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Big Question #1: What Would a Backstrom or Holtby Extension Look Like?

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Examining how much keeping Holtby & Backstrom around could cost the Caps

NHL: APR 11 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round - Hurricanes at Capitals Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Before the regular season starts, Greg Young is going to tackle the three biggest questions the Caps face this year. First up? What Holtby & Backstrom’s contract extensions could look like.

For the first time in a while, franchise-anchoring players for the Washington Capitals are towards the end of their contracts. Although Nicklas Backstrom & Braden Holtby are two of the most important players in franchise history (and will forever be etched in Capitals lore), they are both up for free agency at the end of the year.

As a bit of a thought exercise and to see the broader salary cap ramifications of the two re-signing, let’s tackle each one to see what a contract extension would look like.

(Note: Luke Adomanis took a look at this question a couple of months ago in the mailbag…so be sure to check out his answer, as well, then read on below for a more in-depth expansion the question.)

First up, let’s take a look at Nicklas Backstrom.

Nicklas Backstrom

When digging into the comparable contracts for Nicklas Backstrom…the tricky part is that there just aren’t many. To wit, here’s a look at all (and I mean ALL) of the contracts involving centers over 30 with a higher than $5.5 million average annual value (“AAV”) over the last 10 years:

Centers with AAV’s over $5.5 million

Player Age Team Year signed Length Total Value Average Annual Value
Player Age Team Year signed Length Total Value Average Annual Value
Paul Stastny 32 VGK 1-Jul-18 3 $19,500,000 $6,500,000
David Backes 32 BOS 1-Jul-16 5 $30,000,000 $6,000,000
Tomas Plekanec 32 MTL 16-Oct-15 2 $12,000,000 $6,000,000
Ryan Kesler 30 ANA 15-Jul-15 6 $41,250,000 $6,875,000
Jason Spezza 31 DAL 21-Nov-14 4 $30,000,000 $7,500,000
Joe Thornton 34 SJS 24-Jan-14 3 $20,250,000 $6,750,000
Henrik Sedin 33 VAN 1-Nov-13 4 $28,000,000 $7,000,000
Mike Ribeiro 33 ARI 5-Jul-13 4 $22,000,000 $5,500,000
Brad Richards 31 NYR 2-Jul-11 9 $60,000,000 $6,666,666
Joe Thornton 31 SJS 16-Oct-10 3 $21,000,000 $7,000,000

That’s a pretty small chart, and it’s not exactly an inspiring one. Although we can’t fairly judge Paul Stastny’s contract yet, the vast majority of these players did not live up to the value of the contract. Even worse, a couple of these contracts (Ryan Kesler & David Backes particularly) have been listed as some of the worst contracts in the NHL.

So, that’s a minefield that the Caps will have to avoid. However, there’s an important caveat to all of this. Let’s take the above chart, but list the points that each player had before signing that contract (we’ll put Backstrom at the bottom for reference):

Centers with AAV’s over $5.5 million (points added)

Player Age Team Year signed Length Total Value Average Annual Value Career Points (when signed)
Player Age Team Year signed Length Total Value Average Annual Value Career Points (when signed)
Paul Stastny 32 VGK 1-Jul-18 3 $19,500,000 $6,500,000 646
David Backes 32 BOS 1-Jul-16 5 $30,000,000 $6,000,000 460
Tomas Plekanec 32 MTL 16-Oct-15 2 $12,000,000 $6,000,000 473
Ryan Kesler 30 ANA 15-Jul-15 6 $41,250,000 $6,875,000 440
Jason Spezza 31 DAL 21-Nov-14 4 $30,000,000 $7,500,000 687
Joe Thornton 34 SJS 24-Jan-14 3 $20,250,000 $6,750,000 1171
Henrik Sedin 33 VAN 1-Nov-13 4 $28,000,000 $7,000,000 792
Mike Ribeiro 33 ARI 5-Jul-13 4 $22,000,000 $5,500,000 609
Brad Richards 31 NYR 2-Jul-11 9 $60,000,000 $6,666,666 716
Joe Thornton 31 SJS 16-Oct-10 3 $21,000,000 $7,000,000 933
Nicklas Backstrom 31 ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? 873

This list should alleviate some concerns. Most of the terrible contracts involve players with significantly lower career outputs than Backstrom. The only player higher, Joe Thornton (who appears on this list twice!), was obviously well worth it.

