The Habs wasted little time getting Nick Suzuki locked up. Instead of waiting until next summer to work out a deal, they got one done earlier this week by signing him to an eight-year, $63 million deal. Our writers break down the signing.
Terry Costaris: You got to love GM Marc Bergevin. The man never takes a break – which means that he is constantly making us write these WWI’s. Is there any other franchise that makes as many moves as the Montreal Canadiens? I’m going to miss him if this is his last year running the Habs.
I think Nick Suzuki is an exceptional player with ample room to grow and become a superb centre. He would be a perfect number two to a generational talent like Connor McDavid – if Montreal ever lands such a unicorn.
Having said this, the term here scares me. Hockey is a smash-up derby played on ice with Ferrari’s like Suzuki thrown into the mix.
I realize that every contract has its risks but is it too far fetched to think that Suzuki might get pretty banged-up over these next nine years – especially if he’s their number one centre? Each night, there will be a target on his back. If Suzuki stays healthy, though, his salary will be a bargain, as the league’s cap will surely rise at some point. So, this is a pretty good calculated decision on Bergevin’s part. He’s banking on Suzuki one day being the equivalent of a $5M a year player in today’s dollar terms.
Now speaking about money, I can’t help but keep thinking about how much is involved here. Each year of his term is what most specialized doctors earn over the course of their entire careers. Alternatively, if you managed to make an average of $100,000 a year, it would take you 630 years to catch up to what Nick Suzuki will make! And taxes, shcmaxes, you’d pretty much lose half like this very rich young hockey player.
Man, these athletes earn a lot of dough. Mind you, I don’t have the ability to fill up an arena – neither do most doctors. He’s just getting his piece from a very rich/profitable pie that’s owed to him. I just have a hard time tangibly thinking through how much both he and his future descendants are set to receive for multiple generations. We regular folks just are literally light-years away from the wealth earned by modern-day athletes.
But trust me, I’m not jealous. Good for Nick Suzuki and his big payday and good on Montreal to pay him at such a hometown discount rate.
Allan Katz: Locking down the team’s top centre is obviously a good idea. The money is high upfront and the thinking is the bet will pay off big time in the second half of the deal that bought four years of free agent years. A bet is always a risk, but that’s what GMs do, take risks and make bets. I only have one point that no one has mentioned; This bet is part of a long-term parlay bet, where one bet combines with another. The parlay bet involves Cole Caufield and Suzuki as a teaming that might electrify the league. For this to pay off big time the two of them have to become a dynamic duo that will absolutely dominate the NHL. The exciting possibility is that this can very well happen. While the third member of the line might change a few times over time the fact is Suzuki and Caufield might be the most exciting bet the Habs have made since drafting Carey Price.
Brian La Rose: Full disclosure before I start – I like bridge contracts. More often than not, they work. To justify foregoing such a deal, there needs to be a benefit to the team. I get that Bergevin thinks he is getting one here but I’m not so sure.
I don’t see Suzuki being a point-per-game player. Not now, and not in his prime. Yes, he’s an effective two-way player and is only going to get better but you go this route to avoid the high-cost contract after a two-year bridge. Given what they’ve paid here, Bergevin had to be thinking that a post-bridge deal would be in the $9.5 million range. I’m not sure he gets to that level.
Is it a bad contract? No. Suzuki has shown enough that he’s going to be a core piece for the Canadiens but that still would have been the case next summer when he was a restricted free agent. And no, an offer sheet wasn’t at all a realistic option as teams would have had to go into the top range to make an offer so high for the Habs to walk away. No team was doing that, not with a cost of four first-round picks. What happened with Kotkaniemi should not have had any effect on these talks.
In the end, I don’t think it’s going to be a massive overpayment in his prime although it will be one in the first few years at a time where cap space is going to be at an absolute premium. But I don’t think a post-bridge contract would have cost a whole lot more than this either. It’s nice that Suzuki is sticking around for the long term but I can’t help but wonder if, over time, we look back on this and think that a bridge deal would have been better.
Peter Longo: If there was any doubt as to what Bergevin thought about Suzuki, it was settled in large flashing neon lights on Tuesday. Suzuki’s new contract is a massive commitment to a player who just finished his second year in the league. But was it worth it? In order to evaluate that, we need to look at comparables around the league, the Canadiens cap structure, and the projected growth for Suzuki.
