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Hail Tavares: 2nd Contracts of Recent NHL #1 Picks

"If only I'd held out for another $1 million, we'd have a better table."
"If only I'd held out for another $1 million, we'd have a better table."

Taylor Hall's new contract was of keen interest to Edmonton Oilers fans before and after it was signed. Hall is already quite good (though there are some anecdotal health concerns about his style of play), but the Oilers need him and other top picks to sign for less than they're worth if the team is to keep all of them with room for additional support under the cap.

Hall's contract was of interest to New York Islanders fans because it follows John Tavares' contract extension, which was announced last year and kicks in this season. (Mandatory caveat: If there is a season.)

There's no magical or perfect way to do this -- and certainly Scott Hartnell (a UFA otherwise irrelevant to this discussion) has learned that if you sign for alleged below-market value, the anonymous vultures will come out even if that "undersell" accusation is debatable.

What we can see from the post-lockout first-overall picks, though, is that both Tavares and Hall have helped themselves and helped their team on their second contract.

Player Draft 2nd Contract Cap Hit
Erik Johnson 2006 2 yr, $5.2 mil. $2,600,000
Patrick Kane 2007 5 yr, $31.5 mil. $6,500,000
Steven Stamkos 2008 5 yr, $37.5 mil. $7,500,000
John Tavares 2009 6 yr, $33 mil. $5,500,000
Taylor Hall 2010 7 yr, $42 mil. $6,000,000
Jonathan Toews *2006 5 yr, $31.5 mil. $6,500,000

General Notes

  • Johnson is the outlier here -- not only as a defenseman, but also because he (arguably because he's a defenseman, and also because he lost a year to injury, and finally because he's just not as good) did not demonstrate elite status by the time his entry level contract expired. He was signed to a "prove it" deal for his second contract, and the Blues ended up trading him after they deemed he was not, in fact, proving it.
  • A better comparison for a defenseman might be Tavares' 2009 classmate Victor Hedman, whose second deal is for five years, $20 million for an annual cap hit of $4 million. (Meanwhile, the third overall pick that year, Matt Duchene, was himself signed to a "prove it" deal of just two years, $7 million.)
  • *To make up for Johnson, I included his draft classmate Toews, who was in contention for first overall that year and who signed an identical deal to teammate Kane, as both entered the league together.
  • It's probably fair to say each of the forwards is, in literal terms, worth more than their yearly salaries. If there was a league-wide scale that compensated based strictly on rarity of talent, then the Crosbys and the Tavareses of the world would all command even more, while depth defensemen would not command $1.5 million. But all players want their teams to be able to afford, well, teammates.
  • I don't think it's crazy to say Stamkos is the best player of this bunch right now, but his cap hit (keeping in mind the time it was signed) is noticeably higher than his fellow #1s. It's good that the Lightning didn't sign him to a crazy long term like they did Vincent Lecavalier, but they still tend to operate at a high price point.

On that note, it's interesting that Tavares and Hall have both come in at lower average salaries than the peers who came before them -- even though the cap has actually been higher in the years Hall and Tavares signed. The massive second deals signed by Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby have been followed by smaller rather than bigger salaries for other #1s.

Player agents and Larry Brooks (but I repeat myself) can openly wonder why such players accept "below market" compensation on their lengthy deals -- and some might even say it's a gullible concession to billionaire owners.

But the reason players do this is intuitively obvious for anyone with a pulse: Six years is still fantastic security, $30+ million is still an incomprehensible amount of money for any one man, and most players generally like the team they're on and want that team to be able to afford its best chance at team success.

When you're already talking about tens of millions of dollars in the bank, what's a fraction less if it means a better crack at the Stanley Cup?