We already detailed the contract for Igor Ozhiganov, and now we have more information on the other three signings the Leafs have made this summer beyond raw numbers. All information is from Cap Friendly, and the original sources are listed on that site.
Lindholm’s deal is one year at the max ELC rate of $925,000 with $70,000 in the AHL. He has max Schedule A bonuses of $850,000, giving him the same deal as last year’s free agents and Ozhiganov. The contract includes a European assignment clause, which means he can be loaned to his club team in the SHL if this NHL thing all goes wrong.
He is waivers exempt for his first season in the NHL or AHL, regardless of games played, and he is a UFA on expiry of the contract.
Engvall’s contract is a two-year deal (this is mandated in the CBA by age at signing) at the max rates noted above. However, he has no performance bonuses. He is waivers exempt for three seasons or 70 NHL games played, so that’s unlikely to be a concern for a while. He is an RFA at the expiration of this ELC with no arbitration rights.
There’s no information on a European assignment clause, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
Lindgren’s deal is an interesting one. At three years, it comes out to the same AAV as a bonus-free max ELC, $925,000. But it’s actually a deal with a cap hit of $775, 833, a base salary that is smaller in the first year and some performance bonuses layered on top. The first year’s bonuses are larger, and yet the chances of Lindgren ever seeing the NHL to earn those bonuses are minuscule.
Lindgren is an RFA at expiration with no arbitration rights, and he is waiver exempt for three seasons or 80 NHL games played. There is no sign of a European assignment clause.
Given the very strong likelihood that the Leafs will operate in LTIR room next year and perhaps through the end of Nathan Horton’s contract for four more seasons, the cost of a call-up is often his cap hit plus all his potential bonuses, so Lindgren’s LTIR pool usage stays just over $900,000 for years two and three, making him affordable compared to someone on a deal like Andreas Borgman’s, but more expensive than if those bonuses had been left off.
The bonuses seem to be fairly symbolic here, and bonuses on a young draft pick’s ELC often disappear in the minors and act only as an incentive or a status symbol, but these hidden costs can cause trouble when LTIR room is in short supply if a player is called up.
Lou Lamoriello is thought to have been opposed to performance bonuses, and he has said in the past that he doesn’t like them. The trouble they cause when using LTIR is one reason to dislike them. Lamoriello’s objections were also about his ideas that young players should just take the base contract without fuss. They should negotiate for more when they have a track record to base it on, therefore providing an incentive to them to get that track record.
The Leafs could have just given Lindgren a contract close to Engvall’s and have ended up paying him only minors salary of $70,000 for all three years. That’s a gamble to make the contract work better in the NHL, while still having the same status, but it’s one with a drawback.
The base salary is what’s used to determine an RFA’s qualifying offer. Lindgren’s is low, only $700,000 when his contract expires, which is reasonable given his relative performance to Engvall to date. RFA salary inflation, brought on by starting at a high base salary and growing with each deal, can lead to a player costing more than he’s worth when he gains arbitration rights. The choices in that case are to convince the player to take a pay cut and avoid arbitration, overpay him, or let him go. This is essentially what happened with Stu Percy and T.J. Brennan. Starting lower makes that problem less likely to happen.
Adding some bonuses to make the contract look better than it is can be about telling the player he’ll get more if he earns it. So in some ways, this isn’t all that different to what Lamoriello wants to achieve, it just gets there by a different path.
This contract is extremely similar to Nikita Soshnikov’s deal, which was signed in 2015 while Kyle Dubas was in charge and before Lamoriello was hired.
My personal opinion is that I find it clever but not smart. I like Lamoriello’s ideas of making it clear every player is rewarded for performance eventually — but you have to follow through on that or you run out of credibility fast. Knowing without question what the cap hit is makes roster management easier, and bonuses unlikely to ever be paid still eat up LTIR room while not being any real gain to the player.
There were a few moments in Soshnikov’s career with the Leafs where his contract dictated where or if he played. One such issue was his KHL out clause. Another was his cost against the LTIR pool or bonus cushion because of his bonuses. I remember Lamoriello saying in an interview that he would not have signed that contract. In hindsight, he seems to have been right. It will be interesting to see if the Leafs come to regret Lindgren’s deal in time.