What Should the Detroit Red Wings Pay Justin Abdelkader?

After posting career highs in goals (23), assists (21), and points (44) last season, Justin Abdelkader picked up where he left off and had a scorching opening weekend to the 2015-16 season. With four points (3 G, 1 A), he was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week.

UPDATE: Justin Abdelkader has signed a seven-year, $29.75 million contract extension with the Red Wings.

He has fallen a long way since then; which is certainly not what the Red Wings want from an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year.

Over the course of Detroit’s next 12 games, Abdelkader has contributed no goals and just two assists. Thankfully for Detroit fans, his slump hasn’t harmed his linemates numbers too noticeably. Playing alongside Henrik Zetterberg—whose numbers weren’t destined to slow down—and Dylan Larkin, Abdelkader still brought that physical edge and net-front presence.

However, it is hard to not be a little irritated that even after some line-juggling coach Jeff Blashill kept Abdelkader and Zetterberg together for as long as he did. Even when Detroit’s offense slowed far too much and they stopped shooting the puck (currently last in the league for shots per game at 25.1).

Abdelkader Extension

Then came the report that Abdelkader and the Red Wings are closing in on a contract extension. This raises some concern for the Red Wings’ front office.

[RELATED: Report: Red Wings, Justin Abdelkader Closing in on Extension]

Chad Johnson Islanders
Abdelkader celebrates a goal from his office in the blue paint (Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

After his career year last season and opening weekend’s glimpse that he can repeat it, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a Red Wings fan who doesn’t want Abdelkader back. But in a salary cap era, everything is determined by three words, the right price.

Per MLive’s Ansar Khan, “The contract is expected to be longer than four years. It is unclear how much it will be worth but is likely to average more than $4 million per season.”

With his four-year, $1.8 million AAV contract coming off the books Abdelkader is looking to cash-in. At $4 million per year, Abdelkader’s grit and offensive production seems like a steal. But cap space fills up quick, especially when Petr Mrazek, Danny DeKeyser, Riley Sheahan, Brad Richards, Kyle Quincey, Joakim Andersson, Teemu Pulkkinen, Alexey Marchenko, Drew Miller and Darren Helm are free agents for the Wings, as well.

[RELATED: The Grind Line: Prioritizing the Red Wings’ Pending Free Agents]

Contract Comparison

Thanks to Matt Beleskey and the Boston Bruins, Red Wings GM Ken Holland has a nice, fresh contract to reflect on during negotiations with Abdelkader. Beleskey, who posted career highs in goals (22) and points (32) with Anaheim last season, signed a five-year, $19 million contract ($3.8 million AAV) with Boston during the summer of 2015.

Matt Beleskey
Beleskey posted career highs with 22 goals and 32 ints last season with Anaheim (Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports)

These two are similar; Beleskey’s career year came at the age of 26 while Abdelkader’s came at 27. Both are also physical, net-front players who played in bulk with superior NHL talent last season (Beleskey alongside Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry—Abdelkader alongside Zetterberg and Gustav Nyquist).

Maybe Abdelkader is more of a $4 million man rather than a near-$5 million guy. That being said, Holland has been doing these things for many years now and maybe Stephen Weiss was a wake-up call that cap space doesn’t grow on trees.

Abdelkader is certainly a key free agent if he builds off his success from last season, but only for the right price.