Jump to content

The NHL Red Arrow Index: When a player’s contract can’t fit on one CapFriendly page


Recommended Posts

When you go to your team’s CapFriendly page, how many red arrows do you see?

With apologies to those mythical Gary Bettman fans who don’t care about the salary cap, everyone else knows the red arrow. It’s the little icon that shows up on a CapFriendly team page, denoting a contract that has so much term left that it doesn’t fit on the screen. Right now, that means the red arrow shows up next to any deal that stretches to at least 2029.

How many does your team have? Welcome to the Red Arrow Index (RAI), a new analytics tool that was created based on a long and thorough process of me making it up in my head during a podcast a few weeks ago.

Like all great and complicated analytics, the Red Arrow Index needs a bit of context. A high score isn’t necessarily bad, and neither is a low one. As a rule of thumb, a team that’s old and bad wants to be at zero, but a team that’s young and good is happy with a high number. It’s tempting to describe it as “the dreaded red arrow” and that would apply often, but not always.

Still, we can learn a thing or two from going through the league and seeing who comes in where. For example, there are three teams that score a zero on the RAI, two of which were not surprising and one of which very much was. And as for the team with the highest score in the league … well, you might already have a guess, but we’ll get there.

Let’s dive in, working our way from the bottom to the top.

Zero red arrows

Teams: Seattle KrakenArizona CoyotesVegas Golden Knights

The first two make sense, with one team that’s rebuilding and one that’s just building, period. Neither Arizona nor Seattle have any long-term commitments, nor really any reason to make any. The Coyotes are on the hook for a small share of Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s Canucks buyout until 2031, for what it’s worth. Other than that, both teams are following a common-sense plan: Keep the options open, build for the future and leave that cap sheet clean until Matty Beniers and Logan Cooley are ready to sign their lives away.

But … the Golden Knights? That one surprised me. The defending champs are the only other team without a red arrow to be found, despite a reputation for being aggressive on player acquisition and long-term deals. They come close — Zach Whitecloud and Ivan Barbashev are a year short, and Mark Stone and Alex Pietrangelo have had red arrows in the past. Not anymore, though, at least until they acquire and extend Leon Draisaitl this summer. (I’m kidding.) (I think.)

One red arrow

Teams: Anaheim DucksChicago BlackhawksNashville PredatorsDetroit Red WingsSan Jose SharksPittsburgh Penguins, Vancouver Canucks, Toronto Maple LeafsWashington Capitals

Our biggest group is an eclectic mix, one that features rebuilds, aging cores, one of the worst teams ever, and a few surprises.

A few of these teams might wish they had more red arrows than they do. Anaheim has Troy Terry, but settled for shorter RFA deals on Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale. The Leafs couldn’t get Auston Matthews into the Red Arrow club and William Nylander isn’t there yet, leaving them with only Morgan Rielly. The Red Wings have Dylan Larkin for now, but may be looking to add Moritz Seider by next summer. And while J.T. Miller’s red arrow doesn’t look as bad these days as it once did, the Canucks will be hoping to get one next to Elias Pettersson’s name someday soon.

Then you have the aging quasi-contenders, which feature a few surprises. Not in Nashville, where you probably guessed Filip Forsberg would be the name. But the Capitals’ only red arrow belongs to Tom Wilson’s recent extension, and I’ll be genuinely impressed if you know the Penguins player without looking it up. No, not Sidney CrosbyEvgeni MalkinErik Karlsson or even Tristan Jarry — it’s defenseman Ryan Graves, thanks to this summer’s UFA deal.

Finally, two teams stand out for their lack of near-misses. While Chicago is stuck with Seth Jones until 2030, they’re otherwise remarkably clean, without a single other player even signed past 2026. The Sharks are in similar shape, with Tomas Hertl locked in and everyone else expiring within three years.

We’re only two levels deep, and we’ve already covered a third of the league. I’m not sure we’ve hit a team yet with a red arrow situation that we’d call a problem. Keyword: yet.

