Assessing The Top Three Player Contracts For Each Team In The Eastern Conference

After Sebastian Aho signed an 8-year extension that carries a cap hit of $9.75M on July 26th (that’ll take effect next season), we started thinking about how we can quantify the value of the top contracts for each team in the Eastern Conference. In terms of roster construction and cap management, the goal is to always get the most bang for your buck, and we wanted to see who’s actually getting what they’re paying a premium for.

Not only is it immensely important for teams to have elite talent to become an elite team, there needs to be some cap space left to have the right, high-quality supporting cast around them. Obviously, the best players in the world are paid handsomely — but with all of these advanced statistics that we have available now, can we quantify the actual bang-for-the-buck each team is getting?


We started by looking at the top three cap hits for each team among forwards and defensemen. When teams had a forward and a defenseman tied for their third and fourth highest cap hits, the tie went to the forward. We also did not include players that earned in the top three cap hits for their respective club, but were on the long term injury list for all of last season.

Removing goaltenders from this analysis was a conscious choice — goaltending metrics aren’t quite as easily mapped and merged with skater metrics, so perhaps goaltending contract value is something we’ll cover another time.

After taking the top three cap hits, we sliced the salary data with a few key metrics:

  • Average age of the top three earners
  • Total cap hit for the top three earners
  • Percentage of the salary cap those top three contracts accumulated
  • Total Goals Above Replacement (GAR)
  • GAR per million dollars
  • Points per game

Using these metrics as key data points, we can start assessing the value of the top three contracts that each team is working with.

The statistics used in this post are courtesy of Hockey Reference and Evolving Hockey. The salary cap information is courtesy of CapFriendly. If you’d like to learn more about the statistical terms used in this post, please check out our NHL Analytics Glossary.

Average ages

First up, let’s look at the average ages for the top three earners for each team in the Eastern Conference. This will help us get an idea of the various stages teams go through with their core group of players: rebuilding, on-the-rise, contending, and aging-out.

There’s also players in this group that fit a similar timeline model: young players who are locked up to long term deals who haven’t entered their prime, prime-year players, and aging veterans with bloated contracts.

Average age only tells us so much. Based on what we can see here, it’s no surprise that Washington and Pittsburgh have the two oldest top earners by five whole years compared to the third oldest top three earners. That average age is definitely buoyed by two veteran generational talents in Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, as well as long-time core pieces like Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, and Evgeni Malkin.

Then you have the “younger” teams like Ottawa, who have their core three of Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stutzle, and Thomas Chabot locked up. Chabot is the oldest of the three at 26 years old. Ottawa is a team that’s pretty close to emerging into the mix of playoff contenders, and once they cross that threshold, they could be in the mix for quite some time.

The rest of the teams are a smattering of clubs that have their top three earners at an average age between 26 and 30.

Percentage of the cap

Now that we know the average age demographics of each team, let’s take a look at how much of the salary cap these top three contracts for each team accrue by percentage:

Toronto is no real surprise to have the highest percentage of the cap associated with their top three earners. With Auston Matthews ($11,640,250), John Tavares ($11M), and Mitch Marner ($10,903,000) making up a large portion of Toronto’s core group, they don’t have a ton of wiggle room down the roster for complimentary pieces. It’s also fair to note that Toronto is currently about $2,068,950 over the cap ceiling, even with the use of LTIR.

Other than that, we see teams like Philadelphia who have a very low percentage of the cap reserved by their top three earners (which doesn’t include Sean Couturier and Cam Atkinson, since they didn’t play last season). This is due to the Flyers going down the route of a rebuild, and their “top talent” isn’t exactly up to snuff with the rest of the conference.

Then you have a real outlier with Pittsburgh. Although they have the highest average age for their top three earners, they also have relatively affordable contracts. Crosby leads the way with an $8.7M cap hit, then Jeff Petry at $6.25M, then Evgeni Malkin at $6.1M. This is a vast divergence from how the Capitals have paid their top three earners, with Ovechkin ($9.5M), Backstrom ($9.2M), and Carlson ($8M).

GAR per million

In an attempt to provide a valuation of “bang for your buck”, we took the total Goals Above Replacement (GAR) value for each teams’ top three earners, and then divided that by the amount of millions in dollars that each team accrued. So, for example, if a team’s top three earners accrued 10 GAR and accounted for $25M in total cap, we’d take 10 divided by 25 to give a GAR/$M value of .4.

Here’s how each of the teams did in this regard:

Tampa, Boston, and New Jersey got the most value out of their top three earners, and that’s even taking into account Timo Meier’s new contract with the Devils and David Pastrnak’s big raise with the Bruins, with their GAR from last season.

