Projecting Tom Wilson’s Next Contract


In the summer following the 2023-24 regular season, Tom Wilson will be eligible for unrestricted free agency for the first time in his career. Wilson has been a mainstay on the Capitals roster since the 2013-14 season, after making a few appearances in the playoffs in the lockout shortened 2012-13 season.

Over the span of that near-decade with the Capitals, Wilson went from an initial depth, enforcer role with a penchant for the big hit, to a legitimate top-six power forward scoring threat. With that developed offensive ability combined with a bruising playstyle and 6’4″ 220-pound frame, Wilson is one of the most unique players in the NHL today.

When Wilson’s current contract ends, he’ll be 30 years old, which for the typical NHLer, is right at the end of their prime. On the other hand, Wilson’s production has only gotten better in the past few seasons. The main question for Wilson will be how his game will age as he enters into his early 30s, where bumps, bruises, and nagging injuries take a bit longer and hurt a bit more.

In this post, we’ll try to evaluate Wilson’s performance and potentially project what his next contract will look like when he’s eligible for unrestricted free agency. Statistics used in this post are courtesy of Evolving Hockey and Hockey Reference. Contract information is courtesy of CapFriendly. If you’d like to learn more about the statistical terms used in this post, please check out our analytics glossary.

Value and Contract Comparable

When Wilson was drafted, his NHL comparable was Milan Lucic, then of the Boston Bruins. Lucic and Wilson do have similar skillsets: the ability to score, play a tough physical brand of hockey, and have an intimidating presence on the ice.

Lucic inked a 7-year, $6M annual cap hit with Edmonton entering his age 28 season. Here’s what Lucic’s three years prior to him signing that deal in Edmonton look like, compared to Wilson’s prior three seasons:

Lucic:

Wilson:

Both players were pretty effective offensively, with Lucic posting some higher point totals as a result of more games played (COVID shortened seasons played a factor here). Both Wilson and Lucic had value scaling up towards the end of that three-year period, since they were both in the prime years of their career.

It’s not necessarily out of the realm of possibilities for Wilson’s next contract to look a lot like Lucic’s. Here’s a look at Wilson’s last four seasons in terms of Goals Above Replacement (GAR):

Wilson’s total GAR value has shot up rather sharply since signing his most recent contract that’ll carry him until after the 2023-24 season.

Here’s how his GAR values played out on a more granular level:

Not only was last season Wilson’s best offensively since signing his last contract, but it was also his best defensively. On top of that, he’s gotten better at drawing penalties, but has tended to take penalties at a higher rate as well. Overall, Wilson’s value is trending upwards.

Cap Situation

One thing that makes the Wilson contract situation interesting is the state of the roster after next season. After next season, the only players that are signed to a contract are Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, TJ Oshie, Nic Dowd, John Carlson, Darcy Kuemper, and Charlie Lindgren. With all of those roster spots open, the Capitals will have plenty of cap space to work with, to the tune of $23,870,001.

On the other hand, the Capitals will have to fill in those roster spots and spend money to make that happen. A large portion of that roster uncertainty depends on how the Capitals perform this upcoming season. Will the Caps spend money to try to continue to make the playoffs at the twilight of the Ovechkin era? Or will younger talent start to enter the roster, making Wilson a potential trade candidate?

If Wilson were a free agent today, Evolving Hockey projects his next contract to be an 8 year deal with a cap hit of $6.153M, if he were to stay with the Capitals. If he were to hit free agency and sign with another team, they project his contract to be 7 years with a cap hit of $6.669M.

Ultimately, Wilson will be 30 years old when his current contract expires. He’ll miss substantial time this season due to an ACL tear, and who knows what to expect in terms of performance when he returns to the lineup when he has recovered from his injury? It would be surprising to see Wilson get a 7- or 8-year deal at the age of 30, especially since he plays such a heavy physical brand of hockey.

Lucic was a sound comparison here because of the similar play style, but Lucic really hit a wall in terms of production after signing that 7-year deal with Edmonton. In three seasons in Edmonton prior to being traded to Calgary, Lucic cracked the 20 goal and 50-point mark once. His production dropped considerably after the 2016-17 season (the first year of his deal), where he posted a 23 goal, 50-point season. After that, he’s had seasons with point marks of: 34, 20, 20, 23, and 21.

Conclusion

There will be no shortage of suitors for Wilson if he hits unrestricted free agency at the end of his current contract. The Capitals surely would want him to stick around, but 31 other teams would want a crack at the power forward as well.

