August is usually not a time for huge NHL contracts to get signed, but the Washington Capitals flipped the script on Friday, inking Tom Wilson to a seven-year, $45.5 million extension.
Wilson was set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, and he would have generated headlines all next season up until the trade deadline — regardless if he were actually available or not. With the agreement, Wilson and Capitals GM Brian MacLellan avoided those headaches by hammering out a long-term pact that both sides were comfortable with.
With his new $6.5 million annual average salary, the 29-year-old Wilson will get nearly a $1.5 million raise, not much of a bump from his current $5.16 million cap hit considering the NHL salary cap is likely to rise in coming years. It’s about as much of a hometown discount as you could expect from a game-changing player who can play in all situations and who helped lead the team to its only Stanley Cup in 2018 as a first-line winger.
Wilson has been open about the fact that he loves the DC area and wants to stay. He has settled down here with his wife Taylor and pup Halle. Tom is beloved by Capitals fans, often drawing as much or more interest in RMNB stories than Alex Ovechkin. Locally, Wilson has invested his time and money into local businesses like BASH Boxing and has become a marketable star with a natural charisma and a large following.
On the Capitals’ side, the contract extension is symbolic in five different ways.
GMBM is betting Wilson will return to form after major knee surgery.
If you ignore the goals, Wilson is coming off one of the worst seasons of his career.
After missing half of the 2022-23 campaign while recovering from offseason knee surgery, Wilson scored 13 times in 33 games, posting 1.3 goals per 60 minutes — a career high. But that individual scoring depended a lot on special teams (his five-on-five goal rate was the same as Anthony Mantha’s), and the Caps as a whole got badly outscored during Wilson’s shifts (28 to 20). Only Nicklas Backstrom had a worse net number at five-on-five (minus-13).
One might see the team’s overall struggles when Wilson was on the ice as a trend he fought against or something he contributed to. It could be the temporary consequence of a slow recovery or a fluke at the end of a cursed season where the Capitals missed the playoffs for the first time since 2013-14. In any case, Wilson’s performance was a mixed bag with unclear implications for the future.
With MacLellan aggressively re-signing Wilson long-term before he steps foot on the ice next season, the Capitals GM is betting that the right wing will re-find his game quickly after a normal summer and full training camp. With Wilson’s work ethic and hockey smarts, you can see why he’d make that bet.
Wilson will be the next Capitals’ captain.
The seven-year deal immediately gives Wilson a gravitas that no other Capitals player can match. He becomes the only player on the roster signed past 2027-28 — he’s contracted through 2030-31 — and the de facto team leader once Alex Ovechkin retires, likely after the 2025-26 season.
Behind-the-scenes, Wilson has long been viewed as captain material and a player to whom prospects and young players go for advice. Wilson first served as alternate captain in a regular-season game in May 2021.
“You could see the raw physicality and the skating,” goaltender Braden Holtby said in 2020. “But he was also one of those guys that once he got here, even when he was a rookie, you could tell that he was meant to be a captain in this league.
“He’s evolved as a player over the years,” Holtby added, “but those intangibles, he had them right from day one.”
When the Capitals ultimately rebuild after the Ovechkin Era, Wilson will be ready to take the reigns and lead the team, likely becoming the 15th captain in club history.
This contract allows Tom to retire a Capital.
Not only did the Capitals make a bet on Wilson to return to form, but they also made it very difficult for themselves to trade him or buy him out, either by Brian MacLellan or a different GM in the future.
The contract is structured to dissuade a buyout in the future with increased signing bonuses in the final years. Wilson also received a 15-team no-trade clause in years one through four and a 10-team NTC in years five through seven.
Tom Wilson #ALLCAPS
$6.5M x 7 yr extension
24-25: $4M + $5M SB
25-26: 4.5M + 3M
26-27: 3.625M + 2M
27-28: 4.3M + 2M
28-29: 4.275M + 2M
29-30: 900k + 4.5M
30-31: 900k + 4.5M
Yrs 1-4: 15 team NTC
Yrs 5-7: 10 team NTChttps://t.co/PN9zFx3fKr
— CapFriendly (@CapFriendly) August 4, 2023
Contracts with increased signing bonuses in the final years are an intentional structure that players & agents negotiate for, as they prevent a buyout from being palatable.
Here’s the cap hit penalty if Wilson’s contract were to be bought out in the final 3 years pic.twitter.com/yp5nQlLzBP
— CapFriendly (@CapFriendly) August 4, 2023
The contract keeps Wilson a Capital through 2031 where he will be age 37 by that season’s end.
“Tom possesses all the intangibles needed to win in this League and we are extremely pleased to sign him to a long-term contract, giving him the opportunity to finish his career in a Capitals’ uniform,” MacLellan sad in the signing’s press release.
The contract puts Wilson in the same company as Ovechkin and Backstrom, who spent their entire careers in DC — a rarity in today’s NHL.
Wilson’s versatility as a player could safeguard against a steep decline.
Part of MacLellan’s thinking in re-signing Wilson long-term is that the forward can provide value even if he’s not a top-six winger when he reaches his mid-30s. Wilson provides leadership and is a marketable star for the franchise. But on the ice, he’s also a player who could degrade gracefully down the lineup because he’s such an adept defensive forward.
In his prime and at his best, Wilson is a quick-skating player that can play in any situation offensively or defensively — five on five, power play, and penalty kill. He can provide scoring or physicality. And he can close out games.
If one of those talents dry up, Wilson can fall back on a high baseline of play in another area that still give him value, especially as the salary cap is expected to rise.
MacLellan is making the same bet with Wilson that he did with TJ Oshie.
The Washington Capitals signed TJ Oshie to a similar eight-year, $46 million contract extension on June 23, 2017, which, at the time, seemed absurd (no offense, Osh). Oshie, at age 30, was coming off a career year where he scored 33 goals due to tripling his career shooting percentage. Oshie received a modified no-trade clause throughout the lifetime of the contract.
T.J. Oshie's extension with the #Caps includes a Modified NTC in all 8 years.
Yrs 1-4: 15 team No Trade list
Yrs 5-8: 10 team No Trade list
— CapFriendly (@CapFriendly) June 23, 2017
After inking that deal, Oshie helped lead the Capitals to the Stanley Cup in 2017-18 and scored 20 goals in three consecutive seasons from 2018 through 2021 after that. Oshie chipped in 19 goals in 58 games in 2022-23.
Oshie has continued to perform despite vast durability issues that has seen him spend more time on the injured list than the ice over recent seasons.
Oshie and Wilson are both team leaders who play a two-way game. And they both have a competitiveness intangible that serves them well as their athletic skill begins to erode.
MacLellan likely saw how the Oshie deal worked out and felt comfortable making the same bet with Wilson.
Headline photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB
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