Florida Panthers: What to Expect for Aleksander Barkov’s Next Contract

TORONTO, ON - MARCH 25: Florida Panthers Center Aleksander Barkov (16) skates with the puck during the third period of the NHL regular season game between the Florida Panthers and the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 25, 2019, at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, ON, Canada. (Photo by Julian Avram/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - MARCH 25: Florida Panthers Center Aleksander Barkov (16) skates with the puck during the third period of the NHL regular season game between the Florida Panthers and the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 25, 2019, at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, ON, Canada. (Photo by Julian Avram/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

The NHL has always been a league where teams have to adapt on the fly, but nowadays, contract talks, extensions, and negotiations have reached a new level, and it might affect all teams in the coming future.

When it comes to captain Aleksander Barkov, the thoughts of his next contract extension may seem like a distant issue that isn’t a huge priority at the moment. With the shape of the NHL changing, however, this may need to be an issue to worry about.

Barkov’s contract is still one of the better contracts in hockey. Signed back in January 2016, the Finn is locked into a $5.9 million cap hit until the end of the 2021-22 season.

Now, the Florida Panthers have done really well to juggle their cap space with their young core with Dale Tallon as GM. Barkov, Aaron Ekblad, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Vincent Trocheck all received lengthy extensions before the NHL’s cap space began to take strides to where it has now.

When Trocheck is making significantly less money at a younger age than, say, Kevin Hayes and James Neal, you know the Panthers are in a relatively good spot.

With that said, the league is changing, and even the most old-fashioned minds of hockey can’t deny it: the last three free-agent periods have shown that the current cap situation isn’t fit for the league.

In the last few seasons, when players like Hayes, Joe Pavelski, and Anders Lee are getting around $7 million dollars to be average forwards isn’t boding well for the league’s current CBA. The three are all great options on their day, capable of 50-60 points per season, but all worth more than Barkov is a serious problem.

Those three don’t even touch the money that Drew Doughty, Erik Karlsson, Artemi Panarin, and Sergei Bobrovsky are getting into.

Yes, they’re all proven superstars and deserve to be paid like the best in the NHL, but being valued at around an $11 million cap hit shows that the league is spiraling towards bigger contracts.

That doesn’t even touch the lockout issues that the Toronto Maple Leafs have faced these last two seasons. Last offseason, William Nylander held out of camp until December 1st, in which he signed a six-year, $45 million contract.

Now, Mitch Marner is holding out from Toronto, and due to the NHL’s current RFA rules, most teams are staying clear of Marner.

With RFAs in the NHL, unlike in the NBA, if a team offers a contract that isn’t matched, teams have to give draft compensation in exchange for signing the player.

Marner is anticipating the same amount of pay as partner John Tavares, around $10-11 million. If a team pays that, the Leafs would receive four first-round picks.

So, if fellow young centers like Jack Eichel and Auston Matthews make between $10 million and $11 million, you would think Barkov falls into that same range, at least for now. In a couple of years into the future, we really aren’t sure what kind of value an $11 million deal is worth.

Think about it this way, in 2014, the upper limit for cap space was $71.4 million. That season the NHL’s most expensive players were Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, both at a cap hit of $10.5 million, both in the primes of their careers.

Fast forward to 2019, the upper limit for cap space is now just north of $81 million. Kane and Toews are still in the top 10 for most expensive contracts, but towards the lower half of that list.

Players like Connor McDavid, Drew Doughty, Carey Price, and the aforementioned Panarin, Matthews, Karlsson, and Tavares are now making as much as Kane and Toews, or more.

This shows that come 2022, when it comes time to pay Aleksander Barkov, Florida’s situation is going to be very different than it would be if Barkov’s contract hypothetically ended now.

The game is going to evolve, and a player like Barkov, who will be 26, is a player that almost every team is going to want to have their hands on.

This is a serious issue for the Panthers’ front office. The team is strapped for cap space right now after signing and re-signing nine players this offseason, including Sergei Bobrovsky and Anton Stralman for significantly more than their market value.

It all depends on how much cap space Florida have in these next couple of free agent periods. Next summer will be a big one, with Evgenii Dadonov, Mike Hoffman, and Sam Montembeault amongst others in need of contract extensions.

If no trades are made, Florida should find themselves north (not exactly sure how much) of $18.9 million to bring back (or replace) eight players.

Seeing how Florida manage that, 2021’s offseason will be a breeze, with only Colton Sceviour’s $1.2 million cap hit coming off the books. That brings us to 2022, unsure who will be on the Panthers roster by then, and the time to pay Barkov.

Side note: Barkov won’t be the only one who will be in need of a paycheck that offseason, with Vincent Trocheck, Frank Vatrano, Noel Acciari, and Anton Stralman set to expire that summer.

So, there will be a lot of cap space to work with, but it arguably will be Florida’s most challenging free agency period ever.

Circling back to Barkov and away from the Panthers, Barkov’s improvement (down the line from now) could have him locked as a top-five player in this league. For as humble as he is, Barkov will look to be paid as such come July 2022.

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Again, it’s going to be hard to project how much players will be used to being paid. In 2017, $12.5 million looked expensive for McDavid, but by 2022, it could very well be a bargain.

Whether players will reach the $15 million mark by then might be a possibility; there’s a lot of young talent in the NHL that are going to get massive extensions when they’re still in their early twenties. With players like Matthews and Marner paving the way, contracts are going to be bigger for younger players.

Barkov, however, may not be considered young by then. At 26, he will be in his prime, and the contract will need to be a lengthy one.

The league has shown no worry about paying players into late stages of their careers. Bobrovsky, per se, will be 37 when his contract ends, and Tavares will be 33 when his deal expires.

I’d say Barkov gets eight years from the Panthers and the max seven years from another team that is going to try and contend for a cup for the next decade.

Whether the league reaches $15 million dollar contracts by 2022 remains uncertain, and I don’t think it’ll be just then. I’m saying Barkov gets between $13-14 million, just to be safe with my prediction. That still isn’t exactly an expensive guess, though.

Next. Jonathan Huberdeau Can Hit 100 Points This Season. dark

So, Barkov may well be getting an eight-year/$112 million contract (if he re-signs) by the time we hit his free agency period; but for now, it’s all still uncertain based on what the rest of the NHL does, and how the league grows in the years to come.