With so many suitors, the price and the term on a contract will rise to meet the market demand. The 7-year and ballpark cap hit of $6.5M a season doesn’t seem out of reach as a result if he hits unrestricted free agency. The Capitals will need a leadership figure and a veteran presence for a younger roster after the current core ages out, and Wilson certainly fits that mold.

The question will be how long and how expensive will the Capitals be willing to go on a new Wilson contract when the era of playoff caliber teams end and the rebuilding process begins?

By Justin Trudel

About Justin Trudel

Justin is a lifelong Caps fan, with some of his first memories of the sport watching the team in the USAir Arena and the 1998 Stanley Cup appearance. Now a resident of St. Augustine, FL, Justin watches the Caps from afar. Justin graduated with a Bachelor's of Science in Political Science from Towson University, and a Master's of Science in Applied Information Technology from Towson University. Justin is currently a product manager. Justin enjoys geeking out over advanced analytics, roster construction, and cap management.
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24 Responses to Projecting Tom Wilson’s Next Contract

  1. Anonymous says:

    Lucic is an interesting comparative. And it raises a couple of concerns as you point out. I saw Willy as next captain.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I think 8 years will be too much. He’s kinda found himself in the middle as far as contract term is concerned.

  3. steven says:

    I like Tom as a person and a player. I like how he has grown into a role with the Caps and how he has grown as a player. Sadly I think what is best for the team salary wise is to see how Tom comes back from this injury and then se what the market is for his services. Every team needs someone who ca be an enforcer but with Malenstein, Alexeyev, Snively, Leason and Clark and Protos there are several players who can take his place at a lower salary. There comes a time when a team HAS to move players because of salary and age. Another example of a player who needs to move because of ag and salary is Carlson but it is probably to laie asat 32 and with 4 years remaining on an 8million dollar contract what you would have to take in return would not be worth it. Rather than being caught withanother big contract, and Orlov comes up next summer and is going to want more than his current $5.1 mil and Mantha also comes up the same summer that Wilson does summer and will want more than is current $5.7 mil, and with 13 UFA or RFA next summermaybe it is better to look to movesome players over the winter and start the rebuild rather than fill Teds ego’s need to make the playoffs and instead lookto the future! IF you start the rebuild now at least you willhave Ovies push for the scoring ecord as a distraction; however if you wait until he retirres to rebuild it will take longer and fans, who can be very fickle will not be interested in watching a losing team. So the question is do you want short term pain for a few year or long term pain that is put off for 2-3 years?

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      That’s not a bad take, Steven.

    • Anonymous says:

      While I agree with some of this, the possible future replacements aren’t close to what Wilson provides. Malenstyn can provide a phyical presence, is fast, and a great penalty killer but he doesn’t provide the offense or the nastiness Wilson brings. Alexeyev is a defensemen. Snively is a small play, not physical, and provides a different type of skill set. Leason has yet to show the offensive potential and for his size lacks a physical game at present. Protas is a big body who doesn’t play physical but may develop to a point of being similar offensively. Clark can play physical but he’s still in the AHL as he isn’t consistent and only occasionally shows offensive skills.

      At present, they don’t really have a Wilson replacement.

  4. novafyre says:

    “It would be surprising to see Wilson get a 7- or 8-year deal at the age of 30, especially since he plays such a heavy physical brand of hockey.”

    Not for the AARP Caps. If it’s shorter than 8 years it will be because Willy wants it shorter. The Caps will go as long as Tom wants.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      Valid point.

      • Anonymous says:

        Not necessarily. That was during the Ovechkin era (with Oshie especially). Most of an upcoming 8 year Wilson deal would be after O is gone. I don’t think the team will be looking to give Wilson a LT deal just to lower his cap hit when they aren’t expecting to contend.

        • Anonymous says:

          Even if they aren’t able to contend, I hope they look for a veteran such as Wilson to captain the team and help mentor the young players if they’re in a rebuild.

        • novafyre says:

          Caps skew towards vets, Ted is also very loyal to his employees, which is why he took Trotz’s betrayal so badly. And, as another Anonymous says below, the Caps will need a captain after Ovi. All reasons to go long.

          I agree that Willy could fill the captain’s jersey, and I have defended his play on many fan sites of other teams. But I also agree with Steven that the Caps should really be making the decision on his physical fitness. That should be their priority. This is a lesson they should have learned with Nicky’s situation. I just don’t believe that they have.

  5. Anonymous says:

    He’s kinda between a long term deal and a medium deal. Somehow he got off the usual track after entry level contract.

