When Connor McDavid’s eight-year extension was announced Wednesday afternoon, much was made of how selfless McDavid was by leaving $750,000 a year on the table and agreeing to be paid only $12.5 million a season. (For those of you who work for a living, we’ll allow you a second to roll your eyes right into the back of your head.)
But that’s not the case. Not by a longshot, in fact. In reality, McDavid left $2.5 million per year on the table, a total of $20 million over the life of his eight-year, $100 million deal. Based on the salary cap being set at $75 million this season and the fact that a player can occupy up to 20 percent of a team’s annual cap space, McDavid would have been fully within his rights to demand the Oilers pay him $15 million per season through the life of the contract.
Or he could have demanded a shorter term, which would have taken him to unrestricted free agency in five years at the pinnacle of his career. Who knows where the salary cap will be and what top players in the league will be making by that time? Essentially, McDavid and his representatives were clearly in the driver’s seat in these negotiations. The Oilers would have been forced to capitulate to whatever McDavid wanted and if he had asked for $15 million per season over eight years, the franchise would have had absolutely no choice but to give it to him.
But, as virtually every elite NHL hockey player has done before him, McDavid did not do that. Hockey players are remarkable in their penchant for thinking team-first. Sometimes it stifles them and everyone around them. But at other times, like this one, the owners of all 31 NHL teams must be thanking their lucky stars that their employees are so incredibly conscious of the collective.
It is not a stretch to say that McDavid is a savior for the NHL in more ways than one. He just saved the other teams an enormous amount of money. He essentially drew the line for the next player who comes into this situation, namely Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs. By taking up just 16.6 percent of the Oilers’ cap room, it would be a very tough sell for Matthews to ask for anything higher. And it’s not certain what Oilers center Leon Draisaitl will do in his contract talks, but McDavid may have inadvertently driven down Draisaitl’s price a little, too.
Now $750,000 wouldn’t have made much of a difference in the grand scheme of things, but at $2.5 million, you’re talking about a significant amount of money for both sides. Even if you’re going to be as wildly rich as McDavid stands to be, that is no small chunk of change, particularly when it’s multiplied by eight. For the Oilers, it gives them the flexibility to put better players around him and make the team better. But not even that amount will move the needle if the Oilers don’t use the excess cap space wisely. If they use it just to overpay someone who doesn’t deserve it, well, then shame on them.
By almost all accounts, this reduction in salary was McDavid’s idea. Which is remarkable, considering he could have taken stock of the situation and come to the conclusion that, as a guy who will likely be the best player in the world within the next little while, he was worth the money and might even be able to win a Stanley Cup on his own by taking up that much cap space. He’s actually that good. But, luckily for the Oilers, McDavid has toed the company line when it comes to loyalty and selflessness.
“This might be one of the largest contracts given in the NHL,” said Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli. “But I can assure you, it could easily have been a lot higher in value and shorter in term. Building a team to win the Stanley Cup was a constant discussion point in this negotiation…When I met with Connor and Jeff Jackson, his agent, all Connor wanted to talk about was his teammates and winning the Stanley Cup. Connor is humble and he’s driven. He makes players better and he wants his teammates to succeed.”
Chiarelli said he expects the Oilers to “compete for and win the Stanley Cup in short order,” which was interesting to hear.
Chiarelli talked about the deal as being “a partnership” with McDavid. (For his sake, McDavid had better hope that it doesn’t turn out the way the “partnership” between the players and owners has unfolded since the 2004-05 lockout.) McDavid is not unique in taking less than he is worth. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane both did it, as did Sidney Crosby.
The NHL is lucky to have employees who think that way. It will be interesting, though, how a team will react if it’s ever faced with the prospect of signing a superstar who actually wants all the money he deserves and won’t settle for a penny less.
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