Mike Strasinger-USA TODAY Sports

How Matt Niskanen Can Justify His Contract

The Washington Capitals made a huge splash during day one of NHL free agency, locking up former Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen for seven years. Over the course of the contract, Niskanen will make $40,250,000 ($5,750,000 each season). That’s slightly overpaying for Niskanen, but to get virtually anyone good in free agency, you almost always have to overpay to get them. So what does Matt Niskanen have to do to justify his deal?

I think it goes without saying that if the Washington Capitals win a Stanley Cup while Matt Niskanen is on the roster, he could be making a billion dollars a season and Caps fans would agree that it was worth the price. That takes priority over all the other qualifications. It counts if Niskanen is traded for somebody who helps the Capitals win a Stanley Cup.

It also goes without saying that if Matt Niskanen wins a Norris Trophy while with the Capitals, his contract will be worth it. If Niskanen wins a Norris Trophy, chances are the Capitals will have done extremely well that year. If Niskanen is voted the best defenseman in the league, he would have far exceeded expectations and certainly lived up to his deal.

Certainly, the better you play in previous years expectations go up. With a long-term contract and large money, expectations go up. That’s reality. I think I’m ready for that challenge. I’ve played essentially top-four minutes for 80 percent of the year last year. I had a lot of responsibility and at times I was the oldest defenseman by far on our team and our team had a lot of success. I had a good year [career-highs of 10 goals, 46 points, plus-33]. It definitely was a breakout year, and now the challenge for me  is to try to keep moving forward. That’s one thing me and Todd [Reirden] talked about, how do you get a little better this week, this season. I look forward to working with him some more.” – Matt Niskanen

Another way that Matt Niskanen could earn his contract is with his production and playing time. Here are some qualifications. Let’s say if he can hit three of these, the contract will be worth it because Niskanen would have been what the Capitals signed him to be.


  1. Over the course of the deal, Matt Niskanen averages 30+ points a year. I’d break this up into goals anid assists, but honestly, if he’s averaging 30+ points per season, he’s being productive.
  2. Over the course of the deal, Niskanen has a positive Corsi percentage in at least half of his seasons OR over the course of the deal, Niskanen has a positive relative Corsi percentage in at least half of his seasons. Both don’t count because if one happens, the other one is probably happening too.
  3. Over the course of the deal, Niskanen averages over 20 minutes of ice time per game.
  4. Over the course of the deal, the Capitals make the playoffs at least five times.
  5. Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have a higher Corsi percentage with Niskanen on the ice than they do without him on the ice. Niskanen was terrific with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh. He certainly didn’t piggy back their stats either, as both had a higher Corsi percentage with Niskanen on the ice. Expecting him to do the same with the Capitals is quite reasonable.
  6. Niskanen has a positive +/- during his tenure in Washington.
  7. Niskanen finishes in the top 10 of Norris Trophy voting in at least three seasons.

There is another group of qualifications that is hard to define, but will play a part in judging Matt Niskanen’s deal: being a “fan favorite”. If you’re a fan favorite, fans won’t particularly care how much you’re getting paid (see: Brooks Laich). It’s hard to determine what would make someone a fan favorite without including production, but here’s my attempt at doing so. Note that Niskanen does not have to qualify in both categories, he just needs to qualify in one for his deal to be a “success” in my book.

FAN FAVORITE QUALIFICATIONS (Must fulfill three of these)

  1.  Over the course of the deal, Matt Niskanen’s jersey is among the league’s top 20 most popular jerseys in at least three seasons.
  2. Capitals fans develop a non-negative chant for Niskanen OR the fans come up with some cool nickname for him. Might I suggest “Nasty Niskanen”?
  3. Capitals fans don’t boo Niskanen personally (booing the entire team doesn’t count, nor does booing the occasional slip-up) during most of the deal.
  4. I love .gifs, so there has to be a .gif qualification: Niskanen is gif’ed at least 30 times positively in at least four years of his deal.
  5. Niskanen is a regular in Ovechkin’s Instagram posts.
  6. Niskanen gets on Twitter and amasses over 50,000 followers.

What would you like to see edited/added to each list? What would it take for you to say that Matt Niskanen had a successful tenure with the Washington Capitals?


Tags: Matt Niskanen NHL Washington Capitals

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