Lightning: An Ode to Victor Hedman’s Incredible Value Contract

Since the NHL implemented the salary cap after the 2004 lockout, a players’ cap-hit is often the focal point of the conversation surrounding how they are viewed in the league. A productive player on an overpriced contract can have their legacy skewed negatively even if they are still playing well, whereas a low-cost signing that turns into a dynamo can sometimes be overvalued, as their production on the ice far exceeds their meager payroll.

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Once you get to a certain echelon of player, however, the concept of value rarely applies. The league’s top stars should be paid as such, so you will rarely see one of the best players in the NHL playing on a low-cost contract.

Related: Tampa Bay Lightning’s 3 Best Contracts for the 2021-22 Season

During the 2021-22 season, there were 14 players with a cap-hit exceeding $10 million, with another 19 players above $9 million. These are, for the most part, the leading names of the sport that take home hardware like Hart Trophies and Conn Smythe Trophies. Out of everyone, Connor McDavid holds the highest cap hit of $12.5 million, which is in line for a player that is seen as the best in the world.

One name that is distinctly missing from this list of top-paid players is Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman. Despite being a top-five defenseman in the NHL for years, Hedman sports one of the best cap hits in the league. While many of his contemporaries are pulling down $9-plus million a year, he is making well below his market value at $7.875 million.

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This discussion won’t be focused on why Hedman signed below market value, though, as he is still being well-compensated as the 47th highest-paid player in the league. No, what is often overlooked is how much this contract has brought to the franchise and how it has allowed the Lightning to build a Stanley Cup Contender.

Hedman’s Contract Gave Lightning Flexibility to Make Moves

It’s no secret that the Lightning have experienced a bit of cap controversy in their recent history, as their 2021 Stanley Cup Championship will always carry with it the moniker of “$18 million over the cap.” However, before the use of long-term injury took center stage, Tampa Bay was a team in a deep crunch that was afforded some wiggle room by Hedman.

See, even though $9 million or more per year contracts for defensemen weren’t common when he signed his current eight-year deal back in 2016, Hedman was still the sort of player that could have demanded a salary in that range and likely got it due to his pedigree. He was the face of the Lightning’s defensive corps after all, and they had no one in their system anywhere near his potential.

Victor Hedman Tampa Bay Lightning
Despite being one of the best defensemen in the NHL, Victor Hedman signed a relatively low-cost eight-year contract back in 2016 that made him a key fixture in Tampa Bay Lightning sports history. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

By not asking for his full value, however, Hedman gave future general manager Julien BriseBois just enough space to go out and make those needed additions for a postseason push. So, by making $1 to $2 million below his market value, the Lightning were able to turn that cap space into a player like Barclay Goodrow or Blake Coleman.

Then, following this same path once those players left the franchise, BriseBois was able to use this space again in the 2021 offseason to sign veteran forwards Corey Perry and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who both make $1 million each for the next two seasons and are taking on key roles in Tampa Bay’s bottom six.

Even though it’s possible that the Lightning could have cleared this cap space through a trade, the cost to convince a team to absorb $1 to $2 million has gone up considerably in recent years as the salary cap has remained flat.

Hedman Gave Himself and Lightning a Greater Opportunity to Win

Now am I saying that players should be chastised for signing big contracts because things worked out well for Hedman in the end? No. Players should always try to maximize their value while they can and sign the biggest contract that a franchise is willing to pay them. We have seen plenty of teams misuse cap space over the years, and taking a smaller deal is no guarantee that the right players will get put in place to win.

Victor Hedman Tampa Bay Lightning
By taking a contract below market value, Hedman put himself and the Lightning in a better position to win championships, which ultimately paid off for both parties when they won multiple Stanley Cups. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

However, when stars are, rightfully, paid their full value, it will ultimately come at the expense of player depth that is the lifeblood of any playoff push. So, what I am trying to say is that from the moment Hedman signed his $7.875 million contract in 2016, it had a long-term positive effect on the Lightning that eventually helped put them in a position to win multiple Stanley Cups.

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