Two red arrows

Teams: Winnipeg JetsPhiladelphia FlyersMinnesota WildMontreal CanadiensEdmonton OilersFlorida PanthersColumbus Blue JacketsDallas Stars

The first thing that jumps out about this group is that the Stars are the only slam dunk contender, although the Panthers might have a case. While Dallas has built around a young Big Three, only Miro Heiskanen gets red arrow status from that trio, with Jason Robertson and Jake Oettinger on shorter deals while Roope Hintz is signed through 2031. The Panthers have Matthew Tkachuk and Aleksander Barkov as their two representatives and nobody else signed past 2027, so they’re in great shape.

From there, it gets dicey. The Jets made their choice on Connor Hellebuyck and Mark Scheifele a month ago, committing to both until 2031. The Flyers feel like a team that should be in the zero group, but they’re locked on to Travis Sanheim and Sean Couturier. The Canadiens have Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield, who I’m assured are the two best players in the world. And the Blue Jackets have Johnny Gaudreau up front along with a blueliner. No, not Zach Werenski (who falls a year short), but Damon Severson, signed through 2031. That will probably work out fine unless he gets benched.

That leaves us with two of the most disappointing teams in the league so far this year. The Wild have Matthew Boldy and Joel Eriksson Ek as their two reps, which would look a lot worse if we were also counting the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter buyouts. Then there are the Oilers, whose two players are not quite the two you’d hope to have locked up forever. Maybe they’ll get there with Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid over the next few years. In the meantime, they’ve got Ryan Nugent-Hopkins at $5.5 million until 2029, which you’re probably OK with, and Darnell Nurse at $9.25 million until 2030, which you are not.

We’re more than halfway through the league now. Are you already trying to guess how high the index can go? Let’s keep digging …

Three red arrows

Teams: Boston BruinsCarolina HurricanesCalgary FlamesLos Angeles KingsNew Jersey DevilsSt. Louis BluesOttawa SenatorsNew York Rangers

This is the tier that really demonstrates both edges of the Red Arrow sword. You’d figure the Senators are thrilled with their situation, with Tim StützleJosh Norris and Jake Sanderson signed to long-term deals (and Brady Tkachuk one year shy), especially given their recent history of big stars bailing. The Devils have Jack Hughes on arguably the single most team-friendly contract in the league, plus Jesper Bratt and Timo Meier. And while the Kings don’t have quite the same star power with their mix of PL Dubois, Kevin Fiala and Mikey Anderson, the results have been there so far.

Other teams give us a chance to play a round of “two out of three ain’t bad.” The Bruins have their two best young players locked in with David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy, but might feel less great about having Hampus Lindholm signed until 2030 given his slow start. The Hurricanes have Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov to build around, plus the Jesperi Kotkaniemi deal, which admittedly looks better now than it did a few months ago. The Blues have Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou, plus Colton Parayko, whose deal somehow still runs through 2030 even though he signed it over two years ago. And the Rangers have Adam Fox and Mika Zibanejad, who are vitally important pieces of their future, as well as Vincent Trocheck, who you just remembered plays for the Rangers.

And then … the Flames.

Yeah, remember that 2022 offseason where we all thought Brad Treliving had worked a miracle, taking an impossible situation and restoring the Flames to contender status? With the team well on its way to a second-straight playoff miss, it’s fair to say it hasn’t aged well. All three of those 2022 big-name additions make the Red Arrow club, with Nazem KadriMacKenzie Weegar and Jonathan Huberdeau all spilling off the page. The good news is that Kadri’s deal only goes until 2029, two years shorter than Weegar and Huberdeau. Did that feel like good news? I meant it as good news. Maybe we should move on.

Five red arrows

Teams: Colorado AvalancheBuffalo Sabres

The most important rule about Tier 4 is there is no Tier 4, so we’re on to the five-arrow club.

We’re getting down to the wire here, and I think it’s neat that the two teams in the high-five group are in some sense mirror images. The Avalanche are the elite contender, with one championship already under their belt, trying to push back against the cap and Father Time to win a few more. The Sabres aren’t there yet, but hope they’re on the way.

