The last time a million-dollar contract received this much attention in hockey might have been in 1972, when the WHA’s Winnipeg Jets made Bobby Hull the sport’s first million-dollar-a-year man.
47 years later, Kevin Labanc’s one-year, one million dollar agreement with the San Jose Sharks is eliciting similar disbelief, but for the exact opposite reason. Hull’s figure was shockingly high for 1972; Labanc’s is shockingly low for 2019.
Since the 2004-05 NHL lockout, there have been, according to Cap Friendly, 116 forwards who have scored 40-plus points in the last year of their entry-level contracts.
Of this group, just one forward — Niclas Bergfors, after a 44-point campaign in 2009-10 — re-signed for a lower cap hit than Labanc’s. The Atlanta Thrashers brought Bergfors back with a one-year, $900,000 contract in September of 2010.
These are 40-point scorers. Labanc, of course, registered 56 last year.
Of this group, Reilly Smith sported the smallest cap hit following a 50-plus point campaign in the last year of his ELC — that is, before Labanc. Smith took a one-year, $1.4 million deal with the Boston Bruins after a 51-point season in 2013-14.
In the salary cap era, Labanc’s deal is unprecedented.
It’s the smallest immediate post-entry level contract cap hit ever accepted by a forward who scored 50-plus points in the last year of his ELC.
When agreed upon, Labanc’s one million dollar cap hit was a paltry 1.23 percent of the salary cap at that time. That’s also the smallest cap hit percentage among all 40-plus point scorers following the last year of their ELCs:
Sure, points don’t mean everything. Labanc, at this juncture of his career, isn’t a well-rounded winger yet. But he’s demonstrated elite offensive talent with some regularity — a talent that usually costs NHL teams a lot more.
Hopefully, Labanc makes the Sharks pay with another productive campaign.
Here’s the complete list of salary cap era forwards who scored 40-plus points in the last year of their entry-level contracts.
Besides Labanc’s record-low rate, some other key takeaways from this list:
- Of the 116 forwards listed, only five followed up their ELC with a one-year contract: Labanc, Smith, Bergfors, Jakub Voracek and Nathan Horton.
- In contrast, the most popular deal is the two-year contract. There are 29 of them here. Even when organizations aren’t sure enough about a forward to commit term, they still prefer a longer bridge contract than one season.