Chris MacFarland and the Colorado Avalanche have plenty of things to worry about this offseason, but one of the many decisions looming over their heads is a potential contract extension for top pairing defenseman Devon Toews, as he is entering the final year of his current deal.
For the last three seasons, Toews has been on one of the best contracts in the NHL, seeing him making just $4.1 million a year while being paired with Cale Makar. The two of them form arguably the best defensive pairing in the league. That contract is one of many that helped the organization build such a stacked team during the 2021-22 season, but all good things come to an end.
Makar is locked up for four more seasons at a cool $9 million, so there’s nothing to worry about there. Toews, however, will need a new contract.
That contract? It’ll be a big one.
The salary cap is expected to rise in 2024-25, but until that’s fully confirmed, no one really knows the exact amount it will go up. Early projections say it could go up to $88 million, which would be the largest jump the cap has seen in several years, but with how things have gone, I’m still in the “I’ll believe it when I see it” camp.
As of right now, the Avalanche already have $62,425,000 committed to just nine players, so things are looking tight. With all of their stars locked up to big money deals, this is a problem that likely won’t go away for a while.
Toews is a top-flight defenseman in the league, and the team will want to keep him. At what cost, though? When looking for comparable contracts around the league, it starts to get difficult. There have been some big time contracts signed in recent years for defensemen that were a year away from unrestricted free agency, but there’s a slight twist.
By the time Toews’ next contract kicks in, he will be 30. There are only a few similar defensemen over the age of 30 that have signed big deals recently, so this will be an interesting negotiation. 30 is just a number, although it’s been an important one for the Avalanche in negotiations. While Toews will have crossed that threshold, he was a bit of a late bloomer, so he doesn’t have quite the same wear and tear that a normal 30 year old might.
Let’s take a look at the contracts signed in recent years that could give some hints into what a potential extension might look like. One contract I am leaving off, even though it isn’t a bad comparable, is the Jared Spurgeon extension with the Wild. It was signed back in 2019, so a lot has happened since then. A contract that someone like Damon Severson gets this summer might reset things a little bit, but this is what we’re looking at for now.
MacKenzie Weeger – 8 years, $50,000,000 (6.25 cap hit), Starts at Age 29 – Signed Oct. 7, 2022
This is going to be the most recent example, and perhaps the best one, depending on how you look at it. Weeger, like Toews, is an analytical darling, who has underlying numbers that show he’s a top pairing defenseman in the league. He was traded to Calgary last summer and signed the extension before the year started, but it doesn’t officially kick in until next season.
The biggest difference between the two players, especially when it comes to contract negotiations, will be offensive production. While their numbers were similar during the COVID-shortened year, Toews’ offensive numbers have been significantly better the past two seasons. Toews has averaged .73 points-per-game, compared to Weeger’s .47. That’s a pretty large difference when taking everything into account. The 8 years is interesting, as I’m not sure the Avalanche would want to give out full term like that. Still, this is the most recent and perhaps closest comparable there is.
Mattias Ekholm – 4 years, $25,000,000 (6.25 cap hit), Started at Age 32 – Signed Oct. 13, 2021
Ekholm’s extension was a bit of a surprise, as there were rumors Nashville was going to trade him. Instead, they signed him to an extension (and traded him about 18 months later). Ekholm is a little older, but took less term for more money, potentially leaving room for one final NHL contract. His point production is much lower than Toews over the last two years (.49 PPG), which is significant. The term is the interesting thing here, as I wouldn’t expect a big drop-off from Toews over the next four years. But when you give less term, you usually have to make up for it in money, and the Avalanche don’t have a ton of that to throw around.
Hampus Lindholm – 8 years, $52,000,000 (6.5 cap hit), Started at Age 28 – Signed March 20, 2022
The Lindholm extension was a bit of a surprising one, but he lived up to it this past season, having the best year of his career. Before signing the contract, his offensive production was very low, and he dealt with injuries the prior two seasons. Another contract that starts a little sooner than the one for Toews will, but still an interesting comparable. Lindholm had an argument this year to be a finalist for the Norris Trophy, but didn’t make the cut.
Colton Parayko – 8 years, $52,000,000 (6.5 cap hit), Started at Age 29 – Signed Sept. 1, 2021
Parayko got this contract back in 2021, and I’m not sure why. Well, I kind of do, as he was a big part of their Cup winning team, but he has not lived up to the deal with his play on the ice. His underlying numbers are not good, and he’s never had a season with more than 35 points. He’s a comparable in the sense that he signed a big UFA contract, but he’s not in the same class as Toews.
Kris Letang – 6 years, $36,600,000 (6.1 cap hit), Started at Age 35 – Signed July 7, 2022
Letang signed this contract coming off a 68 point season. That season, however, came at the age of 35. His age is obviously the reason why it’s not a bigger contract, as he actually took a pay cut from his previous deal. Toews was on pace for about 68 points during the 2021-22 season, by the way.
Letang’s age probably knocks this one out as a comparable.
Seth Jones – 8 years, $76,000,000 (9.5 cap hit), Started at Age 27 – Signed July 21, 2021
You just knew this one was going to come up. When it was signed, it looked rough, and although Jones wasn’t that bad during his first season in Chicago, he hasn’t lived up to the contract. It would have been difficult for him to do that, seeing as how he probably was never a $9.5 million defenseman to begin with, especially when considering his good, but not great, production leading up to the deal. If you’re the Avalanche, you’re probably saying this contract is an anomaly, but if you’re in Toews’ camp, you’re using this one to drive up the price.
Morgan Rielly – 8 years, $60,000,000 (7.5 cap hit), Started at Age 28 – Signed Oct. 29, 2021
If you’re looking for potentially the closest match in terms of age and production, look no further than Morgan Rielly. The two seasons prior to the contract kicking in, he produced at a .75 point-per-game rate, so if you look at it that way, it’s a pretty close match. The big difference would be situational usage. Toews is used heavily in penalty killing and late-game situations, while Rielly really isn’t. While production will pay on a contract, the Toews camp would probably bring up usage and importance in negotiations. Still, this feels like a pretty good comparable, overall.
Now, here’s the big question – would you take any of those defensemen over Devon Toews?
I don’t think I would, and therein lies the issue.
Most of these cap hits start with a “6” at the beginning. If the Avalanche are somehow able to lock up Toews on a deal starting with a “6,” they will have done a fantastic job in negotiations. Given how good Toews is, that seems unlikely. This seems like a heck of a deal to negotiate, and given the cap situation the Avalanche are staring down, it might not be a deal they can take on without making some room.