Colorado’s core five includes the recently signed Nathan MacKinnon and Devon Toews, as well as Valeri Nichushkin and the injured Gabriel Landeskog. There’s also a fifth name that I’m willing to bet you won’t get. No, not Cale Makar, whose discount deal expires in 2027. It’s Miles Wood, whose $2.5 million cap hit makes him the cheapest member of the Red Arrow society.

As for the Sabres, they’ve locked in their young core of Rasmus DahlinOwen PowerTage Thompson and Dylan Cozens, all of whom have big-dollar contracts that don’t feel too onerous. They’ve also rolled the dice on Mattias Samuelsson, whose $4.2 million cap hit through 2030 could be a bargain if he continues to develop.

Two teams, two approaches, two outcomes so far — but I’m guessing both are happy to score high when it comes to red arrows. High, but not the highest, because we’re not there yet.

Six red arrows

Team: Tampa Bay Lightning

If the Avalanche are a team that’s still trying to squeeze another Cup or two out of their prime, the Lightning are the group that’s getting a little bit grizzled. They come in at six red arrows, a surprisingly high total given that the group doesn’t include almost all of their key pieces. None of Nikita KucherovVictor HedmanAndrei Vasilevskiy or Steven Stamkos makes the cut.

Instead, Tampa is represented by a mish-mash of contributors, as we can see a clear strategy emerging: Hand out long contracts in exchange for cap discounts, keeping the team together and the window open for as long as possible, and then worry about the mess down the road.

It’s hard to argue with the approach because flags fly forever. But the result is a very strange mix of stars and role players. The Lightning’s red arrow brigade includes Brayden PointMikhail SergachevAnthony CirelliErik CernakBrandon Hagel and even Nick Paul. The good news is that Paul is the oldest of the bunch, and he’s only 28. Still, it all adds up to just over $39 million in cap hit already committed for the 2028-29 season, which is going to make things very interesting for Julien BriseBois (or whoever else) in a few years. Still, Cups are Cups, and they earn a roster a certain kind of loyalty.

I started this post with a challenge — try to guess the team that would come in with the single-highest Red Arrow Index score in the league. Did you pick the two-time champion Tampa Bay Lightning?

Some of you probably did. And if so, you’re wrong, because we somehow have one more team to go …

Seven red arrows

Teams: Islanders


I guess it makes sense. I mean, it doesn’t, but it’s Lou, so you get what I’m saying. And at least one of those red arrows is one that any team would be happy to have, as they’ve got Ilya Sorokin signed through 2032, one of only five contracts that extends that far. Every goalie is a gamble, but I think you take that one.

Mathew Barzal and Bo Horvat, each signed through 2031? That’s dicier, but you can see the logic. Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech both have red arrows too, and that feels risky with both guys at 29 years old even though they’ve been underrated pieces. But then you get into what you can only call Lamoriello specials, where role players like Pierre Engvall and Scott Mayfield show up on the list. Even with low-ish cap hits, that just feels bizarre. You wonder what the GM is thinking, but then you remember that it’s probably something along the lines of “This is almost certainly not going to be my problem.”

Finally, let’s end with a few Red Arrow facts:

 There are 72 players in the league who qualify for our club, which seems high but I’m not a GM. That breaks down to 47 forwards, 23 defensemen and just two goalies (Hellebuyck and Sorokin).

 The highest cap hit for a Red Arrow is MacKinnon’s $12.6 million, followed by Pastrnak, Dahlin and (gulp) Huberdeau.

 The lowest cap hit is Wood and his $2.5 million, followed by Engvall, Paul and Mayfield.

 The youngest player with a Red Arrow deal is Power, who’s still 20 for another week. Next are teammates Sanderson and Stützle.

 The Red Arrow club is a young man’s world, as 70 of the 72 players are 30 or younger. The only exceptions: Mayfield, who just turned 31, and Kadri, who’s already 33.

 Flames fans probably should have skipped this article.

“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.

A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Create New...