Tampa leading the way is rather interesting, considering that they have the third oldest average age among their top three earners in the conference.

Obviously, the elephant in the room is Washington, sitting there at 15th in the conference with the only negative GAR/$M. A couple key factors for why the Capitals struggled here:

  • Backstrom’s return to the lineup after a lengthy rehabilitation process for his hip procedure
  • Carlson’s head injury and amount of games missed
  • The GAR model really hating Ovechkin’s defensive capabilities (he had 8.7 offensive GAR vs -10.6 defensive GAR). Ovechkin is certainly no Selke candidate, but I’m not sure he’s that bad defensively.

For Caps fans, I don’t think there’s many that don’t question the value the Caps are getting for the money, especially with Backstrom’s contract. In a perfect world, the Capitals would have been able to get Ovechkin and Backstrom to sign more team-friendly deals to stay with the team like the Penguins were able to get with Malkin and Kris Letang last season.

Points per game

Typically, the top earners in the league are players that generate points. In an effort to provide an alternative statistical view to just GAR, we sliced the data with points per game. Points per game is important because it helps normalize the production of players based on games played, not just pure scoring output.

Here’s how each teams’ top three earners in the Eastern Conference performed in this regard:

Although we had thought that Ovechkin’s point production last season might buoy the Capitals into a bit higher of a ranking, it wasn’t necessarily the case here. We can see again that Tampa gets immense production out of their top three earners (Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov, and Steven Stamkos). Toronto, even with the bloated contracts, produces at nearly as high a level as Tampa.

The only two teams that the Capitals outpaced in terms of PPG was two rebuilding teams in Philadelphia and Montreal. Montreal has youngsters Nick Suzuki (23 years old) and Cole Caufield (22) being pulled down by Brendan Gallagher (31 years old). Philadelphia is underwhelming and plays in a John Tortorella “defense-first-and-always” system.


Since we’re a Caps blog first and foremost, I’m going to end off this piece with an opinion on the state of the roster. It’s no secret that with the cyclical nature of teams’ competitive status that you can’t be a Cup competitive team forever. We’re starting to see the impact of paying the oldest players on your roster the most, and the result tends to be the cap inflexibility to really improve your roster.

With the Caps adding Max Pacioretty and Joel Edmundson this off-season, it appears that the hopes of this team returning to the playoffs really hinges on the team being healthier than last season, potential rebound seasons from players like Evgeny Kuznetsov and Anthony Mantha, and a fresh voice behind the bench in Spencer Carbery.

If the team is healthier, resonates with Carbery, and key players play to their capabilities, then this team could certainly be in the mix for a playoff spot. If we see the same health issues and performance from last season, the Capitals will be a lottery team. This is all dependent on if MacLellan actually pulls through on a trade to shake up the Caps’ top six forward group.

I think we’re closer to a rebuild than we are to being a team that competes for the Stanley Cup at this point, but all eras come to an end. I’d be ecstatic to be proven wrong by this team.

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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19 Responses to Assessing The Top Three Player Contracts For Each Team In The Eastern Conference

  1. andrew777dc says:


  2. franky619 says:

    Carlson and Ovy are not the problem, Backstrom has no business on that list. Despite having only 2 yrs left on his contract he made Luszczszyn list of NHL’s worst contract overpaid by about 13.1m. Ranked 359th among forwards with a 1.1 5v5 production. He was never underpaid, he was overratred. He probably has’nt cracked the top 100 in any offensive metrics for a decade when he was NOT ON THE ICE WITH OVY. And sure as heck is no Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar or Jonathan Toews.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      Overrated? That’s a bit much in my opinion.

      • franky619 says:

        Yeah, one nice pass every 10 gms does’nt make a player great and had he played with any other team, that assists would have been his 400th not 600th.

        • Jon Sorensen says:

          Got it. Franky not a Backy fan.

          • franky619 says:

            I just see him as the player he really is. Saddly management is a delusionnal as most Caps fan.

          • Anonymous says:

            Jon, I wouldn’t use the word “overrated”, but there is no justifying the Backstrom contract. His production prior to 2019 at $6.7M AAV was reasonable. However, his production fell dramatically in 2019-2020 and we STILL insisted on giving him a 5-year $9.2M AAV contract the next year when we knew his skills were declining. Management made 2 big contract mistakes here: (1) they paid him for past performance, not future and (2) they let his friendship with Ovi influence the contract. Those are not the right reasons to give out huge contracts.

  3. Prevent Defense says:

    Excellent analysis Justin! And exactly what we all want to talk about!

