To succeed in the salary cap era General Managers need to know how to manage not only a 23 man roster, but do so with long-term planning in mind. If you want to build a successful team that can contend for the Stanley Cup year after year, you have to be able to sign very skilled players to contracts that won’t break the bank. Lower cap hit per season leads to more more players of quality being able to stay on the team. Excluding entry level contracts, let’s take a look at three incredible deals that NHL GMs have managed to pull off in the past few years.
Forward Eric Staal: 2 years, $3.5 million cap hit
Since being drafted 2nd overall in the 2003 NHL Draft and helping the Carolina Hurricanes capture their first Stanley Cup, Eric Staal has been the the face of the franchise. In his 11 and a half seasons with the Hurricanes Staal embedded himself as an offensive force scoring at least 30 goals 5 times and at least 70 points 7 times. However, in the final year of his contract Staal wasn’t producing like he previously had scoring 10 goals and 33 points in 63 games in the first half of the 2015-16 season. He was shipped off to the New York Rangers for a late playoff push, but was only able to pick up 3 goals and 6 points in 20 games and 0 points in 5 playoff games. With low point production, Staal wasn’t able to cash in big during free agency and Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher signed him to a three year contract with an annual average value of $3.5 million. Compared to his previous contract of eight years and $8.25 million this was a big decrease in pay, but Minnesota hoped Staal could be an excellent addition to their forward core. That has certainly been an understatement. In 2016-17 Staal finished the season second on the Wild in points netting himself 28 goals and 65 points in 82 games. This was his best statistical season since the 2013-14 season. This season he’s continued his upward trend leading Minnesota in both goals and points with 39 goals and 72 points in 75 games. Staal will likely finish the season with 40 goals and will be the first time he has hit 39 goals in 9 years. Before joining the Wild, these kind of bounce back years at this stage of a player’s career can be rare and Staal has shown that he still has plenty left in the tank. With this level of offense during the regular season, Minnesota is hoping that Staal will be able to carry it over once the playoffs start, but regardless this is one hell of a deal Fletcher pulled off.
Defenseman John Klingberg: 5 years, $4.25 million
If you want to build a Stanley Cup champion, you’re going to need high quality talent on your back end. Enter John Klingberg. Klingberg, 25, was drafted 131st overall in the 2010 NHL Draft and worked his way up through the AHL before landing with the Dallas Stars in the 2014-15 season. In his rookie year Klingberg managed to record incredible production tallying 11 goals and 40 points in 65 games. Since then he has managed to amass at least 40 points in each of his four NHL seasons. At the end of his rookie season Klingberg was signed to a seven year extension with an annual average value of $4.25 million per season. By signing him to such a long-term deal, Stars’ General Manager Jim Nill paid more in the beginning to hopefully save more a few years down the line. So far so good. Klingberg followed up his rookie season with two quality years scoring at least 10 goals and 45 points in each of them. However, this year he has taken his game to a new level. Klingberg currently sits second overall in league scoring by a defenseman with 7 goals and 61 points in 76 games and has been one of the most important players in Dallas’ lineup outside of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov. At 25 years old and 5 years (including 2017-18) remaining on his deal the time to win is now and Klingberg will likely be a large part of the answer.
Tampa Bay Lightning:
Forward Nikita Kucherov: 2 years, $4.76 million
Steve Yzerman has proven time and time again that he is one of the best General Managers at managing the salary cap. Not only has he continuously brought in top players, but he has made his team a consistent contender. The Tampa Bay Lightning currently sit at the top of the Eastern Conference with a 51-21-4 record and a large amount of credit needs to be given to Nikita Kucherov. Kucherov, 24, was drafted 58th overall in the 2011 NHL Draft and made his way to the Lightning in the 2013-14 season scoring 9 goals and 18 points in 52 games. Over the next four years Kucherov has evolved into not only of the best Russian players currently in the NHL, but one of the best goal scorers in the game as well. Kucherov has increased his offensive production every season he’s been in Tampa going from 9 goals to 40 in the span of four years. At the end of his entry level contract Kucherov decided to re-up with the Lightning signing a three year contract extension with an annual average value of $4.76 million. He entered the first year of his extension scoring 40 goals and finishing the 2017 season with 85 points in 74 games. This season he has continued to elevate his game and has been a key piece in the Lightning’s dominance. The winger has tallied 38 goals and 96 points in 74 games this season and should break 40 goals again along with cracking 100 points by the end of the season. Even though he might have some competition with Connor McDavid down the stretch for the Art Ross Trophy, having a player that has scored 40 goals and almost 100 points on your team for less than $5 million a year is an absolute steal.