This summer has been a pretty good one for any number of young, talented forwards entering restricted free agency. Within the span of an hour, two of the best available were locked up long-term. Hey, Nathan MacKinnon and Mark Scheifele, come on down and pick up your winnings.
Winnipeg Jets (@NHLJets) July 8, 2016
That's a 23-year-old and a 20-year-old busting right through the $6 million barrier, and right through any notion of a bridge deal. The crazy thing is that these contracts aren't crazy at all; both Scheifele (current #1 center) and MacKinnon (past #1 pick) have their best days ahead of them, and they're already pretty good as it stands.
Which brings us to Tyler Toffoli. July 8, 2016 might be a little early to worry about next summer, but Toffoli's overall profile and body of NHL work are eerily similar to those of Scheifele and MacKinnon. And Toffoli already got his bridge deal, so we know that LA is going to need to pony up. LA has no problem handing out contracts for 6-8 seasons, but what's the cap hit going to look like? The two contracts signed today give us a pretty good idea. Just look at the similarities in scoring rates and possession statistics between these three players over the past couple seasons. (Charts below via Own The Puck.)
Scheifele just got an eight-year, $49 million extension. MacKinnon just got a seven-year, $44.1 extension. Toffoli? pic.twitter.com/SfWyOQWbmf— Eric (@EricJFTC) July 8, 2016
None of these three players are "the guy" on their given teams -- yet -- but they all provide significant contributions. Scheifele and MacKinnon show how the market is changing for younger players, who historically don't get paid too well for what might end up being the best seasons of their career. (Of course, then they usually get paid big money for worse seasons down the line.) Even with their younger ages, though, they've played 200+ games in the NHL, just like Toffoli. There's no question that Toffoli's agent is filing away these two contracts in his head as a starting point for negotiations.
There are a few reasons why we shouldn't assume that Toffoli's getting $6-6.5 million a year next season, though. For one, Scheifele and MacKinnon are centers. Of the 25 forwards with the highest cap hits in the NHL, 15 are centers. They're inherently seen as more valuable, so even as a high-powered winger, Toffoli might not earn the same compensation. In addition, Toffoli will turn 25 next spring, and for a contract that could take him to the age of 32 or 33, LA will try to account for a decline in his play. Scheifele (probably) and MacKinnon (almost definitely) will put up higher point totals at their peaks than Toffoli will. And of course, the Los Angeles Kings are a considerably better team right now than either Winnipeg or Colorado. As similar as the players are, the situation might dictate a different contract for #73.
So the best comparables might still be out there. More specifically, the best comparables are heading for salary arbitration, as restricted free agents who were unable to reach an agreement with their current teams. Three names to keep an eye on this summer:
- Mike Hoffman, Ottawa Senators. Hoffman has put up nearly identical stats to Toffoli over the past couple years (29-30-59) this season, and though he's already 26, he's only played 186 career games and thus may not have hit his prime yet.
- Chris Kreider, New York Rangers. Kreider doesn't score as much as Toffoli, but he's been similarly good in the playoffs, puts up very good possession numbers relative to his teammates, and has the speed that 29 teams would pay big money for. He's a year and six days older than Toffoli, meaning he's probably the best age comparable for 2017 Tyler.
- Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues. Schwartz is a bit younger than either Hoffman, Kreider, or Toffoli, but he signed a similar two-year bridge deal to Toffoli's after putting up 56 points as a 21-year-old. Injury troubles killed his chances of building much further on that in 2015-16, but he remains dangerous.
If any of them sign long-term and avoid arbitration, we'll have greater clarity on what Toffoli's fair value might be.
Regardless, it's become quite clear why Dean Lombardi refused to break the bank on this summer's crop of free agents. The 2017-18 Kings have $58 million dedicated to 14 players according to General Fanager, and adding any more contracts to that would have made it nearly impossible to re-sign Toffoli without shedding significant money. Judging by Scheifele and MacKinnon's new deals, it's already going to be pretty tough. Hopefully the promise of 7-8 years in LA reduces his asking price.
What do you think Toffoli's going to get from the Kings? Do you think he'll play hardball? Is there any conceivable way LA lets him walk? Are we getting ahead of ourselves? (Probably.) Tell us in the comments.