The eroding middle class in the NHL was withered further on Wednesday afternoon when Connor McDavid established a new precedent in the NHL with his $100-million contract extension, which will pay him $12.5-million annually.
While still willing to offer a considerable discount, his deal reinforces that it’s the superstars who stand to gain from standardized increases to the salary cap while franchises forever feel the pinch.
Teams’ primary resources for essential inexpensive talent must remain the draft and their own prospect streams. But as we continue to transition into the McDavid-led NHL, and if this summer is any indication, we should see more veterans signing on to chase championships from the lower end of the pay scale.
Let’s match five veterans (with hundreds of millions in career earnings already between them) with contenders they can provide value to during the Cup-chasing phases of their careers:
Jaromir Jagr, Dallas Stars
If Jaromir Jagr is to return to one of the eight franchises he’s been with already, most would probably prefer to see a reunion with the Pittsburgh Penguins. But with all due respect to the ageless one, it’s hard to envision a fit under Mike Sullivan, who has eschewed the heavy brand for high tempo. Instead, we could see Jagr dominating puck possession down low on a middle-six unit with countryman Martin Hanzal back in Dallas. Those two could provide a drastic change of pace from the top line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alex Radulov, which stands to be one of the most talented in the NHL next season.
Jarome Iginla, Edmonton Oilers
Enforcement isn’t a lost art in Edmonton, but the role has changed. Patrol is just part of the job for Milan Lucic and Patrick Maroon (who combined for 50 goals last season), while Zack Kassian is capable of putting the puck in the net as well. No longer an elite sniper, Jarome Iginla has began to shift into a similar role in the latter stages of his career. Also an option on a power play that lost Jordan Eberle, Iginla would be a nice insurance buy for Peter Chiarelli, who pursued him previously with Boston. Plus, why not add even more intrigue to the Battle of Alberta?
Shane Doan, Anaheim Ducks
After his decades of staunch dedication, the unceremonious split from the Arizona Coyotes may be enough of a nudge for Shane Doan, who may be finally ready to pursue a title. There are no sure bets in the Western Conference but in terms of opportunity and fit, Anaheim is as good as any option for the 40-year-old. Doan is coming off a bad year but is only one year removed from a 28-goal season; he can help Anaheim in a support role.
Andrei Markov, Tampa Bay Lightning
Based on the rumblings from Montreal, Andrei Markov believes he has a lot of game left — and he’s not wrong. The veteran defender, said to be negotiating for himself this offseason, reportedly wants upwards of $6 million a season on a short-term deal. Because he seems unwilling to follow the same earnings arc as Iginla and perhaps Doan, we’ll have to shorten the scope, leaving only contenders with a little extra capital. The Toronto Maple Leafs would be a fascinating spot, but they need a right-shot defender if anything. What about Tampa? Steve Yzerman still has to sign Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson, but could make room to house Markov, who could challenge for a championship while grooming Mikhail Sergachev, after all.
Thomas Vanek’s NHL tour has been hit or miss throughout his career. You only have to look back as far as last season, when he was the Detroit Red Wings’ most consistent goal scorer on a modest contract before being dealt to Florida for a largely ineffective tenure. His fluctuations should give pause, but Vanek really presents no risk on a one-year deal, especially for a team with a lot of cap space to work with. Vanek would be an excellent low-risk bet for the Nashville Predators.
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