Jack Hughes is a former 1st overall draft pick, a member of the vaunted “First Family of Hockey”, and was the acting top-line center for the Devils in the 2020-21 season. His contract is also up this season. With his pedigree and his skill, he likely perceives himself as an eventual 8-figure earner in this league.
The problem is that, at this point, he’s not earned that. As a matter of fact, he hasn’t even earned being the highest-paid player on this team.
According to Evolving-Hockey’s contract projections, Jack Hughes would currently be expected to signed a 5-year deal at $5.9M AAV. If he were to sign the 8-year maximum (which he’s not currently projected to), it would go up to $7.5M. And if he were to get that deal today, he should be grateful because he certainly hasn’t provided more value than Nico Hischier ($7.25M AAV) has so far.
To this point Jack Hughes’s career production looks like this relative to Nico’s at the same point in his career.
It’s not just the point totals either. According to Evolving-Hockey, Nico’s first two seasons had higher impacts in terms of both goals for and expected goals for and also were worth more in total and per minute in terms of WAR. Jack’s possession game makes his defensive game compare favorably to Nico, which interesting given their reputations, but in total, it’s no contest whose early-career performance was more impressive and more valuable — it’s Nico,
For all of his highlights, the actual results of Jack’s performance in terms of the impact on the scoreboard leaves us wanting. And it’s not just a matter of teammate shooting as some have suggested recently. I wrote an article about this back in April, concluding that Jack’s point totals were actually not substantially reduced by teammate shooting. On that methodology, by the end of the season, teammates had cost him only about a half a point. After all, his most common linemate was Yegor Sharangovich who was debatably the best shooter on the team.
If we look at Corey Sznajder’s tracking data, we see that Jack’s shot assist numbers are very high, but his dangerous passing was only slightly above average. He produced only 1.05 dangerous passes per hour which was less than Zajac, Kuokkanen, Zacha, and Bratt. Overall, Jack’s 3.4 scoring chance assists per hour was decent, but nowhere near the superstar puck-centric playmakers he aims to emulate like Ehlers (5.1), Barzal (5.3), McDavid (6.8), and Panarin (7.7).
Absolutely none of this is to say that Jack doesn’t have “superstar-level skill” — I think he absolutely does. But, until he shows that his skill can translate to results on the ice, it’s not something that should be rewarded with elite compensation. He doesn’t, at this point, merit a massive payday.
And, to be honest, even if he did, I’d expect at least a little bit of a discount...
After Jack’s very public plea to draft his brother, the Devils acquiesced, using their 4th overall to select Luke Hughes. While expected, it was not exactly the consensus best player available at the draft slot — many experts had William Eklund and Brandt Clarke over him, and I’m told those were, in fact, the names in consideration up until 7am. There’s no doubt that keeping the star center happy was a motivating (or tiebreaking?) factor in the selection for a team that has gotten all too used to seeing franchise pillars leave the team to go home (ahem, and again).
If the Devils can lock him down long-term, they should do so as soon as possible. His value will likely skyrocket this year given a much better powerplay point-man and 5v5 play-driver in Dougie Hamilton, an additional season of chemistry with players like Yegor Sharangovich, and his natural improvement and physical growth. I expect, though, that Jack will “bet on himself” and take at least this year to try and demonstrate he’s worth a huge investment. And all that I’m saying with this piece is, if he wants it, he has to prove he’s worth it.
Also, I think he should give us a discount because we drafted his brother.
...But, mostly the first thing.