The Minnesota Wild are blessed. And cursed.
Matt Boldy, drafted 12th overall back in the 2019 NHL Draft, has exceeded expectations and has been able to deliver as if he was taken much earlier than he was. At 6-foot-2 and 201 lbs, the sizeable forward is hard to muscle off the puck and can use his size to his advantage when backchecking. At only 21 years old — he turns 22 on April 5 of this year — he's far more defensively sound than most of those drafted ahead of him.
boldy lowers the boom pic.twitter.com/l7c50483cP— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) October 18, 2022
This isn't to take away attention from his offensive production, either. With 27 goals and 68 points through the first 86 games of his career, only a handful of players have matched his points per game production only two seasons into their NHL careers. It's quite a collection of names: Mitch Marner, Mikko Rantanen, Artemi Panarin, Jason Robertson, Johnny Gaudreau, and some others.
A couple of these names have shot past what we imagine the ceiling is for a player like Boldy, namely Marner, Rantanen, and Robertson; but the other names in this select group provide a roadmap from the type of raw production Boldy can provide while not accounting for the other aspects of his game, like his versatility or reliable defensive game.
MATT BOLDY FIRST CAREER HAT-TRICK pic.twitter.com/dbuDXvNHhJ— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) February 15, 2022
Surely having a player like this would be a boon for any franchise?
It sure is, but there are some complications.
Boldy's Entry-Level Contract (ELC) is set to expire at the end of the year, with the other contracts due for other key contributors such as Calen Addison. With the added pressure that the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter buyouts provide, the Wild are in a bit of a bind regarding rewarding Boldy. They should be rewarding him; after all, he's vaulted his way into being a key cog in the Wild's success much earlier than we could have predicted.
So taking a look around the league, what would Boldy's next contract look like?
Second Year Forwards
Mitch Marner — 6 years, $10.903M AAV (13.38% of cap)
Wildly frontloaded (over $29,000,000 paid in bonus salary in the first two years), it also hands Marner right over into unrestricted free agency and gives him a no-movement clause in the final two years. Marner's production in his second season (94 points) makes this blueprint out of reach for both Boldy and GM Bill Guerin.
Not to mention that Toronto Maple Leafs fans swing back and forth between Marner being their savior and the one to blame for all their troubles.
Mikko Rantanen — 6 years, $9.25M AAV (11.35%)
On paper, in the style of play and where he fits on the team, this might be Boldy's closest comparable. Rantanen played second fiddle to Nathan MacKinnon and didn't get the financial bump that usually comes with having a letter on his chest, as Gabriel Landeskog wears the 'C' for the Colorado Avalanche.
Jason Robertson — 4 years, $7.75M AAV (9.39%)
The closest chronologically to Boldy's situation, the Dallas Stars' rising star (pun intended) settled for a bridge contract which made sense at the time for Stars' management this past summer. Having nearly $25 million tied up in aging stars Joe Pavelski, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, they didn't have much space to work with, so getting the 23-year-old under contract was difficult. With only around $300,000 in cap space remaining after signing, perhaps getting Robertson back with the team after a short holdout period was all that mattered.
The team wasn't expecting the production explosion from Robertson this season, as he's accumulated 28 goals and 57 points in just 41 games. His bridge contract is an example of what can go wrong. If he is still contributing at this pace when he is due for another contract in three seasons, he will come at a hell of a price.
Johnny Gaudreau — 6 years, $6.75M AAV (9.25%)
There's a trend on this list. Players around 9.5 percent of a team's total cap are a bargain. Ultimately, Gaudreau left the Calgary Flames after this deal, but in those six seasons, he produced at an elite rate; 155 goals and 466 points in 442 games. A sweetheart deal; as far as long-term contracts go, it doesn't get much better than this (heavy foreshadowing).
