Why Canadiens' new deal with Cole Caufield looks like a great investment

Cole Caufield's career totals are relatively modest, but he's shown enough to justify a significant extension.

When the Montreal Canadiens signed Cole Caufield to an eight-year contract extension on Monday, they secured one of the NHL's best goal scorers at the 74th-highest cap hit in the league.

Caufield's status as a restricted free agent prevented him from earning a market-setting deal, but even within that context it seems the Canadiens have struck a bargain.

Montreal now has the winger under contract through 2030-31, and Caufield won't turn 30 until midway through the last year of his deal. If you're shopping for eight years of a player's career, the seasons between 22 and 30 are awfully appealing.

During those seasons it seems fair to project the winger will put the puck in the net at an impressive clip. Since Caufield debuted in 2020-21, his 5-on-5 goals/60 (1.26) rank ninth in the NHL. He's also coming off a season where his 0.57 goals per game ranked 10th.

At this point in his career, the majority of his value comes from scoring, but if you're going to have a single signature skill, that's the one to have. It also seems likely Caufield can scale up his production, as his career average ice time (16:58) has plenty of room to grow.

The Montreal Canadiens will be building around Cole Caufield for a long time. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The Montreal Canadiens will be building around Cole Caufield for a long time. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

If you were looking to poke holes in this deal, you could say Caufield is a pure goal scorer that's never topped 26 tallies — or that his 123 NHL games played might not be a large enough sample to nail down his expected production.

Those two points are really one, and they relate to the young winger's durability. We simply haven't seen enough of Caufield to know if he's durable or not, but the fact he missed almost half of 2022-23 with a shoulder injury might raise alarm bells for some. The 22-year-old's slight 174-pound frame adds further durability concerns.

The connection between size and availability isn't as obvious as it is intuitive, though. There were nine players smaller than Caufield who played at least 81 games last season. Just because he's small doesn't mean he's doomed to miss time.

Montreal made this deal assuming the winger's per-game and per-minute statistics were more reflective of what he can offer going forward than his relatively limited totals. If the Canadiens are right, they have nearly a decade of elite goal scoring to look forward to at a reasonable price.

The NHL hasn't confirmed the salary cap number for 2023-24, but all indications are that it will sit at $83.5 million — meaning Caufield will account for 9.4% of the Canadiens' cap. That's a reasonable number for a guy who's clearly the most gifted goal scorer on the roster, but unlike a number of NHL stars' recent extensions, Caufield will probably get cheaper and cheaper over time in relative terms.

The flat-cap era seems likely to end in 2024 and according to CapFriendly's projections, NHL teams could have $87.5 million to work with in 2024-25 and $92.5 million in 2025-26. That means a couple years down the line, Caufield will cost just 8.5% of Montreal's cap. That's the equivalent of a $7.01 million contract today.

Because this deal is so long, it projects to become better and better value as long as Caufield remains productive. With this contract including only his prime seasons, that's the most likely scenario — barring another unforeseen event that flattens the cap once again.

It's possible that Caufield's 123 games are a small sample over-representing his true talent, or injuries become a problem for him again.

But he's also at an age where he may find another gear, and if Montreal gets better around him, that could create upwards pressure on his stats. He's already posted elite goal-scoring numbers despite playing for a team whose power play ranked 31st in the NHL since his debut season (14.9%). His career shooting percentage is strong (14.1%), but it's not screaming out for massive regressive — especially for a guy who is clearly a talented shooter.

The premise of signing your own young stars to the longest possible deals is hardly a novel one, but it appears the Canadiens executed this one perfectly.

Montreal managed to sign a guy who'd done enough to prove he was one of the league's best snipers without doing enough to land a deal that would weigh down the team's cap. With this contract in hand, Caufield looks like a strong foundation piece the Canadiens shouldn't have any problem building around.