Nathan MacKinnon finally got his money. The Colorado Avalanche locked him into a 7-year, $44.1 million ($6.3 million AAV) in 2016 coming out of his entry-level deal. He almost instantly became the best bargain in the NHL, averaging 1.18 points per game over the agreement’s lifetime.
Now MacKinnon is close to properly paid. The salary cap stops the top players from making an amount that truly reflects their value, but MacKinnon’s $12.6 million AAV edges out Connor McDavid for the league’s largest cap hit.
Those seven bargain years were something Kirill Kaprizov was trying to avoid in that protracted contract battle last summer. It’s just one year into the contract, but he’s arguably already failed. $9 million a year for a player with 55 career games caused jaws to drop all around the league. It’s looking like a sweet deal now.
The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn estimates the market value of Kaprizov’s last season at $14.3 million. He ranked fifth in scoring with 47 goals and 108 points, and his 7.3 Standings Points Above Replacement were 13th in the NHL. Despite this, he was tied for the 23rd-highest paid player in the league and eighth at his position.
Not only that, he’ll drop further down the list as the market continues to go up. In one year, Kaprizov is already 32nd overall and 11th at his position. There are three more offseasons of signings before Kaprizov gets another crack at free agency.
It’s a long way away, but should Bill Guerin already be budgeting to give him MacKinnon-type money in summer 2026? Let’s look at his case to hit that $12 million-per-year home run deal.
It has to start with his play and how it compares to the rest of the market. Does Kaprizov deserve to be paid as (what would currently be) the highest-paid winger in the league?
We should probably look at who those players are. The top-5 AAVs for wingers are Artemi Panarin ($11.6M), Mitch Marner ($10.9M), Patrick Kane ($10.5M), Johnny Gaudreau ($9.8M), and Nikita Kucherov ($9.5M). Right now, that sets the price at around $10.5 million for an AAV for a Top-5 winger. That makes sense, as that’s the deal Jonathan Huberdeau signed with the Calgary Flames, which kicks in next year.
Those contracts line up exceptionally nicely with the rate at which these players put up points. Kucherov ranks first in points per hour of every winger with 500-plus minutes in all situations since 2020-21. Huberdeau is second, Panarin is third, Gaudreau is fourth, and Marner is eighth. Kane is 20th but also is in the last year of an eight-year contract.
Kaprizov is in the mix, ranking sixth behind the top four and Brad Marchand. …….