Mark Spector was all over this one a couple of weeks ago. Zack Kassian agreed to a 4-year, $12.8 million contract with the Oilers on Wednesday.
I think it’s important to start this article off by congratulating Kassian for this accomplishment! Peter Chiarelli traded Ben Scrivens for Kassian when his career had reached rock bottom after he was involved in a truck crash in Montreal. Kassian battled addiction, and he has since turned his life around. He now has a wife, a young daughter, and a long-term contract with the Oilers. I’m happy for him!
Spector originally reported that the contract would carry an AAV of anywhere between $3.25 and $3.5 million. It turned out to be better than that for the Oilers. The AAV of Kassian’s new deal is $3.2 million.
Upon hearing the report from Spector, I posted an article about whether or not the contract would be good value for the Oilers. I used Michael Ferland’s 4-year deal with a $3.5 million AAV as a starting point, and found comparable contracts on CapFriendly. Here’s the information that I put in that article including Kassian’s new deal:
Michael Ferland (2019, Age 27): $3.5M x 4 yrs, 0.40 career ppg, 40 pts in 71 GP
Richard Panik (2019, Age 28): $2.75M x 4 yrs, 0.37 career ppg, 33 pts in 75 GP
Brett Connolly (2019, Age 27): $3.5M x 4 yrs, 0.36 career ppg, 46 pts in 81 GP
Zack Kassian (2019, Age 29): $3.2 x 4 yrs, 0.34 career ppg, 28 pts in 44 GP
Antoine Roussel (2018, Age 28): $3M x 4 yrs, 0.34 career ppg, 17 pts in 73 GP
Zack Smith (2017, Age 29): $3.5M x 4 yrs, 0.31 career ppg, 32 pts in 74 GP
Cal Clutterbuck (2016, Age 29): $3.5M x 5 yrs, 0.30 career ppg, 23 pts in 77 GP
Both Ferland and Connolly had better offensive production in their careers prior to signing their new deals, and they were both younger than Kassian is now when they signed their deals. They deserved more than Kassian, and Kassian’s deal reflects that.
Panik clearly has the best contract of the bunch. Clutterbuck’s is the worst because he got that 5th year, and his offensive production was the lowest in the group. Kassian’s contract is much better than Smith’s contract. Smith’s AAV is higher and Kassian has produced more offence. Roussel lost a little bit of money based on a poor contract year, but his career production prior to signing his contract was on par with Kassian.
Based on these comparables with similar playing styles and career production, this is certainly a fair contract.
I also did a count of forwards that make $3.5 million or more on all of the current playoff teams and some teams that were very close to them in the standings. I have changed this thought process to include forwards making $3.2 million or more on all of the teams. This will tell us if Kassian is being paid like a top 6 forward or not.
8- NSH, VGK
7- COL, TB, TOR, WSH
6- ARI, BUF, CGY, FLA, MIN, PHI, PIT, STL, VAN, WPG
5- BOS, CAR, CBJ, DAL, NYI
4- ANA, CHI, DET, EDM, LA, NJ, NYR, OTT, SJ
There are 167 forwards earning $3.2 million or more this season. That is an average of 5.39 players per team. On the average team, that would indeed mean that Kassian will be being paid as a top 6 forward, albeit a borderline one.
Kassian would be one of the 6 highest paid forwards on 15 teams in the league. On most teams, Kassian would not be paid like a top 6 forward. However, he will be the 5th highest paid forward on the Oilers next season.
$3.2 million seems like it is fair value for a guy that can play on a top line with McDavid or be effective in the bottom 6.
I did this exercise because of the amount of concern among fans that Kassian would be being paid like a top 6 forward to play in the bottom 6 by the time his contract is up. The numbers suggest that he will be paid like a borderline top 6 forward next season. Even if he plays on the 3rd line next season, the contract will not be outrageous!
The other consideration here is that the cap will go up over the next four years, and so will players’ salaries. By the end of his contract, even if he doesn’t live up to it, the $3.2 million cap hit won’t be crippling. This will never be the Lucic contract!