    Having watched hundreds of Ovechkin games: The MOTIVATED Ovechkin is not a defensive liability. On the REALLY good Caps teams after the 2004 strike season, Ovechkin did his defensive chores just tine, and actually can be quite the puck-thief in the forecheck game. Then we see the UNMOTIVATED Ovechkin cruising in late on D, long after an enemy goal (a famous “highlight reel” play from about 2008).

    The 2022-23 Caps, I STILL insist they were a motivational DISASTER. And despite telling the press how much they “Liked” HC Lavi, Caps player performances showed otherwise! I also insist that HC Lavi “mailed it in” for much of the season. He TALKED a good game with pre- and post-game interviewers, but avoided heavy-duty decisions at all costs (like sitting Backstrom at the BEGINNING of his return). Lavi gave us Good Caps / Bad Caps, and that’s on him. Let’s see what the NYR fans do to him if he similarly “motivates” his new team.

    I expect all three Top Three Caps to be dramatically better simply with the arrival of the all-in, Motivated Newcoach Carbery. If Backstrom stinks up the NHL, GMBM has an easy-out in invoking LTIR. All sorts of Good Things can happen with Nine Million Dollars, even when the season has been “On” for weeks or months.

  4. Anonymous says:

    That stings.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Wish the Caps had gone lower on all three like Pens did with Crosby and Malkin.

  6. Prevent Defense says:

    D Gabriel Carlsson seemed to stir up strong emotions, both positive and negative, among dedicated Caps and Bears followers. He was non-tendered by Caps franchise, and just signed for 3 years overseas.

    Jon &. Co., request your take on the Swedish defenseman Thanks

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      He was the Bears best defenseman for a majority of the regular season. Quiet in the postseason. I would love to had him back, but I think the team decided to move on, to Hardy Haman Aketell. Same physical and game characteristics, but a couple of years younger.

      • dwgie26 says:

        I liked Carlsson a lot as well. He wasn’t going to see the NHL with the Caps. I think LuJo also factors into the decision as he is now on a one-way contract.

        What i find more interesting is that he couldn’t get another 2-way NHL deal. Or he decided that NHL path wasn’t best for him and now looking for a career overseas.

        • novafyre says:

          Does he have a family? Backy and Heddy have made it clear that Sweden is their home. Russia is Ovi’s home. Not sure about Kuzy.

          Do they have schools age kids and would prefer to have them grow up and go to school back in their homeland? Do they have aging parents that they would like to be near to? We all immediately look at salary, ice time, team related reasons, but I often wonder how many decisions are really more family driven.

          • dwgie26 says:

            All fair questions and points. Obviously I don’t know. But most hockey players will chase the NHL dream until it isn’t feasible. So maybe a combination of the path not being likely and wanting to move back to homeland for family.

            But as you mention OV, Backy, Orlov, etc, they are going to play out their NHL career until they have nothing to give the NHL. And they may all be productive players back in their homeland just like Jagr.

            • novafyre says:

              I’ve lived and worked overseas for 18 years (6 countries plus more short term). Was very exciting when I started as a 20s single, but as I aged and my family grew, priorities shifted. Now, I was never offered NHL level money. Might have changed my priorities.

              But as players age and they re-evaluate their odds (a highly likely NHL slot becomes just a possible one), maybe those other issues rise in value as the NHL options fall. I just think that maybe other priorities took over when, as you say, “he decided that NHL path wasn’t best for him.”

  7. Prevent Defense says:

    While we’re waiting for some real Caps’ news during Summer Dog Days:

    Finally somebody with an NHL Column complains loudly about the comprehensive takeover of the NHL by the international dirty-money wagering industry. I like the title, it’s concise and direct: ** Toronto Maple Leafs and NHL Needs Fewer Gambling Ads.** The home website is “Editorinleaf.” I’ll risk a quotation:

    “Over the years, intermission used to mean Peter Puck, or Showdown, or at least highlights of other games, Coach’s Corner or some panelist discussion of the game being watched. More and more now, we get a hyped-up shill describing how the in-game odds have changed and giving us their picks for making the big gambling score.”

    Prevent Defense has voiced displeasure — disgust, really — with “Commissioner” Bettman, and for a plethora of good reasons. Agnew, the author this article, comes close. He’s all over it. The new Bettman NHL is all about global wagering, big bucks and obvious “insider trading.” I call it “Organized Crime.”

    • novafyre says:

      Agree. NHL is betting big on gambling income. (sorry, just couldn’t resist — but it’s still valid.) But Ted is even worse.

      What bothers me more than dasher board ads or tv ads is the participation of the Caps tv announcers. It has moved from just the ads to the Caps on air tv talent. Ted has really gone for gambling in a very big way.

      Despite being on the Bally Sports Network, the Tampa TV talent has not discussed gambling or odds.

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