Calgary Flames

The rest of the NHL is benefiting from the Calgary Flames historical contract mistakes

Over the last year, there has been an increasing trend in NHL teams starting to hand out a lot of term and money to some of their younger players. Even if some of those players have limited NHL experience.

With the Ottawa Senators recent signing of twenty-one year old Jake Sanderson to an eight-year, $64.4M contract there is a clear indication that teams are willing to take a worthy bet on some of their younger drafted prospects. Sanderson had just 77 games under his belt before inking the deal, which may be one of the most drastic commitments yet.

This trend of signing these massive contracts coincided perfectly with last summer’s shocker in Calgary with the departure of both Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk

Since then, NHL teams truly want to avoid that same situation as much as possible. The numbers prove that.

RFA contracts

Starting with Tkachuk, who probably hurt the Flames the most in the long run, was a result of extremely poor cap management by Brad Treliving. His last contract was a three-year deal that put him in a perfect position to have one year remaining of RFA status to strong arm his way into a pseudo-UFA status. 

Teams looked at that situation as the most dangerous use case for their RFAs that could similarly sign a bridge deal and make it easier to find a new team at the end of that contract.

Since the Tkachuk sign-and-trade, teams have taken notice and locked up their RFAs:

The Buffalo Sabres were the first to truly make that commitment, by signing Tage Thompson to a seven year, $50M contract after a huge breakout season where he scored 38 goals in 78 games. After the contract? He backed that up with a 47 goal season and 94 points and looks to be on one of the best contracts in the league and one of the best emerging centers.

The same can be said for the likes of Tim Stutzle, Cole Caufield, Jesper Bratt, and Roope Hintz who all equally signed long term deals that will look to be shrewd moves by their teams. Others like Matthew Boldy, Brandon Hagel, and Dylan Cozens were dealt the league looks back on as equally smart moves at the time. 

Now there are some risks involved of course, it’s not always a slam dunk. Jordan Kyrou didn’t “pop” the same way that others did but still set a career high in goals last season, and there will be others. But so far, the commitment from teams to their drafted and developed RFAs looks to be paying off in spades.

UFA contracts

Moving to Gaudreau, there was already so much risk baked into his situation. Contract talks went nowhere once the team was able to sign him to an extension the previous summer. Add in Gaudreau and his agent not wanting to talk a new deal until the end of the season made sure that hitting free agency was a given. 

Since Gaudreau signed, there have been a number of teams ensuring that they don’t suffer the same fate:

Ironically, the Calgary Flames were the one team to instantly commit to signing UFAs to long term contracts, unfortunately for them they looked to be more of a rebound move. Three of the oldest players on this list were signed within a few months of Gaudreau leaving, in addition to them having six UFAs on the books still for next year. 

They haven’t fully learnt yet, but other teams have.

The ones that stick out on this list would be Nathan MacKinnon, Dylan Larkin, Sebastian Aho, and Ilya Sorokin. Team’s key stars that were heading to UFA status within the year that the teams committed long term to. This list was exclusive to length of six years or more, so Auston Matthews doesn’t appear here but could be used as another good case for teams avoiding the dreaded walk to UFA status. 

The Flames pain is everyone else’s gain

Gaudreau and Tkachuk aren’t going to be the last two players to leave their respective teams, just look at Pierre-Luc Dubois, but both players from the same team within a few weeks of each other likely won’t happen for a while. 

It’s a positive move from a team perspective, but also it’s great to see young players getting paid early. It has to be nice for a team and player to have such an initial strong connection that makes it worth a long term commitment. With the salary cap going up, this surely is going to continue.

Although the Flames were the team to get hurt the most as a result, its a better direction to ensure that drafted players stick around long term.

Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire

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