By Idriss Bouhmouch & Sam Forstner.
While many players remain unsigned in this anything-but-normal offseason, we wanted to take a look at some of the highest-profile signings thus far and what to expect when the big remaining names sign their deals. Joining forces with Idriss Bouhmouch (@thehockeycode) and Sam Forstner (@SamForstner), we employed an approach which combines learnings from their data-driven predictions (available on thehockeycode.com), thorough knowledge of the realities of the CBA and contract negotiations (The Reality), and how the player brings value to the table (The Process).
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before, but the 2020 offseason is far from a normal one. Our projections were built using historical data, drawing from past years in which fans were in seats and where general managers made roster investments with the confidence that they’d enjoy medium and long-term flexibility as the salary cap was widely expected to rise year-over-year. It was a challenge to estimate and account for the extent of the impact of key elements such as increased escrow, flat salary cap for the foreseeable future and uncertain hockey-related revenues across the league would have on this particular marketplace.
In this first installment, we’ll do a deep dive into Taylor Hall’s contract with the Buffalo Sabres and what the biggest remaining free-agent forward, Mike Hoffman’s contract might look like.
Player 1: Taylor Hall
Signing Team: Buffalo
Actual Contract: 1-year x $8 Million (NMC and M-NTC included)
Projected Contract: 7 years x $9.993 Million
Projected AAV on 1-year contract: $7.414 Million (Expected to include a no-move clause)
Taylor Hall and Quartexx agent Darren Ferris took an interesting approach to this negotiation, with the player deciding to bet on himself in an unpredictable and challenging marketplace. Despite the flat salary cap, there was reportedly no shortage of suitors for Hall – as you’d expect for the opportunity to add a caliber player, without having to sacrifice other organizational assets which would go the other way in a trade scenario. Committing to only one year allows Hall to retain maximum flexibility and leverage going forward as a top-end talent.
There is significant upside for the player in the event that he elects to stay in Buffalo, as the Sabres forward core is signed long-term (Eichel through 2025-26, Skinner through 2026-27). If not, Hall would have the luxury of evaluating the state of the league following the Seattle Kraken expansion draft, just in time to hit the UFA market as potentially the top forward option once again.
Regardless, newly-minted Sabres GM Kevyn Adams made a serious splash three months into the job. This signing will help the organization be in a better position to enjoy success next season, as their young captain and number one center Jack Eichel will have a former league MVP on his wing to help carry the load offensively.
In this particular case, it’s worth noting that Buffalo did finesse the contract structure to include only $1 million in signing bonus, a marked departure from their past track record with ‘core’ forwards:
– 18.75% of Eichel’s deal is paid out in signing bonus ($15M of $80M)
– 20.8% of Skinner’s deal is paid out in signing bonus ($15M of $72M)
– 59.5% of Okposo’s deal is paid out in signing bonus ($25M of $42M)
Perhaps the club was hesitant to dole out a significant signing bonus due to the short-term nature of Hall’s contract.
In any event, the player selected a destination that is close to home (his family lives in Toronto), and was granted a full no-move clause. This is a reminder that the business of hockey is a people’s business, and personal motivations play a big part in these decisions.
Buffalo will have an important decision to make ahead of the Seattle expansion draft. We’ve outlined potential scenarios to demonstrate the complexity of asset management in this league:
– trade Hall at the deadline as a ‘rental’ and recoup assets from a contender looking for firepower to help ahead of the playoffs
– protect Hall from the Kraken with the hope of extending him to a long-term deal, and risk losing another valuable asset from the organization in the process.
Surely competing GMs were conscious of this opportunity cost in the immediate short term, and preferred to swing again at Hall next year if and when he hits the open market once again.
Hall is an explosive, offensive threat who consistently ranks among the NHL leaders in the number of scoring chances he produces off-the-rush. Last season, he ranked top-5 in rush chances and led the league in breakaways but converted on only a small percentage of them. Will playing with Jack Eichel improve the quality of a majority of those rush chances? Perhaps but Hall went 0-for-12 on breakaways. He’s not an elite finisher but it should be safe to assume he will score a bit more than he did last season by using his world-class speed.
Player 2: Mike Hoffman
Potential destinations: Florida, New Jersey, Nashville, Buffalo
Model Projected AAV on 1-year contract: $5.852 Million
Revised projection AAV on 1-year deal: $5.25 Million
In any other marketplace, you’d expect the top goal scorer of the UFA class to have many suitors, and the fact that Hoffman and Octagon agent Robert Hooper have yet to accept a deal is intriguing. It has been reported in the media that as many as six to eight teams have approached Hoffman with mild to strong interest.
Given the lack of available cap space remaining in the market at this time, and many contending teams already looking to shed salary to comply with the $81.5M cap (i.e. Tampa Bay, Vegas, Toronto, Washington, Montreal), Hoffman is navigating challenging circumstances. Accepting a deal for the sake of having a deal is not as valuable as setting up the player for success with the right contract in the right environment.
Looking at roster needs, we’d quickly expect Vancouver to be one of the teams in the Hoffman derby. Hoffman has familiarity playing in a Canadian market, having been drafted and playing eight seasons in the Ottawa Senators organization. After losing significant pieces to free agency (Markstrom, Tanev, Toffoli), GM Jim Benning took care of extending Virtanen prior to arbitration but still has to finesse his way out of being $1.5M over the cap for next season. This is a poignant example of when cap constraints can prevent a potential bidder from making a pitch to a player of Hoffman’s caliber.
Other dark horse landing spots for Hoffman include New Jersey (projected $17.1M available cap space), Nashville (projected $12.9M), and a return to Florida (projected $11.5M available in cap space).
Could we see GM Kevyn Adams add another marquee piece to his top-six by adding Hoffman on a short-term deal? The Atlantic Division has significant offensive firepower, and a one-year contract between $5 and $6 million would be a great value investment for a Sabres organization looking to continue to take steps in the right direction.
Hoffman has one of the best one-timers in the NHL and can score from distance as well as just about anybody. He ranked top-20 in goals last season and is a threat from the right face-off circle on the powerplay. Hoffman has great speed and desirable attributes however, the market is at a bit of a standstill as many teams need to find creative ways to move money around in order to sign a player with Hoffman’s pedigree.