Now there’s another problem with that list…the NHL salary cap has obviously risen since 2008, so there’s some measure of apples to oranges when evaluating old contracts. (Inflation is a thing, people!) So for comparison’s sake, here are the last 10 center contracts with an annual AAV over $5.5 million:

Last 10 center contracts with greater than $5.5 AAV

Player Age Team Year signed Length Total Value Average Annual Value
Player Age Team Year signed Length Total Value Average Annual Value
Brayden Point 23 TBL 23-Sep-19 3 $20,250,000 $6,750,000
Sebastian Aho 21 CAR 1-Jul-19 5 $42,270,000 $8,454,000
Matt Duchene 28 NSH 1-Jul-19 7 $56,000,000 $8,000,000
William Karlsson 26 VGK 24-Jun-19 8 $47,200,000 $5,900,000
Kevin Hayes 27 PHI 18-Jun-19 7 $50,000,000 $7,142,857
Brock Nelson 27 NYI 23-May-19 6 $36,000,000 $6,000,000
Nick Schmaltz 23 ARI 30-Mar-19 7 $40,950,000 $5,850,000
Auston Matthews 21 TOR 5-Feb-19 5 $58,170,000 $11,634,000
Tyler Seguin 26 DAL 13-Sep-18 8 $78,800,000 $9,850,000
Dylan Larkin 22 DET 10-Aug-18 5 $30,500,000 $6,100,000

Again, there are some obvious caveats that come with the contracts on this list. For one, some of these contracts involve players who are RFA’s, so their value will be inherently suppressed. Second, again as above, a lot of these players either are much worse at generating points than Backstrom (Kevin Hayes & Brock Nelson fit here) or are much younger than Backstrom (pretty much everyone.)

However, there’s one contract that seems to be a decent comparable to Backstrom: Matt Duchene. Admittedly, Duchene has significantly fewer career points than Backstrom (547 to 873) and isn’t as defensively strong. However, he’s the oldest player on that list and both are coming off near-70 point seasons.

So if Duchene is the best comparable, what should that mean for Backstrom? Well, Backstrom is a few years older than Duchene, which should lower his value. However, GM Brian Maclellan has said that he might get “sentimental” on Backstrom’s extension, which may negate that.

Ultimately, Backstrom is probably looking at an AAV around $7-8 million dollars, and probably for around 5-6 years.

Though this is a bit of a raise, it won’t immediately bankrupt the Capitals. A $7.5 million AAV would only be a $800,000 raise on his current $6.7 million contract, and if the salary cap rises next year, the Caps should be able to handle this extension.

Prediction: 6 year, $45 million contract ($7.5 million average annual value)

Braden Holtby

For as complex as the Backstrom extension is, Holtby’s valuation should be much simpler. Here’s the last 7 contracts with goalies with an AAV over $5.5 million:

Last 7 goalie contracts with greater than $5.5 AAV

Player Age Team Date Signed Years Total Value Average Annual Value
Player Age Team Date Signed Years Total Value Average Annual Value
Andrei Vasilevskiy 25 TBL 29-Jul-19 8 $76,000,000 $9,500,000
Sergei Bobrovsky 30 FLA 1-Jul-19 7 $70,000,000 $10,000,000
John Gibson 25 ANA 4-Aug-18 8 $51,200,000 $6,400,000
Marc-André Fleury 33 VGK 13-Jul-18 3 $21,000,000 $7,000,000
Connor Hellebuyck 25 WPG 12-Jul-18 6 $37,000,000 $6,166,666
Carey Price 29 MTL 2-Jul-17 8 $84,000,000 $10,500,000
Martin Jones 27 SJS 1-Jul-17 6 $34,500,000 $5,750,000

The problem for the Capitals is that Holtby is likely going to gravitate towards the higher end of these contracts. Although Holtby’s play has dipped over the last 2 years, he’s still won a Vezina (and arguably should’ve won another) and his play did rebound significantly last year. Further, his career stats are pretty similar to Sergei Bobrovsky (who, like Holtby, is 30 years old), who got a huge contract from the Panthers last year.

However, Holtby’s value could ultimately come down to how he plays this year. If he regains all of his form and returns to being a Vezina caliber goalie, he’s in line to earn a Bobrovsky-style contract. If he’s anything like he was last year (or even worse, the year before), he could price himself closer to a $7 million AAV.

Ultimately, whether Holtby comes back to the Caps could depend on whether he’s closer to a $7 million AAV, or a $10 million AAV. If Holtby is closer to $7 million, that wouldn’t be a huge raise on his current $6.1 AAV, and perhaps the Caps could squeak him in under the cap. Conversely, if he’s offered $10 million, that’s going to be very tough for a capped-out Capitals team to keep him.

Prediction: 7 year, $60 million contract ($8.57 million average annual value)