DENVER — The Colorado Avalanche are making Nathan MacKinnon the highest-paid player in the NHL’s salary cap era.
MacKinnon, who just turned 27 earlier this month, signed an eight-year contract worth $100.8 million, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Tuesday because the team did not announce terms of the contract.
His new $12.6 million salary cap hit that goes into effect at the start of the 2023-24 season surpasses Connor McDavid’s $12.5 million as the highest in the league. McDavid’s $100 million, eight-year deal with the Edmonton Oilers signed in 2017 was the previous record for the highest annual cap hit since the system went into place in 2005.
“Obviously it’s really cool, for sure,” MacKinnon said of being the highest-paid player in hockey. “Hoping there’s no more pandemics and the cap goes up even more, but, yeah, I think the term was the most important thing. I just wanted to be here for the rest of my career and hopefully I get another deal after this, too.”
The only richer deals than MacKinnon’s in NHL history are Alex Ovechkin’s $124 million, 13-year contract with Washington, Shea Weber’s $110 million, 14-year contract with Nashville and Sidney Crosby’s $104.4 million, 12-year contract with Pittsburgh. The collective bargaining agreement has since limited contract lengths to eight years for a players re-signing with his own team and seven for free agents.
MacKinnon agreed to the deal with training camp about to start. It’s been a short offseason for MacKinnon and the Avalanche after they captured their first Stanley Cup title since 2001.
“We’re just thrilled that it’s done before the start of training camp, and Nate can focus on hockey,” general manager Chris MacFarland said. “What he does for us is really important, and to have him locked up for nine years is really crucial to the short- and long-term planning for us. It’s a big day.”
The hard-shooting, fast-skating center tied for the league lead with 13 postseason goals. It was second-highest in a single playoff run in franchise history, trailing only Hall of Famer Joe Sakic’s 18 goals in 1996 (when Colorado won its first Cup).
“It shows a lot of loyalty,” said Sakic, now Colorado’s president of hockey operations. “Nathan wanted to get this done, we wanted to get it done and he’s a franchise player and we’re really excited that he’ll remain here in Colorado for the rest of his career.”
MacKinnon, the top overall pick in the 2013 draft, has been a finalist for the Hart Trophy in three of the past five seasons (‘17-18, ‘18-19, ’20-21). He has 242 career goals and 406 assists — the most of anyone from his draft class.
The native of Halifax, Nova Scotia, was the youngest player in franchise history to make his NHL debut (18 years, 31 days) and went on to win the Calder Trophy that season as the league’s top rookie. He also won the Lady Byng Award for sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct in 2020. In addition, he’s been named a captain for the Central Division in the past three All-Star Games.
MacKinnon’s last contract, which expires after the upcoming season, was worth $44.1 million over seven years at a cap hit of $6.3 million. Only four players topped the 495 points he put up in the regular season since that deal went into effect, and his 83 in the playoffs are second-most in the NHL since then.
That’s why for years, MacKinnon was known as the most underpaid player in hockey — a title he really didn’t care for.
These days, he has another one: Stanley Cup champion.
He’s part of a core Avalanche group that also includes defenseman Cale Makar, forward Mikko Rantanen and captain Gabriel Landeskog.
MacKinnon is now signed through 2031. Colorado also has versatile forward Valeri Nichushkin signed through 2030, Landeskog through 2029 and Makar, the playoff MVP, through 2027. MacFarland’s task next summer is an extension with Rantanen.
“Denver’s the only place I want to be, for sure,” MacKinnon recently said in Henderson, Nevada, during a preseason player media tour.
McDavid considers being surpassed as the highest-paid player, “good for hockey, I guess, to keep raising the bar.”
“But ultimately the salary cap system’s a weird system where the more money you make, the less money someone else can make,” McDavid added. “It’s kind of a weird system that way. There’s always going to be give and take.”