    • It was certainly an interesting call for Wilson’s side of the house to agree to a contract that made him enter UFA at 30. Big risk for other teams trying to sign him long term at that age.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Lucic is not a good comparison – Josh Anderson is more appropriate in terms of playing style. Wilson was never an enforcer, not in juniors, and certainly not when he was breaking into the NHL and getting beaten up by the Dalton Prouts, Brandon Prusts, and Jared Bolls of the league, to say nothing of the relic enforcers who were still around, whom Wilson never sniffed (Orr, Parros, Shawn Thornton, McGrattan, Carkner, Gazdic, etc.).

    Lucic is a horrible skater and has always been. Wilson’s skating has always been an asset. What’s the average goal distance of the two players? What percentage of goals are scored on the rush? They aren’t even close.

    In a league which values speed over physicality, Wilson will still be relevant, even as he ages.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      I stopped at “Wilson was never an enforcer..”

    • I do think Anderson is a good comparable in terms of play style, but Anderson signed a long term contract with Montreal prior to being eligible for UFA.

      Lucic might be relegated to an enforcer role now, but he was a bona-fide top six scoring power forward, just like Wilson is now. You don’t put up multiple 20 goal seasons in today’s NHL and be just relegated to the title of “enforcer”.

      Wilson’s value has always been on his physicality. He brings a physical, fast paced brand of hockey that most other players in the league can’t touch. Lucic was once that player. He is sub-par now, but certainly wasn’t when he signed that big ticket with Edmonton prior to the 2016-17 season.

      • Anonymous says:

        Lucic was a top line player on their very tough Cup team, and fit perfectly with Horton. But Lucic was billed to be the next Neely, and was expected to fight actual heavyweights- which he tried until Orr broke his nose. Wilson thankfully doesn’t have to, because there are none left, which is a good thing, because he’d get destroyed.

        Brendan Smith, Nick Paul, and Simon Benoit aren’t exactly the names on the HW champ’s fight card.

        • Anonymous says:

          Wilson was absolutely an enforcer. That was his entire role his first couple seasons in the NHL and honestly is still doing him harm because he developed some bad habits and a bad reputation as a goon who is only around to fight. It wasnt a good use of him, but it was definitely his role before he started developing a more well-rounded offensive game.

          The fact that heavyweight goons of decades past have been legislated out of the game doesnt change any of that. For several years, he played small minutes and fought at one of the highest rates in the NHL.

          • Anonymous says:

            Fighting at a high rate does not make one an enforcer. Matt Bradley coincidentally has the same number of fights as Wilson. Would you consider him an enforcer?

            • Anonymous says:

              Are you, for some reason, looking at career totals? Wilson’s first season he was top 5 in the NHL in fights while playing in every game with less than 8 minutes of ice time. His entire role was to go out and fight people when the team didnt like a hit on one of the skill players. That is what an enforcer is. You can old-man-yells-at-clouds claim that only 280 lb guys who can’t skate can *really* be called enforcers if you want, and that he never could have stood up to the enforcers of yore, but thats what his role was, end of story. The team trotted him out there to fight.

              • Anonymous says:

                For some reason? They have played nearly the same total number of games. Total number of fights is obviously a fair comparison. FYI, Wilson averaged more ice time than Bradley’s career average starting in his second NHL season.

                Wilson was not expected to, and did not, fight the actual contemporaneous enforcers of his day. Nor was not expected to go out and fight people in response to a hit on one of the skill players, unless you’d care to demonstrate that this comprised a significant portion of his fighting.

  7. DWGie26 says:

    The whole reason Wilson ended up on Caps early is because he faught a bunch. Then everyone wanted a piece of him but he was also scoring a lot. It was better for the “asset” to have him play in Washington because he wasn’t eligible to go to AHL (pro).

    But regardless, he is exactly the kind of guy you want to lead through transition. Unique skill set, leader, can score, bleeds Caps Red. So give him 8 years and he would love that too. If a true rebuild there will be lots of young players and cap space.

  8. redLitYogi says:

    good piece. Yes, what we do with Wilson will depend on how the team as a whole is doing. The Caps situation is not a binary “tear down or not tear down” but has three branches: 1. we’re still a contender and with a few tweaks and trades we might steal another Cup. 2. we’re not going anywhere with this lineup, let’s trade everyone that’s tradable (except Ovie) and start the re-build. or 3. we’re not really a contender but we’re a good team so let’s get Ovie the goal record. I believe we’re on that third branch. But I’m not sure we need a complete tear down. The Rangers managed to become legit contenders. They had some off years that got them some high picks, but they never did the tear down. The Red Wings went from the Yzerman-Russian 5 powerhouse to another powerhouse led by Zetterberg, Lidstrom, and Datsyuk b/c of terrific scouting and development. I think you try to stay reasonably good as long as you can and trust that you will drop into the lottery naturally.

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