Monday, July 8, 2024

What Does NHL’s Free Agency Boom Mean For Connor Bedard’s Next Contract?


As the NHL offseason continues to speed along, we’ve now left a hectic free agency period in the dust. On July 1 alone, teams doled out over $1 billion in contracts amid a signing frenzy the likes of which we’ve never seen before. Players took deals to become some of the highest paid athletes in the league.

For the Blackhawks, much of the focus was on their own incoming class of star UFAs. Players like Teuvo Teravainen, Tyler Bertuzzi and TJ Brodie are among the newest components of a revamped Chicago roster. But as the dollars around the league continued to stack up, the focus of many in Chicago was on a contract further down the road – that of Connor Bedard.

Despite missing 14 games with a fractured jaw, Bedard ran away with the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie last season, logging 61 points and consistently making headlines on an otherwise less-than-thrilling Blackhawks offense. Chicago still holds the star 18-year-old’s rights for two more seasons on his entry-level contract at $950,000 per year.

But once those two years are up, there’s little doubt Bedard’s next deal will hurt the Blackhawks’ pockets a bit more. Assuming he continues to progress along the same trajectory, a “max” deal could skyrocket him to becoming one of the highest-paid players in the entire league. That title currently belongs to Auston Matthews, who will earn $13.25 million annually through 2027. It’s also worth noting that the salary cap is jumping to $88 million next season, an increase of $4.5 million from last year. If the Blackhawks throw the bag at him while he’s still 20 years old, the asking price could approach $14 million annually with term.

After what we saw last week in free agency, it’s clear Bedard’s age will also be a big factor in his favor. Teams made it clear that they value proven production, but also players younger than 30. Skaters like Yegor Sharangovich, Nikita Zadarov, Jake DeBrusk and more secured big paydays, helped by the fact that they still have plenty of seasons left in the tank. Getting a player with proven production at age 20 should cost the Blackhawks a pretty penny.

Then again, it wouldn’t be out of the question for Bedard to choose a more team-friendly deal. He already made it clear in his rookie season how much he prioritizes winning; promoting a stronger roster around him could be the best way to do so. There’s no doubt he would still receive a healthy salary, only perhaps one that allows other top skaters to come to Chicago and stay there.

It’s no coincidence that nearly half of the contracts currently on the books for the Blackhawks expire in 2026. With Bedard’s deal likely to be extended by that time, they’ll need all the flexibility that they can get. He may seek a deal that will shatter previous records or opt for a more team-friendly contract to prioritize winning. Either way, it’s become clear that Bedard’s next contract will shape the outlook of the Blackhawks for its entire duration.

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