Nathan MacKinnon’s Contract Extension Sets A New NHL Pay Standard

Nate the Great, indeed.

Less than three months after his Colorado Avalanche won the 2022 Stanley Cup in June, 27-year-old forward Nathan MacKinnon inked an eight-year contract extension with the club on Tuesday.

“Nathan is obviously one of the premier players in the NHL so a long-term extension was something we wanted to get done before the season started,” said Avalanche general manager Chris MacFarland in a statement from the team. “He has that rare combination of speed and power with a high compete level that makes him a generational player. We are thrilled that he will continue to be a member of this team and this community for many years to come.”

Terms were not announced by the club, but the contract reportedly carries a total value of $100.8 million, or an average annual value of $12.6 million per season per multiple sources, including PuckPedia.

That will put him just ahead of Connor McDavid, who signed an eight-year, $100-million contract extension with an AAV of $12.5 million in July of 2017. That contract took effect at the beginning of the 2018-19 season, so when MacKinnon’s deal takes effect in the fall of 2023, McDavid’s contract will have three years remaining.

The deals carry the highest average annual values ​​in NHL history, but three players signed contracts with higher total values ​​before the league and the NHL Players’ Association shortened term limits to a maximum of eight years (and seven years if signing with a new team) in the 2013 collective bargaining agreement:

  • Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals: $124 million over 13 years, signed on Jan. 10, 2008 ($9.538 million AAV)
  • Shea Weber, offer sheet with Philadelphia Flyers matched by Nashville Predators: $110 million over 14 years, signed on June 24, 2012 ($7.857 million AAV)
  • Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins: $104 million over 12 years, signed on July 1, 2012 ($8.7 million AAV)

In addition to McDavid, just 13 other players carry eight-figure cap hits this season, per CapFriendly. But in the world of the NHL’s hard salary cap, especially where growth has stalled due to the financial losses incurred as a result of the global pandemic, general managers have not yet cracked the code when it comes to offering maximum rewards to their top stars while also leaving themselves enough cap space to round out their rosters.

So far, no team has won the Stanley Cup with a $10-million player on its roster.

The highest-compensated players for the Tampa Bay Lightning on their 2021 Cup team were goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy and forward Nikita Kucherov, at $9.5 million each.

This spring, Colorado’s top-paid players were forward Mikko Rantanen, at a cap hit of $9.25 million and defenseman Cale Makar at $9 million. MacKinnon was fourth on the Avalanche’s list, at $6.3 million — in the sixth year of a seven-year contract he signed after his entry-level deal expired in 2016.

At that time, he was 20 years old, with limited bargaining power and no arbitration rights. Selected first overall by Colorado in the 2013 draft, MacKinnon jumped straight into the NHL as an 18-year-old. He led all rookies in scoring with 24 goals and 63 points, and became the youngest-ever winner of the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.

But after that prodigious start, the Avalanche slipped backwards over the next few years and MacKinnon followed suit. A foot fracture limited him to 64 games in his sophomore season, where he tallied 38 points. He missed another 10 games with a knee injury in his third season, finishing with 52 points in 72 games.

After signing his long-term deal in the summer of 2016, MacKinnon managed just 53 points in 82 games in 2016-17. That was a tumultuous year in Colorado, where head coach Patrick Roy resigned from the team less than two months before the beginning of the season.

Fresh off winning a Calder Cup with the Lake Erie Monsters in the American Hockey League, Jared Bednar came in as Roy’s replacement on August 25, 2016. With limited time to prepare, the Avs stumbled to a last-place finish in the NHL standings, although that result turned out to have a silver lining: despite a draft-lottery loss, then-general manager Joe Sakic was able to snag Makar with the fourth pick at the 2017 NHL Draft.

Sakic also elected to stick with Bednar and improvement came quickly, with MacKinnon leading the way. He exploded for 97 points in the 2017-18 season, finishing fifth in the NHL scoring race, and was named runner up to Taylor Hall of the New Jersey Devils in a tight Hart Trophy battle for league MVP.

The following year, MacKinnon hit his career high of 99 points and the Avalanche won their first playoff round since 2008. He has continued to produce ever since, while also serving as the impassioned heartbeat of his team. MacKinnon also earned Hart finalist accolades in 2020 and 2021 and this spring, he led the Avalanche with 13 goals as they defeated the Lightning for their first Stanley Cup since 2001.

As he made his name as one of the NHL’s top players, MacKinnon also became known as one of the league’s best bargains — significantly over-performing his price point of $6.3 million.

In 2019, he told SportsMoney contributor Jordan Horrobin that he had no regrets about his contract. “On my next deal, I’ll take less again,” he said, “because I want to win with this group.” Since then, his stock has risen further, especially now that he has a Stanley Cup on his resume.

By merely inching ahead of McDavid as the NHL’s top-paid player, MacKinnon probably left money on the table compared to what he may have been able to command if he had hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent next summer.

It’s another fairly disciplined deal for the Avalanche. Top talents who win championships need to be compensated accordingly, but that means other sacrifices must be made elsewhere in the lineup. This summer, the new general manager MacFarland made the tough decisions to let second-line center Nazem Kadri and starting goaltender Darcy Kuemper walk away as unrestricted free agents.

When MacKinnon’s new deal takes effect next year, MacFarland will have more than $69.5 million of an estimated $83.5 million in cap space allocated to just 13 players based on his current roster, according to CapFriendly. That doesn’t include promising young players Bowen Byram and Alex Newhook, who will be looking to negotiate their second contracts as restricted free agents.

But MacKinnon’s new deal removes a major distraction before the new season begins. Now, the Avalanche will embark on the tough task of trying to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.

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