penguins never considered letting Malkin hit free agency and they made that perfectly clear by locking up the Russian centre Thursday morning.

Despite his poor performance against the Boston Bruins, Malkin has been one of the league’s most dynamic scorers and has already won a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe trophy in his young career. Yes, he’s just 26 years old.

Now with Malkin and Sidney Crosby, who signed his own mega extension around this time last year, under contract for the long haul – the Penguins are hoping they can finally become the dynasty many thought they would be after Pittsburgh’s first Cup win in 2008-09.

In Malkin’s new deal that kicks in 2014-15, he will earn an annual salary cap hit of $9.5 million – a number $800,000 bigger than Crosby and a bit smaller than Alex Ovechkin ($9.54 million).

Not exactly a bargain price but certainly fair value for a player that has exceeded 100 points three times and has averaged more than a point-per-game in six of his last seven seasons.

With that mind, here’s a look at players around the NHL who could be seeing a similar type of raise in the near future.

Note: All cap numbers below courtesy of capgeek.com

Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks
Contract status: Two years remaining at cap hit of $6.3 million

At just 25 years old, Jonathan Toews is as accomplished as any young player in the NHL.

The Blackhawks captain has already won an Olympic goal medal, a Conn Smythe Trophy and a win over Boston would give him his second Stanley Cup.

While Toews doesn’t put up the gaudy numbers of someone like Malkin – he has never scored more than 76 points in a season – he is a much more complete player and one of the best all-around forwards in the league.

So, after the 2014-15 season, the Blackhawks will have to decide how much to pay their franchise player.

Toews may be worthy of a salary south of $7 million, we don’t see room for a Malkin-type deal with Chicago already committed to Duncan Keith, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp and the team has to still pay Toews, Patrick Kane and goaltender Corey Crawford (contract expires after next year).

The Blackhawks should hope to win championships now because it could be tough to keep this group together in three years.

Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
Contract status: Two years remaining at cap hit of $6.3 million

As we described above, the Blackhawks may find it challenging to keep their core together in the future.

After their last Stanley Cup victory, the Blackhawks had to let a number of quality players like Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Laad and Kris Versteeg leave for little in return.

While letting go of Toews or Kane doesn’t seem realistic, the difficulty will be finding a number that is worthy of their market value.

So if Kane wants to stay in Chicago – it’s impossible to imagine him reaching a contract that is close to Malkin’s new deal.

Nothing against anything what Kane has accomplished, but that’s the reality if he wants to stay with a winning club.

Expect Chicago to try to keep Kane and Toews at a similar cap number, as they were able to do in the past.

Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings
Contract status: One year remaining at cap hit of $6.7 million

Even though Pavel Daystuk can still play at a high level, not too many teams will be lining up to ship out $8 million to a 34-year-old player – especially a savvy front office like Detroit.

The Red Wings are surely looking to get younger at this point and it’ll be interesting to see how much money they’ll have to throw around with key forwards Damien Brunner and Valteri Filpulla scheduled to hit the market this summer.

Datsyuk is entering the final year of his deal and, while he can still fly and dangle with the best of ‘em, his best years are likely behind him.

In his prime, you could have easily made the case that Datsyuk is as worthy as anyone to be amongst the highest-paid players in the game, but that time has passed.

Datsyuk still scored at over a point-per-game pace in the shortened season and added another nine points in the playoffs, but it doesn’t seem realistic to assume Datsyuk will stay in the same tax bracket as Ovie and Malkin.

Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
Contract status: One year remaining at cap hit of $6.8 million

Beyond next season the New York Rangers are committed to just four players.

Well one of them is Brad Richards, but nevertheless there’s certainly room to rebuild this group and reward one of the NHL’s elite goalies.

Everyone – especially the Philadelphia Flyers – knows the difficulty of finding a true No. 1 goalie and the Rangers should do what they can to keep King Henrik in town.

His consistent play is certainly worthy of a raise, even with his already high salary cap number (see above).

The Swedish netminder has certainly been the Rangers’ franchise player and could command a deal that would make him the club’s highest paid player. That currently belongs to Rick Nash (cap hit of $7.8 million).

Glen Sather hasn’t held back in free agency – see Richards, Brad or Gomez, Scott – so expect a huge extension coming. It may not be in exactly Malkin territory but it could be pretty close.

Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs
Contract status: One year remaining at cap hit of $5.4 million

Hold the hate mail. We understand Phil Kessel is one of the most polarizing figures in Toronto, and arguably the NHL, but the guy sure can play.

The Toronto Maple Leafs aren’t exactly in the position to let go of elite talent at this point and Kessel should be amongst the players they look to extend this summer.

Kessel isn’t the most complete player but he has an elite ability to make plays and put the puck in the net – even without a true No. 1 centre in Toronto.

So we see this deal coming sooner rather than later, even though some around Toronto think the Leafs should get what they can in a trade with Kessel set to hit free agency around the season.

He may not be in the Ovechkin-Malkin conversation but we could see the Leafs paying Kessel something close to $7 million. He is still an ascending player and showed significant improvement in his first playoff run with the Maple Leafs this season.

Pay the man, Dave Nonis.

Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
Contract status: One year remaining at cap hit of $3.75 million

When the Philadelphia Flyers shocked the hockey world by trading away Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, they knew they had a player capable of filling in.

That player was Claude Giroux, who has quickly developed into the game’s best forwards.

Right now, the Flyers have Giroux at a bargain price, considering his production, and will have to pay their captain fair market value after the season.

If Kessel is expected to end up somewhere around $7 million, it’s hard to imagine Giroux getting anything less. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if Giroux’s salary cap hit number almost doubled in his next contract.

While the Flyers are locked in with some bad deals (Ilya Bryzgalov and Daniel Briere), they shouldn’t be too concerned about paying Giroux, who is the team’s most valuable player.

Giroux is a star but not in the class of Ovechkin and Malkin.


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