The Calgary Flames are coming off a disappointing season, falling to 25th in the NHL standings a year after making the Stanley Cup Playoffs and advancing to the second round. Their biggest weakness this season was goaltending, but their most important task this offseason is to sign top scoring forward Johnny Gaudreau to a new contract.
Gaudreau is currently a restricted free agent, so there is no chance of him walking away for nothing this summer, but it is going to cost a pretty penny to keep the 22-year-old long-term.
The 5’6” left winger left Boston College with a Hobey Baker Award after the 2013-14 season, and added to his trophy case by scoring 64 points and being nominated for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie in 2014-15.
The New Jersey native followed that up with a very impressive 78 points this season, which placed him sixth in league scoring. According to www.hockey-reference.com, Gaudreau is one of just eight players since the 2005 lockout to score at least 60 points in each of his first two seasons.
As a restricted free agent without arbitration rights, Gaudreau doesn’t have a lot of leverage to squeeze the Flames organization for an overpayment. He is just going to have to let his performance on the ice do the talking, and that will result in a huge payday for the undersized winger.
To get an idea what it will cost the Flames to keep Gaudreau long-term, we can look at some of the recent contracts signed by players with similar production in their entry-level contract years.
One player who bears a striking resemblance to Gaudreau both in early career production and stature isChicago Blackhawks winger Kane, who is the defending Art Ross Trophy winner.
In his first two NHL seasons, Kane scored 46 goals and 142 points. Gaudreau’s career marks are 54 goals and 142 points in his first two seasons.
Kane was younger than Gaudreau, as the Blackhawks winger stepped directly into the NHL after being drafted first overall, while Gaudreau played three years of college hockey before becoming a full-time Flame.
Kane eventually scored 88 points and helped lead the Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup in his third season, but signed a five-year contract extension worth $6.3 million per year early in his third campaign.
It’s difficult to find direct comparisons for Gaudreau, because most players with that type of talent step into the league at 18 or 19 years of age. Gaudreau played three years at Boston College before embarking on his pro career. He also burned a year off his entry-level contract by playing one game in 2013-14, so he has only played two seasons before becoming a free agent.
Another winger who waited until 21 to enter the NHL and had a similar immediate impact was Buffalo Sabres winger Thomas Vanek. The Austrian born sniper played two years at the University of Minnesota as well as one full year in the American Hockey League before he stepped foot on NHL ice.
In his first two seasons with the Sabres, Vanek scored 68 goals and 132 points. A few more goals than Gaudreau’s 54, but ten less points than the Flames winger as well. The year in the AHL burned a year off of Vanek’s entry-level contract, so he became a RFA after two full NHL seasons, much like Gaudreau.
Vanek signed a whopping $50 million dollar contract over seven years which resulted in a cap hit of $7,142,857 million per year. This is complicated somewhat by the fact that the Edmonton Oilers stepped in and signed this contract with Vanek via the offer sheet route, which certainly increased the total salary.
However, there is no question Vanek was going to sign a huge contract coming off two successful seasons to begin his career. An average annual value of more than $7 million was a surprise, but no one would have questioned the Sabres had they given him $6 million per year before allowing any other teams to get involved.
Luckily for the Flames, Gaudreau has only played two seasons and is not eligible to be offer-sheeted this summer.
Though Kane had more postseason success when his first contract ended, he signed his extension early in his third season – before going on to win a Stanley Cup. Vanek’s contract was actually signed by the Oilers, and though it was slightly inflated, he surely was worth at least $6 million per year coming off a 43-goal and 84-point season.
These two players play the same position as Gaudreau, and found similar success in their first pair of NHL seasons. Based on this, we should expect Gaudreau to ink a seven-year contract this summer with a cap hit around $6.75 million.
Though his career has begun similar to Kane’s and Vanek’s, Flames fans will have to keep their fingers crossed that Gaudreau’s talent leads him closer to Kane’s recent successes, which include three Stanley Cups and an Art Ross.