If I had to find something to be negative about here, it would be the fact that he got 4 years. I would’ve preferred 3 years since most players start declining significantly at age 32, but Kassian was an UFA to be. The player has more control in negotiations that an RFA would. It’s a negotiation. There has to be give and take. The 4th year isn’t ideal, but it’s honestly not that big of an issue.
Here’s how the Kassian contract will impact next year’s salary cap situation:
Neal ($5,750,000) McDavid ($12,500,000) Kassian ($3,200,000)
Nuge ($6,000,000) Draisaitl ($8,500,000) Yamamoto ($894,000)
Benson ($808,000) 3C Chiasson ($2,150,000)
Khaira ($1,200,000) 4C 4RW
Klefbom ($4,167,000) Larsson ($4,166,666)
Russell ($4,000,000) Jones ($850,000)
Buyouts: Sekera ($2,500,000), Pouliot ($1,333,333)
Retained: Lucic ($750,000)
Total Cap Hit: $63,268,999
Space ($83M cap): $19,731,001
I took the liberty of putting Tyler Benson on the roster for next year. Even if he isn’t great in this call-up, I expect him to crack the roster next year.
With the Kassian signing, there’s only really a spot for one more right-winger. It was reported that the Oilers are talking about re-signing Josh Archibald, so he would presumably be that guy.
I’m still holding out hope that Jesse Puljujarvi will have a change of heart and decide to come back and play here next season, but that appears even less likely now with Kassian, Yamamoto, and Chiasson signed through next season and with talks of Archibald being re-signed. James Neal can also play RW. There doesn’t appear to much in the way of space for Puljujarvi anyway.
We don’t know what the cap will be for next season, but $83 million has been speculated, so we’ll go with that for now. I’m sure it won’t be far off of that number. With all of the Oilers’ commitments for next season, they would have $19,731,001 to add 9 players with, which is $2,192,333 per player.
RFAs Darnell Nurse and Ethan Bear will likely make up the 2nd pairing. Nurse’s next contract is expected to be between $6-7 million. In the worst-case scenario, his $7 million would leave $1,591,375 per player in cap space.
Bear will be an interesting decision. The Oilers could give him a bridge deal, which would save them money for next season, but then they would be in the same situation they’re in with Nurse right now. A bridge deal would cost them more money in the long run. Signing him to a long-term deal at a reasonable number now makes the most sense for the future, but it would make life tougher next season.
If the Oilers were to give Bear a long-term deal with an AAV of $4 million after signing Nurse at a $7 million AAV, that would leave the Oilers with $1,247,286 per player in cap space.
They are talking about re-signing Archibald, Riley Sheahan, and Joakim Nygard potentially. If those 3 end up at $1 million each, that would leave the team with $1,432,750 per player to add 4 players with. That’s $5,731,001 in total cap space remaining.
One of those players would be a quality 3C. That would likely be a cap hit in the $3-4 million range. It would have to be closer to $3 million to make the math work. After signing a 3C for $3 million, there would be $910,334 per player left to sign a back-up goalie and 2 extra roster players.
It could be done, but it would be tight.
I’ve tried to create the worst-case scenario here. Nurse might not get $7 million, Bear could get a bridge deal, and there are guys that could get moved to save money.
If next year’s roster stays as is currently outlined, then the notable omission would be an upgrade at the wing position. The hope would be that Yamamoto and Benson will continue their upwards trajectories.
Remember, all of these calculations don’t include potential trades like a Kris Russell trade.
My point here is that the Kassian deal is not going to push the Oilers so far up against the cap that they will have no room to work with to improve next season.
All in all, I’m pleased with the Kassian contract. I’m not in love with the term, but I’ll deal. Kassian can skate well, he fits in nicely with McDavid, and he is physical. He’s got a unique combination of skills. We will be glad that we have him when the playoffs roll around.
The most important thing is that he enjoys playing here and that the players enjoy having him on their team!