In terms of league-wide comparables, contracts in the $7.0M-$8.5M range around the league include players like:
- Leon Draisaitl ($8.5M), Sebastian Aho ($8.4M), Steven Stamkos ($8.5M) at the top end;
- Ryan O’Reilly ($7.5M), Matt Duchene ($8M), Evgeny Kuznetsov ($7.8M) in the middle;
- Elias Petterson ($7.3M) and Mathew Barzal ($7M) and Nico Hischier ($7.2M) at the low end.
Since Suzuki is only two years into his NHL career, he quite simply hasn’t had the same impact as the above-named players. It’s hard to justify Suzuki belonging in this group yet. At these levels, an NHL team should expect point-per-game production from the top line centres. Suzuki just isn’t there yet. I have no doubt he’ll get there; the only question is how long will it take?
In terms of team dynamics, since 2012, Bergevin has built the team aiming for quality players providing depth throughout the lineup. Aside from Price, the core of the team is between $3M – $6.5M in cap hit, providing a well-balanced team. It’s a very different structure than teams like Pittsburgh, Toronto, Edmonton, and others, who employ high-end superstars for their top players and fill out the roster on near league-minimum contracts. With Suzuki’s new contract, Bergevin has changed the approach and paid someone well above the rest of the team. It’s not difficult to predict that other Habs players are now going to compare their worth to Suzuki’s in contract negotiations.
But a more immediate impact will be seen when the contract kicks in for 2022-2023 as the Habs will be above the cap. And that’s before signing (or replacing) Alexander Romanov, Ben Chiarot, Artturi Lehkonen, and Brett Kulak. With this many players at the end of their contracts, it won’t be a problem to be cap compliant, but it’s going to require reducing the associated cap hit (and likely quality) of replacements. Any way you look at it, team depth is going to suffer.
In terms of Suzuki’s potential, there is no doubt that he has the potential to grow into a point-per-game producer. Over the two shortened COVID seasons, he has developed into a responsible two-way player with great game instincts and some soft hands. Reports of his character and team attitude are also very positive. But we need to remember that both years were shortened COVID years. And in Suzuki’s first year, he played sheltered and limited minutes as he grew into the league. Opposing players probably weren’t keying in on him as a major threat. That has all changed with his performance last year including the playoffs. Every NHL team now knows to key in on Suzuki and you can be sure that he will be seeing attention that he has not had to endure yet in his limited NHL career. Reports are that Suzuki arrived at camp in better shape with added muscle. This is good news because he’s going to need it to play a gruelling 82-game schedule against the fiercest competition he’s ever played against. While I’m confident he’ll come out of it an improved player, I think the next couple of years will be a continuation of the learning process for him. He’ll still do well, but his production will not increase as much or might even plateau in the near future.
What does this all mean? Well, it means the Habs overpaid in the early years of the contract. When combined with the flat cap structure and the required offloading of other contracts, the Habs are going to be a worse team in the first couple of years. As the NHL salary cap grows, and as Suzuki plays into his contract, it will undoubtedly be viewed as good value.
I think it would have been best to see a bridge deal signed at the end of the 2021-2022 season and see how a year of being the top centre unfolded. If Suzuki performs great, you sign him anyways for a similar deal (or more if needed) for a similar term. If he plateaus a bit as he adjusts to the added responsibilities, perhaps you have a 2-3-year bridge deal in the $5-6M range, give time for the team cap structure and NHL cap to adjust, and avoid the negative impacts on the rest of the team.
Critics may argue that the fear of another offer sheet forced Bergevin’s hand, but that is not a reasonable thought process. If you are willing to offer $8M to sign him now, surely you’d be willing to offer the same or more after another strong season. It’s the same reason why no one signed Brady Tkachuk or Elias Petterson to one because every NHL team knew that Ottawa and Vancouver would be sure to match any reasonable offer. The reason why the Kotkaniemi offer sheet succeeded was that it was so ridiculous an offer for such an average/mediocre player. Suzuki is neither of those and teams would be sure to know that.
In the end, what’s done is done. The Habs have a great future hockey player signed up through his prime years. In the long run, it’ll be worth it. Hopefully, there’s not too much pain in the short term.
Ken MacLeod: This lifelong Habs fan really likes Suzuki’s contract extension. But more important, so do Suzuki and Bergevin.
Suzuki’s extension is a relative rarity in the NHL these days, being a quick signing that both sides seem happy with, while at the same time leaving neither side entirely sure who will benefit most from it in the long haul.