Matthew Tkachuk — 8 years, $9.5M AAV (11.52%)
An elite pest and NHL blue blood, Tkachuk was rewarded with this deal in one of the NHL's only sign-and-trades in recent memory. Going into the summer, the Flames were in an interesting situation, as both their marquee players —Tkachuk and Gaudreau— were up for a contract. Tkachuk, coming off his ELC, just as Boldy is, looked like he had no intention of signing what would be perceived as a team-friendly deal from the outset.
The Flames felt like their hand was being forced, and Tkachuk was dealt to the Florida Panthers for a haul centered around Jonathan Huberdeau and Mackenzie Weegar.
It's hard to see the Wild ever reaching this point with Boldy, and as such, this comparison might be a bit of a stretch considering the challenging conditions surrounding the deal.
Vladimir Tarasenko — 8 years, $7.5M AAV (10.5%)
Viewed as their future superstar, the St. Louis Blues signed their Russian sniper to this deal following a 37-goal season and near point-per-game production with 73 in 77 games. Injuries may have derailed his career, but his production was in line until then.
While he was considered a buyout candidate only a couple of seasons ago and reportedly requested a trade as recently as last summer, Boldy's ability to stay healthy has been a part of his value, as he's only missed time from an ankle injury suffered last preseason and a couple of games from unspecified upper-body injuries.
With a long-term contract, this might be the best scenario.
David Pastrnak — 6 years, $6.66M AAV (8.89%)
Pastrnak should have fired his agent for this. While it did allow him to become a key figure on what has consistently been the best line in hockey for almost a decade with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, it's unfair to even compare a hypothetical with this once-in-a-lifetime deal.
This is the Johnny Gaudreau deal on steroids.
Jamie Benn — 5 years, $5.25M AAV (8.16%)
Once upon a time, Jamie Benn won the Art Ross with 87 points throughout a complete 82-game season. I consider it a black mark on the league's history. This has no bearing on Benn's contract, but I feel it's important to remind everyone of this anytime I can.
One of only a couple of bridge contracts on the list, this may serve as another best-case scenario.
Benn didn't have the draft pedigree Boldy does —drafted in the fifth round at 129th overall— but he did match his production in his second year. With 63 points in 71 games, Benn's contract negotiations were muddied by the NHL's lockout. He missed the first four games of the season when play resumed and signed this reasonable deal after the start of the 2012-13 season.
What We Know
We know that Matthew Boldy is a hell of a player.
between the legs from boldy pic.twitter.com/PPX4b7BSG7— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) April 20, 2022
We know that Matt Boldy, according to the eye test, is sound defensively and an extraordinary offensive player. We also know he can be an incredibly effective weapon on the powerplay when given the ice time there.
This chart, from HockeyViz.com, reinforces what we can see in most games from Boldy:
In almost every aspect, Boldy is a positive contributor to the Wild.
So where are the Wild and Boldy at when it comes to his next contract?
Tossed a note in the bottom of the gamer, but the #mnwild and Matt Boldy's agent, Brian Bartlett, have begun to pick away at an eventual contract. As we've reported all along, it's expected to be a bridge deal. They're in the very early stages.— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) January 8, 2023
As reported by Michael Russo of The Athletic, a bridge deal is most likely, and it's what makes sense for both parties. It will allow Boldy to maximize his earnings on his next contract, and it affords the Minnesota Wild time to sort out their cap situation, one that has them with around $16.3 million in space and only 13 players from the current roster under contract.
With a projected salary cap of $83.5 million and looking at his comparables, seeing a contract come in at four years and $7.7 million per year seems to be the ballpark of what we could expect. That number would put him as the team's second-highest-paid player, behind only Kirill Kaprizov and just ahead of captain Jared Spurgeon. A tough pill to swallow, and many of you may think he doesn't deserve that without even an entire NHL season under his belt. But the more time Boldy gets on his resume, the higher that number will climb.
Whether we like it or not, this is the landscape of the NHL, and that number is in line with his contract comparables in the past.
A long-term deal might be ideal, but the Wild must navigate the cap situation of their own doing.
The sooner we can get this man under contract, the better.