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Abdelkader's seven-year, $29.75-million extension is risky in final years

Justin Abdelkader has inked a seven-year, $29.75-million extension with the Detroit Red Wings. Abdelkader had a career-best 23 goals and 44 points in 2014-15 and has four goals and seven points through 15 games this season.
The Hockey News

The Hockey News

One week ago, reports were the Red Wings and Justin Abdelkader were closing in on a deal that would keep him in Detroit long-term. That contract became official Thursday, as Detroit GM Ken Holland announced Abdelkader has been inked to a seven-year, $29.75-million deal.

"Signing my extension, hoping to end my career in Detroit," Abdelkader said of the extension Thursday. "It's a dream come true for me."

Through 15 games this season, Abdelkader has notched four goals and seven poitns and is on a pace that would see him reach roughly the same point totals as last season’s career-high 23 goals and 44 points.

The original report of the deal, which came from’s Ansar Khan, said Abdeklader’s deal would be longer than his current four-year contract. And Khan was on the nose with the money figure — it’s just slightly above the $4-million mark per season with a $4.25-million annual value. The one big issue for the Red Wings, though, will be having Abdelkader’s body hold up to his grinding, drive-the-net style of play until the time his contract expires at 35.

Abdelkader has been a great piece for the Red Wings’ top-six and he’s been a useful player in all situations. He can play 5-on-5, he can suit up on the penalty kill and he’s Detroit’s newer version of longtime Red Wing Tomas Holmstrom, as Abdelkader is the net-front presence on the top power play unit. But eventually age is going to catch up with the way that Abdelkader plays, which could be concerning in the final two years of the deal.

When reports of the contract first surfaced, the thought was a long-term deal would mean a five- or six-year deal. While shaving one or two seasons off of Abdelkader’s deal doesn’t seem to make a huge difference, it does when considering Detroit’s options come 2020-21 and 2021-22. The salary cap era has made it much easier to trade players in the final year of their contract — especially those heading to unrestricted free agency — as rental players at or near the trade deadline. You’ll find fewer teams willing to take on multiple years of a $4.25-million cap hit.

For the Red Wings, shaving one or two years off Abdelkader’s deal would have given them the opportunity to ship him out were his play to fall off in a big way by 2020. And Abdelkader is in his prime right now, so he’ll likely have at least three or four seasons of steady production before that begins to slip. Five years would have been a good long-term deal for Abdelkader. Seven years, well, that’s questionable.

That said, the more immediate concern is the present, especially when it comes to the Red Wings and their opportunity to continue their post-season streak. For the past 24 seasons, Detroit has made the playoffs and they’re looking to stretch that to the quarter-century mark this season. On a team that is looking for the next torch-bearers, Abdelkader has stepped up over the past few seasons and become one of the on-ice leaders for the club.

"He is a guy that works hard at his fitness; he is a character guy," Holland told the Detroit Free Press' Helene St. James. "If you also look at the leadership of our group, they are 34 to 36. Abby is 28. You need some people that are going to be leaders here, that understand the way we do business and what we expect out of young people, and he is certainly one of the people in that locker room that I am looking to, that the coach is looking to, to provide that leadership."

It's worth reiterating that Abdelkader will never be confused with the top scorers in Detroit, but he’ll never be asked to be much more than an all-situations player who contributes between 30 and 40 points per season. That’s good enough for Abdelkader right now, and that’s what Detroit is looking for from him. And while it might be difficult, if he can keep that up into his mid-30s, his new deal will work just fine for the Red Wings.


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