Since coming to Montreal as the Canadiens’ main target in a blockbuster trade that sent Max Pacioretty to Vegas, Suzuki’s ascent to the Habs’s top scoring line has been a steady one, collecting 13 goals and 41 points in 71 games as a rookie in 2019-20 and 41 points again last season, but with two more goals and in 15 fewer games. As a playoff performer, Suzuki has been lights out over the same time period with an impressive 23 points in 32 games.
What makes it more likely than not that Suzuki will be full value for the contract is his special skill set. A complete 200-foot centre as comfortable on the penalty kill as he is on the power play, Suzuki is as equally gifted a passer as he is a shooter, but his main weapon is a highly developed hockey brain that usually sees the best play to make before anyone else on the ice does.
So far as weaknesses go, Suzuki doesn’t have many, but his game would be even more dangerous if he could get his faceoff above 50 per cent.
Suzuki is just 22. As well as he has played in the NHL so far, there is probably still some room for growth in his game. Where many once saw him as a perennial 60-point producer in the Patrice Bergeron mould, I can see Suzuki has a steady 80-point player one day. Especially if the partnership with Caufield continues.
Paul MacLeod: I like the Suzuki extension. Of course, there is always some risk in signing a max-term deal, but as it buys up four years of Suzuki’s free agent years it has the potential to become a significant bargain. Bergevin got burned – to an extent – by letting Kotkaniemi become a free agent and was widely criticized for bridging P.K. Subban so I am not surprised that he has bet big on Suzuki and gotten him locked up. If I were a betting man, I would wager that this contract will pay off big for the Canadiens.
Norm Szcyrek: I do like the extension since I feel Suzuki has risen to the undisputed number one centre position on this team. Nick’s future is very bright and he should become even more of a leader as the next few seasons pass. His contributions during the last two postseasons have been exceptional, so I do believe he should be rewarded for that also. I had expected the Habs management to try and negotiate a bridge deal for a few seasons, but I assume the offer sheet sage from dealing with Jesperi Kotkaniemi scared them off trying that approach. Who knows if that Tom Dundon “revenge” move to obtain Kotkaniemi has satisfied him enough from telling his Hurricanes GM to try another move against the Habs.
Dave Woodward: The new contract for Suzuki is likely to be a team-friendly deal, particularly in the last few years of the eight-year term. Of course, no one can predict the future of any player but it is a reasonable bet that the 22-year-old Suzuki has not yet reached his prime and that he will continue to develop into an elite NHL centreman over the next few years. In the first few years of the deal (which kicks in next season), the Habs may be overpaying Suzuki but only marginally. If he continues to develop as the Habs’ brass anticipates, the last several years will be a bargain compared to what Suzuki would earn as a UFA.
The Canadiens, quite correctly, see Suzuki as part of their core for several years moving forward. In order to keep him, the alternative would be a bridge deal that would bring the young centre closer to UFA status. The bargaining position of Suzuki and his agent would change materially if Suzuki was on the cusp of UFA status (which he would be at the end of a bridge deal). By paying marginally more in the first few years of the contract, the Canadiens purchase about four years of what would otherwise be Suzuki’s UFA years at just under $8M per annum. That is a lot of money but it is less than what Suzuki will likely be worth in those years, particularly if the pandemic ends and the stagnant salary cap rises.
In any event, the bridge deal is only appropriate if you have a player that you have reservations about who that player is and what he will become (for example, Jesperi Kotkaniemi or Alex Galchenyuk). If the team has confidence in the player (as they did with Brendan Gallagher on his prior team-friendly deal), better to lock him up and include as many UFA years in the deal as possible.
There was also the risk that Suzuki may receive an offer sheet next summer if he had not been signed. Since Suzuki is one of the Canadiens’ core players now and for the future, it was wise to get this contract done now. A player like Christian Dvorak may not be available next time.
While eight-year contracts are generally to be avoided, an eight-year term for a 22-year-old with Suzuki’s potential makes far more sense than a similar contract for a more established player in his late twenties or early thirties. In this contract, you are paying for future performance. This pundit is far more optimistic that this deal will deliver greater value than the remaining years of the Price deal or, for that matter, Brendan Gallagher’s new deal that kicks in this season. Father time is undefeated and we are seeing that play out now with Price and Shea Weber.
Overall, the Suzuki deal provides the player with a lot of money and a vote of confidence from the organization and allows the Canadiens to lock up one of their core players at a reasonable cost based on how they project his development. I like the deal.