HabsWorld.net -- 

The Habs wasted little time getting a max-term extension done for Juraj Slafkovsky, signing him to an eight-year, $60.8 million deal on the first day he was eligible to sign.  Was that the right move for the Habs or too much risk?  Our writers offer up their thoughts.

Terry Costaris: Where there is risk, there is opportunity. The risk is that Slafkovsky’s trajectory heads south and he becomes a Colin White.

Assuming that this will not be the case and that the salary cap keeps rising, Slafkovsky becomes a great bargain saving Montreal, along with the Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield deals, enough money to land a quality free agent when this team is on the verge of truly contending.

Alternatively, this likely $2M per player savings (for this trio of players), assuming that the salary cap will continue to rise, means that there will be around $6M for Ivan Demidov plus whatever else he will command when he too is signed to a long-term contract.

Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton are constantly thinking about the future and the Slafkovsky deal is a proactive move to keep the team’s payroll in line with cap flexibility.

As for Slafkovsky, $60M is a lot of coin. It is guaranteed money.

Putting it in relative terms, it would take a high school teacher 500-plus years to amass this wealth. Not bad for a player who will be 28 years old when this deal runs out.

I don’t begrudge them of getting their fair share of a very lucrative pie but athletes live in a very different universe than us working stiffs.

Brian La Rose: There’s definitely some risk here as if Slafkovsky slows down from the pace he had in the second half of last season.  And while we’d all like to think he can maintain it, lots can change in the better part of a decade.  If his output slides to even that of a second liner, this could be a problem down the road.

On the flip side, if Slafkovsky becomes a legitimate top-line power forward, this contract should age well considering the expected increases to the salary cap and the continuing reality that power forwards get paid a lot more than their numbers might suggest.  (Seems to me that Montreal has another example of this on their roster…)

I have to admit, I’m surprised this got done.  I wasn’t sure there was a sweet spot where both sides would be happy with the assumed risk, Montreal in the sense of Slafkovsky regressing and the winger in the sense of foregone money if he had a big year next season.  I thought this wasn’t going to get done as a result and then we might be talking about $8 million or more next summer if he had a good year.  That they came in below that suggests the potential reward will outweigh the risk but make no mistake, this is a bigger risk from the Canadiens’ side of things.

Kevin Leveille: I think three major factors contribute to this being a home run signing for the Habs. Those three factors are team, player, and cap considerations. The easiest of these three to look at is the team consideration. Slafkovsky very likely represents this management’s only venture into the top three positions in the draft and therefore one of the cornerstones of this rebuild. Committing this amount of money on such a small sample size is therefore logical. It ensures that they underpay a key cog in the rebuild for years to come. There might be some questions as to whether or not Slafkovsky maintains the production seen in the latter parts of last season, but as the top selection cornerstone of the rebuild, said rebuild is essentially toast if he’s not a prominent winger on one of the two top lines down the road regardless of the salary he is making. Better bet on the positive outcome instead, which the Habs did here.

For the player, this is job security and money to send home. No one is foolish enough to believe Slafkovsky at face value when he said money didn’t matter. But everyone should take him at face value when he says term was more important. Let’s be clear about the fact that Slafkovsky could easily have opted to wait until next summer, went out and had a monster season, and cashed in at a way higher number. He did leave money on the table for the sake of getting paid now and for the sake of winning. This last part is important because as the cap moves around, the current top-three forwards on the Habs all have deals that will look really team-friendly entering their primes. Slafkovsky wants to be one of those Habs, so he accepts. Much like in Boston in the past, Gorton has installed a culture where winning precedes getting paid, and Habs fans should be encouraged by that point.

Looking at the cap, this is where some fans might raise some flags. With only half of a season as a top-line option and no guarantee he stays that productive as teams start to focus on him defensively, why not a bridge deal? The answer to that is quite simple. Slafkovsky’s deal comes in at $7.6M and a little under 9% of the salary cap right now. This is slightly less than Suzuki and Caufield, but it’s pretty clear that Slafkovsky’s floor at this point is as a middle-six winger. The higher end of those players currently make 4-6% of a team’s cap space. Considering the expected jump in the early years of this contract to nearly $100M, then this deal should make up 7-8% of the cap. At its worst, this deal will become a slight overpayment on a middle-six winger, at its best, the Habs will grossly underpay a top-line winger for years to come. A slam dunk for the Habs.

Peter Longo: In his interview on July 1st, Hughes claimed they were not going to “sign a five, six, seven-year deal where we know we’ll be eating it (salary cap) for two or three years.”

It is hard to balance that statement with this contract for Slafkovsky. Hughes knows full well that he will be eating it for at least two or three years, if not the full eight. But it is consistent with the approach he’s taken with Caufield’s contract. And one that we saw Suzuki sign under previous Habs management. Fans have watched both of those players underperform those contracts while the team finished at the bottom of the standings.

It’s simply too big a risk in my opinion. No matter how much you like the player, it is impossible to tell how they will perform in the long term until they demonstrate it. But the player agent in Hughes just wants to make the players happy so he’s dishing out these contracts without the players ever having to demonstrate they will be able to play up to them. This strategy has not worked out for the Toronto Maple Leafs. All it is going to take is for one of these players to struggle and the team will be saddled with a size and term of contract that can’t be easily mitigated. Just ask the Edmonton Oilers how much the Jack Campbell contract cost them.

Hughes had a sophomore player under full team control for many years to come. A player with no negotiating leverage and one who has been a highly inconsistent player over his first two years. Letting Slafkovsky play out his rookie contract would have been a low-risk move to gain more insight on potential future performance. One outcome is that Slafkovsky plays incredible hockey and earns the same contract or maybe even larger. Well, that’s great news because it would mean he’s demonstrated he can perform at that level. As management this is what you want – a fair contract that pays the players for how well they perform.

As it stands right now, Hughes massively overpaid and tied up precious salary cap room for eight years. The only way for the contract to become fair is for Slafkovsky to become a point-per-game dominant player in the league. Until that happens, the team has taken all the risk – which isn’t a fair deal.

Norm Szcyrek: I am glad to see Montreal’s management make a big commitment to Juraj.  Selecting Slafkovsky first overall in the 2022 NHL draft was Hughes/Gorton’s first big move as the latest Habs brain trust.  Juraj struggled through his rookie season and continued that trend until around the midway point of last season before he found his groove and emerged as a top-line player.  For that, he was rewarded with a big contract extension that will pay him like one of the team’s top players, just behind Suzuki and Caufield. This is the first offseason since the pandemic that the salary cap took a significant rise.  If that trend continues and assuming Slafkovsky continues to be a productive player, his salary will seem reasonable in a few seasons when he is hitting his peak as a player.

Dave Woodward: With this contract, the Canadiens are investing a lot of money in a player that has only enjoyed success for about half a season.  However, regular followers of the Habs would mostly agree that Slafkovsky’s play in the last half of the season was sustainable.  With the salary cap rising and the development path and potential that Slafkovsky brings to the table, this scribbler views the contract as a good wager.  If this rebuild succeeds, Juraj will have to be a core piece, along with Caufield and Suzuki.  The contract’s AAV remains less than that of Suzuki and Caufield’s contract, as it should be.  This is important as exorbitant contracts to core players hamstring a team’s ability to round out its supporting cast (just ask the Maple Leafs about that).  It is always prudent to pay for future rather than past performance.  I fully anticipate that this contract will be viewed as a bargain in a few years.