The Montreal Canadiens are paying close attention to all the big contracts being given to young players out of their entry-level deals, as Cole Caufield will likely be using them as a benchmark for his next deal.
There has been a flurry of deals across the league this offseason where clubs are signing their young core players to max deals. We recently saw the St. Louis Blues offer 25-year-old Joran Kyrou an 8-year deal worth $8.125M per year after a breakout season last year, mirroring the very same contract they gave Robert Thomas two months ago. The Ottawa Senators have also sought to secure their future by signing both Tim Stueztle ($8.350M) and Josh Norris ($7.950M) to 8-year deals as well, as they’re looking to get them locked down to a term that may be expensive in Year 1, but will be well worth the risk in Years 3 through 8.
The Montreal Canadiens have already committed an 8-year contract to Nick Suzuki last September worth $7.85M per annum, and his importance to the club was further enforced when he was promptly named the 31st captain of the club on Monday. However, one could argue that the contract was handed out as quickly as it was in large part due to losing Phil Danault to free agency and Jesperi Kotkaniemi to offer sheet. General manager Kent Hughes has been adamant about alleviating the club of other long-term contracts in order to be able to sign their youngsters to new deals down the line, and the first player on the docket will likely be Cole Caufield.
Although he may not have the resume of the aforementioned players above quite yet (be it the point production or draft rank), Caufield’s camp has to be looking at all the deals being given to restricted free agents across the league right now and paying attention. The Senators looked to avoid repeating their contract negotiations with Brady Tkachuk when it came to Stueztle and paid a high price to get the young centre locked up now, with one year left on his ELC, rather than wait until the summer, when he could command more.
The Montreal Canadiens would likely have to present the Caufield camp, represented by Pat Brisson, with a substantial offer to get the youngster to sign now, rather than bet on himself going into this season. It certainly worked out for Thomas, Kyrou, and Norris. His good friend in New Jersey, a certain Jack Hughes, made the Devils pay a pretty penny, $64M over eight seasons, to lock him down long-term before having passed the point-per-game threshold in his first two seasons. Obviously, that deal already looked like a bargain within weeks of being signed, and it only officially kicked in two months ago.
Caufield has a lot going for him this season that could further increase his value come the summer of 2023. He’ll have consistent, prime usage this season; playing with linemate Nick Suzuki, on the top powerplay unit and on an offensive-first club under Martin St. Louis. In his 37 games under St. Louis last season, Caufield had 22 goals and 13 assists for 35 points; nearly a point-per-game pace for almost half a season. The potential for him to repeat his torrid pace from last year is certainly there, and, unless the Canadiens come to him with an offer he can’t refuse, as we’ve seen become a trend for RFAs over the last few years, he’ll likely play out the season and bet on himself.
Can the Canadiens afford to let it go to the summer? It’s worth noting that Caufield will be eligible for offer sheets next summer if he isn’t signed by July 1, 2023. That added pressure, coupled with the desire to get their core players signed to a long-term deal that will age gracefully as the Caufield and the salary cap continue to grow, might force Hughes’ hand over the next few months. The surge of new contracts being handed out will simply allow Caufield more comparables for him to use once he hits new offensive highs this season.