Nathan MacKinnon is arguably the second best player in the world today, but gets paid as a player who barely cracks the top 100 in the league. When his Entry Level Contract (ELC) ended, it was unclear what kind of player he was, and what kind of player he can become. After a spectacular rookie season that won him the Calder Trophy, he experienced a “Sophomore Slump”(a player who experiences a decline in performance during their second year in the league) the following season. Even though he showed glimpses of excellence during his second, and third year in the league, his future play and development was up for discussion.
In recent years, younger players who have experienced success early on in their careers, are commanding large pay days after only playing a season or two. Many people believe, including former NHL player Jeremy Roenick, that a couple seasons of success doesn’t merit a large contract right away. Roenick tweeted “NHL contracts today just blow my mind…. I remember when you actually had to earn high salaries, now they are just given and hope they work out! Crazy.”
Entering the League
Leading up to the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, the number one choice wasn’t necessarily a clear cut decision, until only a couple months before the draft. Throughout the majority of the 2012-13 hockey season, the two names that got thrown around the most to be chosen first overall, was Seth Jones of the Portland Winterhawks, and Nathan MacKinnon of the Halifax Mooseheads. A potential future number one defenseman, and a probable future superstar center had scouts skeptical on who was the better player, and ultimately, the better draft choice. Since the Florida Panthers, and Colorado Avalanche finished 30th and 29th respectively during the regular season, they had the highest odds of drafting first overall in the entry draft. Luckily for the Avalanche, they won the Draft Lottery giving them the luxury to draft either Jones or MacKinnon first overall.
When the Avalanche won the lottery, they didn’t hint at who they would draft. However, there was growing belief that Jones, a native of Denver, Colorado, was going to be picked first overall due to his large stature and puck moving abilities. After those rumours circulated, it seemed as though they offended MacKinnon because come time for the 2013 Memorial Cup, he elevated his game to another level, a level many fans and scouts alike wanted to see. MacKinnon tore through the competition setting up a date with Seth Jones, and the Portland Winterhawks in the Memorial Cup final. This game was huge for both players, as not only were their futures at stake, but both were looking to help their teams finish off incredible seasons with a Memorial Cup victory. A close game till the end, MacKinnon and the Mooseheads emerged victorious as MacKinnon led the charge finishing the game with a hat-trick, and 5 points.
To make things better, MacKinnon captured the Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy as tournament MVP, and the Ed Chynoweth Trophy as the tournaments point leader. MacKinnon’s dominant performance solidified his case as the number one available player in the 2013 NHL Draft. After months of speculation, Nathan MacKinnon was chosen first overall by the Colorado Avalanche at the age of 17.
MacKinnon’s Team-Friendly Deal
After Nathan MacKinnon’s remarkable rookie season in which he led all rookies in goals (24), assists (39), and points (63), capturing the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, his future looked promising. Unfortunately, MacKinnon and the Avs struggled the next couple of seasons. In his second year, MacKinnon recorded a career low in all three offensive categories, while battling injuries causing him to miss 18 games. Entering his third and final season of his ELC, MacKinnon battled back from a sluggish second season, by hitting the 20 goal mark for a second time, and finishing with a mediocre 52 points.
Heading into the 2016 off-season, Colorado’s primary objective was to lock up their young center. It was evident Mackinnon had all the skill in the world to become a world class player, but his early struggles were definitely something that could not be ignored. Colorado’s general manager (GM), Avalanche/Nordiques legend Joe Sakic, showed great poise and discipline by signing MacKinnon to a considerable seven-year, $44.1 million contract. After signing the deal, MacKinnon was named to team North America to compete for the World Cup of Hockey where he showed out for the dynamic young team, generating a great deal of excitement ahead of his fourth NHL season. His season with the Avs did not go as planned, as he tallied a disappointing 53 points, while missing the playoffs for a third straight season. During the 2017-18 season, MacKinnon turned heads and finally lived up to his potential, racking up 39 goals, and 58 assists for a total of 97 points. His points total was good enough for fifth most in the league, earning himself a nomination for both Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award.
Fast forward a few seasons, the now 26-year-old superstar is at the peak of his game, and is recognized as a top three player in the world. Most avid fans would agree that MacKinnon is the second best player, behind that Edmonton kid: Connor McDavid. Over the past four seasons, MacKinnon ranks third in points (354), assists (219), and points-per-game (1.29) (P/G), and sixth in goals (135).
Considering all of MacKinnon’s on-ice accomplishments, award nominations, and superior skill set, he has without a doubt, the best contract in all of hockey and maybe all of sports. At an annual average value (AAV) of $6.3 million, MacKinnon just squeezes in the top 100 highest paid NHL players based on AAV. Yes, you read that right; top 100. In a matter of fact he holds the 90th spot on that list.
Predicting MacKinnon’s Next Contract
With his current contract nearing its end, speculation has already begun about how much he will command on his next contract. MacKinnon can practically demand any amount he wants. Let’s face it, he’s one of the most exciting players to watch, and his resume speaks for itself. He could very well ask for the same eight-year, $100 million contract the Edmonton Oilers gave McDavid back in 2017. Despite all the talk, MacKinnon has already made it clear that he will take another pay cut when the time comes for a new contract.
“We have guys that we wouldn’t (otherwise) be able to bring in,” MacKinnon said. “On my next deal, I’ll take less again. Because I want to win with this group.”From, Avalanche’s MacKinnon on contract: ‘On my next deal, I’ll take less again’, Sportsnet.ca, 12/05/19
His selfless mindset, and humility has certainly been appreciated by many in the hockey world. MacKinnon’s sole objective is to keep the current Avalanche roster intact so that they can pursue a Stanley Cup, which they hope to achieve in the next year or so.
MacKinnon has two years left on his seven-year deal meaning he will become an Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) in 2023. With several signings to make within the next couple of years, its hard to predict how much MacKinnon will get but he certainly will be Colorado’s top priority. By the 2023-24 season, the salary cap is projected to jump to $83.5 million, a two-million dollar increase from what it is now. As well, the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), which expires in September of 2022, has been extended through the 2025-26 season.
Keeping all this in mind, with MacKinnon’s willingness to take a team-friendly deal again, it would not be surprising if MacKinnon signs an eight-year contract, in the range of 10 to 11.5 million per year. At the end of the day, MacKinnon will make less than what he deserves, but if past champions are any indication, Stanley Cup contenders are not only built off of star power; but depth as well.
Noah is a Montreal-based writer for The Hockey Writers covering the Colorado Avalanche. He has been playing hockey since the age of five-years-old, and continues to play till this day. He currently attends Concordia University, pursuing a degree in Economics. Noah’s passion for hockey, combined with his interest to share his thoughts and ideas about different aspects of the game; he hopes to provide his readers with quality news, rumours, and opinions.