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Using cap hit percentage to make sense of modern UFA deals

June 9, 2019, 11:45 AM ET [68 Comments]
Ryan Wilson
Pittsburgh Penguins Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Each year the NHL’s salary cap continues to rise. Some years it goes up more than others, but as the number creeps towards a projected 83M there is something to keep in mind when you hear about new deals being signed. The raw cap hit totals are going to seem more and more jarring. For those that have been following the league since the salary cap began back in 2005 the newer contract figures seem like they are in stark contrast to those that were signed in the past. They are not. The reason is because the percentage of the cap players are eating up is still in line with how it used to be.

Jeff Skinner’s recent eight year deal which will pay him 9M annually is the most recent example of this. Is Jeff Skinner worth 9M? It doesn’t really feel like he is. He is a great goal scorer and a wonderful skater, but is that worth 9M? A lot of people are going to say he is not. I can’t say I disagree on the surface. It is a lot of money. However, when you frame the conversation a different way it starts to be more palatable. Is Jeff Skinner worth 11.3% of the Sabres cap? While still a significant number I think it helps to give better context of the impact the signing has on a team’s cap. Heading into the 2019-20 season here are the players with the highest cap hit percentages signed as UFA’s.



You can see why some people (myself included) think Jonathan Toews is one of the most overrated players in the league. Chicago is getting horrible value from the player leading the way in cap hit percentage.

There are some high cap percentages that have worked out for the teams who made the signings. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Patrick Kane have all lived up to their contracts. They are elite players who do elite things.

Phil Kessel is pretty high on the list, but that is his 8M total and not the 6.8M the Penguins are responsible for. He remains a very good value for the Penguins and one that would be strange to move out voluntarily.

Skinner is 20th on the list and when you look at some of the other players like Corey Perry and Zach Parise it could make you nervous. Any time a player signs their biggest contract on the downside of their prime it isn’t a great situation for the team to find themselves in. This is the reality of the current CBA. With UFA contracts you are paying for past performance and hopefully very good future performance for half the contract. Until the NHL eliminates restricted free agency this trend will continue.

What is working for the Sabres and Jeff Skinner is his top end skating ability and the fact his quality of teammate is probably going to give him a bigger bump than what his aging curve will do pulling in the opposite direction. In Carolina his QoT was not ideal. The last three years he’s played more time with Derek Ryan and Victor Rask than Jack Eichel. Eichel is an awesome facilitator of the puck and will bring the best out of Skinner. For years Skinner has been leaned on to drive the success of his line. He won’t have to in Buffalo.

Since Skinner entered the league as an 18 year old in 2010-11 his goals per 60 at 5v5 is top five in the league among players with 4,000 minutes played


Per Corsica

Considering that Carolina went through a ten year playoff drought and the quality of their forwards was never great it is pretty impressive for Skinner to be on this list. For reference, Alex Ovechkin is seventh at 1.08. To find yourself ahead of arguably the best goal scorer of all-time is a remarkable achievement.

Skinner scored a career high 40 goals with a career high 14.9% shooting percentage. When you see career highs in both those areas it can be concerning. I think the concern is alleviated a bit when you see Skinner’s career shooting percentage with mediocre to bad centers has been 11.9% for his career. This isn’t a Matt Beleskey situation where you shoot 15.2% but are really a 9.0% shooter.

The Sabres really only had one choice to make. Lose a top five goal scorer at even-strength for nothing after stealing him from Carolina, or slightly overpay in an attempt to stop treading in mediocrity. It’s always better to spend your cap space on difference makers and not the middle to lower tier players. It will be up to Jason Botterill to balance the spending appropriately moving forward.

Fortunately, for the Penguins it doesn’t appear they have any significant UFA’s on the horizon so they won’t have to navigate the situation Buffalo just did.

There are going to be some big contracts handed out to players like Erik Karlsson, Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, Sergei Bobrovsky, Jordan Eberle, Kevin Hayes, Jacob Trouba, and more. The numbers of these contracts will jump off the page and seem out of line with the figures we’ve grown accustomed to over the years. Looking at the cap hit percentage and not the raw salary totals will help keep things in perspective.

Thanks for reading!
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