Tom Wilson's much-maligned contract now looks like a bargain
When the Washington Capitals signed Tom Wilson to a six-year, $31-million contract last summer, it was met with heavy criticism. He was about to come with a $5-million cap hit after recording a career high of only 14 goals.
However, Wilson has silenced the critics in his first year under the new deal. He has 18 goals and 33 points in 47 games, which would put him on pace for 31 tallies and 57 points over an entire 82-game season.
The offensive production
Wilson's deal actually stacks up quite nicely to similar pacts signed by wingers over the past few years, according to Cap Friendly's contract comparison tool.
While some players have drastically outplayed their contracts, such as Lindholm, it's clear that Wilson is being paid appropriately based on his production this season.
Wilson's $5.16-million average annual value is the 103rd-highest cap hit among NHL forwards this season, and, according to Corsica's player rankings, he's been the 102nd-best forward in the NHL. The top 100 features many skaters playing out the final years of their entry-level contracts, too. If Wilson can maintain this offensive production, his contract will look better with each coming year.
The physical element
The NHL has evolved into a league which values skill more than toughness, but there's still room for a throwback like Wilson. He's even more valuable today than he would've been 10 or 20 years ago since players with his skill set are such a rarity. You can count on one hand the number of players in Wilson's tier of toughness who can also play on a top line.
Wilson is a legitimate heavyweight fighter. He may even be the best scrapper in the game, though Ryan Reaves probably disagrees. Fighting may be down across the league, but this still matters.
For example, after Ian Cole delivered a cheap shot to Evgeny Kuznetsov earlier in the season, Wilson immediately took exception and beat Cole to a pulp. It's safe to say Cole will never again take a run at a star player on the Caps.
Wilson is also arguably the game's most feared hitter. Opponents - specifically defensemen - need to know where he is on the ice at all times. Yes, his aggressive play has gotten him into trouble with the Department of Player Safety, but more often than not it yields positive results, as seen when this bone-crushing check on Jake Gardiner led to a goal.
Looking to the future
Wilson's game profiles similarly to the first 10 years of Milan Lucic's career, though Wilson is a better skater than Lucic ever was, which suggests he'll age better. Even if Wilson's production falls off a cliff at 29 years old as Lucic's did, his contract will be coming to an end.
The Capitals were banking on Wilson's breakout season not being an aberration when they signed him to the extension. In Year 1, he's already taken his game to new heights offensively, and there's no indication he can't improve further.
Players like Wilson don't grow on trees, and the Capitals have one locked up for the next five years on a very team-friendly cap hit - something nobody anticipated when the deal was signed.