When the Colorado Avalanche drafted Cale Makar fourth overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, they thought he was going to be good - it’s hard to believe anyone thought he would be this good, this quickly. At 21-years old, Makar is already one of the best defensemen in the NHL and it’s only a matter of time before he’s an annual mainstay among the Norris Trophy finalists.
Technically still a rookie this season - despite making his debut in the 2019 playoffs - Makar finished the year as a top pairing defender on a Stanley Cup contender. He put up 50 points in only 57 regular season games and followed it up with an even more impressive point per game (4G, 11A) rate through the team’s 15 postseason appearances.
Makar is already a star and he’s going to win the Calder Trophy for the NHL’s rookie of the year in a couple of weeks.
Joe Sakic and the Avalanche know they have something special in Makar - but that doesn’t mean they are going to rush to get him signed to a long-term contract extension.
Thanks to his appearance in last year’s playoffs, Makar’s entry level contract is set to expire at the end of the 2020-21 season. That means that he can sign an extension as early as this offseason.
While conventional wisdom dictates that the Avalanche would like to get a star player like Makar re-signed ASAP, it’s worth remembering that there is nothing “conventional” about the current financial landscape of the NHL.
With no idea when they’ll be able to start collecting ticket revenue again, NHL teams are operating in a much more risk averse way than usual. We know that the cap will be flat for at least two seasons - with inflated escrow - but after that, we really have not idea.
Even before this new financial landscape, the Avalanche showed with Mikko Rantanen that they are not afraid to let an ELC expire before signing their top players to an extension.
Waiting to make a big financial commitment doesn’t only make sense from a team perspective. Players - more specifically their agents - are going to have a hard time signing new contracts with so much uncertainty in the near future. Without knowing where the salary cap is going to be even two years from now, agents are not going to want their clients to lock into a long-term contract right now. With the addition of a 32nd team and a new US television deal on the horizon, there is reason to believe that the NHL will see a fairly steep increase in hockey-related revenue (HRR) in a couple years. As HRR increases, so does the salary cap. So after two years of a flat cap, we could see a lot more money available to players signing new contracts.
Players and their agents are going to want to gather as much information as possible and wait on post-pandemic projections before signing new contracts. This means that RFAs like Cale Makar are most likely going to wait until their ELCs expire before signing an extension.
Of course fans want the star players locked up as quickly (and for as long) as possible. Unfortunately, they’re likely not going to see that with Makar. The young defender is going to play out the next season without a new deal and even then, there’s a strong possibility that he signs a bridge deal before he hits the jackpot a few years down the road.
When Makar does sign, there are two possibilities. Either he signs a mega-deal using Thomas Chabot’s eight-year, $64m contract as a starting point or there’s the (more likely) bridge deal. Some comparables for a bridge would be Charlie MacAvoy (AAV of $4.9m) and Zach Werenski (AAV of $5m)
A bridge deal would work for both sides. It would save the Avalanche money in the short term, while giving Makar the ability to sign his life-altering mega deal in a few years when we have a lot more financial clarity.
Whichever course of action the Avalanche and Makar take, it would be shocking if the two sides decided to finalize a contract extension this offseason. Even before the pandemic caused a ton of financial issues for the NHL (and for the world in general) we had seen a trend of star RFAs waiting until their contract expires before inking a new deal - Brayden Point, Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Matthew Tkachuk, Rantanen, McAvoy, Werenski, the list goes on.
In that old financial climate, Makar probably wasn’t going to be any different. Now with no one knowing how HRR is going to look in the coming years, he’s even less likely to be.
As a key part of what the Avalanche are building, Makar isn’t going anywhere, he just won’t be proving it with a long term contract any time soon.