‘I Have No Regrets’: Nathan MacKinnon On Being Underpaid, The Shifting RFA Market

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  • In the summer of 2016, Nathan MacKinnon was due for a substantial pay raise.
  • As a restricted free agent (RFA), he didn’t have leverage to seek out the highest bidder.
  • But the 20-year-old still had plenty to bring to the bargaining table: status as the No.1 pick in the 2013 draft, a Calder Trophy and three productive seasons with the Colorado Avalanche.
  • What he didn’t have was a crystal ball.
  • So when MacKinnon signed with Colorado that July — for $44.1 million spread over seven years — he had no way of knowing he’d soon become one of the most underpaid players in the league.

“I was just excited to get paid that much money at such a young age,” MacKinnon said Wednesday from his visitor’s room stall in Toronto. “Obviously it’s pretty (team) friendly now, but I was worth that at the time … I have no regrets.”

  • No one should blame MacKinnon for taking a long-term deal. Stability, in some ways, is priceless.
  • But as player empowerment continues to grow for NHL free agents, there is only one way to describe MacKinnon’s current salary arrangement: highway robbery.
  • Consider the fact MacKinnon, 24, is third in the league in scoring this season (44 points in 27 games).
  • He finished seventh and fifth in scoring in 2018-19 and 2017-18, respectively, receiving MVP votes both years.
  • But MacKinnon only has a $6.3 million average annual value (AAV) on his contract, which is 82nd in the NHL. And that $6.3 million AAV will remain for another three years.

  • MacKinnon has noticed the uptick of RFA holdouts. If he had it to do over again, might join the movement.

“I think you want to get paid what you’re worth,” he said. “I’d probably do the same thing. If a team isn’t paying you what you think you’re worth, holding out is something (players) are entitled to … I think it’s going to continue that way.”

  • MacKinnon was willing to play the what-if game, but he has made peace with what he signed up for. He said he already has enough money for retirement and, as a person who doesn’t come from a wealthy background, feels “very blessed.”
  • Colorado still has over $5 million in cap space, which will help quite a bit next year when RFAs such as Andre Burakovsky and Nikita Zadorov are due for contracts.
  • That’s a luxury not afforded to some other teams, including the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have more than $33 million committed to three players (Auston Matthews, John Tavares and Mitch Marner) for the next four seasons.
  • The Maple Leafs have maxed out the salary cap and have five of their top-six defensemen set for free agency after this season.
  • That’s the type of situation MacKinnon wants to avoid. Balanced teams are often the ones left standing at the end of the playoffs, which is where he wants to be.
  • Deals like his, as unfair as they might be, help make that happen.

“We have guys that we wouldn’t (otherwise) be able to bring in,” MacKinnon said. “On my next deal, I’ll take less again. Because I want to win with this group.”

Sources & Credits: Jordan Horrobin, Forbes
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