One of the more mundane activities of the NHL off-season is the annual signing of the restricted free agents, which is like the running of the bulls except for everything about it. For the most part, this is a staid and routine affair, with the only excitement coming when a player opts for arbitration (thrilling!) or the ever-rare case of an offer sheet (non-existent!). Normally, it’s just a matter of patience as the two sides come to terms on a new contract.
At this point in the off-season, however, fans start to get a little nervous if one of their talented young RFAs still hasn’t been re-signed. Only 41 RFAs remain unsigned, but that includes some players that are heading overseas to European leagues and the KHL. In some cases, there’s really no need to worry, but in others there’s a legitimate cause for concern.
Here are ten big-name RFAs that remain unsigned and whether you should be worried. Because really, what’s the NHL off-season for if not for worrying endlessly about your favourite team?
10. Chris Tanev
Tanev doesn’t put up much in the way of offensive numbers, but his calm demeanour on the ice and clean defensive play saw him play some significant minutes for the Canucks last season and he is a darling of the advanced statistics crowd. It’s tough for a player of his ilk to argue for a big money contract, but he’s due a raise from his previous $900k salary. With no arbitration rights, Tanev has next to no leverage, so it seems unlikely that negotiations will drag on too much longer.
A one-year deal might suit Tanev best, with the cap increasing and the opportunity to go to salary arbitration with charts full of advanced statistics in tow.
9. Jared Cowen
Rumours have been flying that Cowen is seeking a similar deal to Travis Hamonic, who signed a 7-year, $27 million contract with the New York Islanders. It is exceedingly unlikely that Cowen’s deal will resemble Hamonic’s either in money or term, as Cowen has played just 90 games in the NHL and missed most of the 2013 season after undergoing hip surgery.
Far more likely, at this point, is a shorter-term contract so he can prove that missing that much time has not hindered his upward progression. While the young defenceman is certainly part of the Senators’ future, now is not the time for him to seek a long-term commitment from the Senators. If that is indeed his expectation, he’ll need to adjust his thinking in order to get a deal done before training camp.
8. Mikkel Boedker
Most of the hockey-related news coming out of Phoenix has centred around the sale of the Coyotes, so perhaps that distraction has held up a deal with the 23-year-old Boedker, who was third among Coyotes’ forwards last season with 26 points in 48 games, which is actually a little sad.
Boedker is coming into his own after a patchy start to his career, but will need to show that his scoring slump over the back half of last season was an aberration. While the Coyotes might prefer a shorter term thanks to some of the uncertainty over how he’ll perform, he’s already on his third contract and likely wants a little more security. Still, he avoided filing for salary arbitration and it seems likely they’ll come to an agreement soon.
7. Cody Franson
Franson led all Maple Leafs defencemen in scoring last season, putting up 29 points in 45 games, so he seems certain to receive a large raise from his previous $1.2 million salary. That’s a problem for the Maple Leafs, as Dave Nonis’s spending spree in acquiring David Clarkson, David Bolland, and Jonathan Bernier and re-upping Tyler Bozak has left the Leafs with not enough room to re-sign both Franson and fellow RFA Nazem Kadri. It’s bad enough that it’s been suggested multiple times that the Leafs might need to trade Franson’s rights.
They could potentially buyout John-Michael Liles to create room or get creative in the trade market to shed salary for Franson. It certainly seems like they should do whatever is necessary to hang on to Franson, who is just hitting his prime and took on a larger role for the Leafs as last season progressed. He’s also the only right-shooting defenceman in the Leafs’ top-six.
6. Marcus Johansson
Johansson has been very productive for the Capitals in his first three seasons, scoring 95 points in 183 games while improving steadily every year. The difficulty comes in separating his production from his talented linemates, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Is he just a product of playing in prime offensive situations with two of the biggest offensive stars in the league? It’s a tough question to answer and likely one that makes contract negotiations difficult.
Reports suggest that he’ll sign for a little over $2 million per season and there’s no reason to believe that there will be any difficulty in getting a deal done.
5. Adam Henrique
Henrique has the potential to be the New Jersey Devils’ franchise player for the next decade or more, but as of right now he remains unsigned. He scored 51 points in 74 games in his rookie year, garnering Calder Trophy buzz before losing out to Gabriel Landeskog. He then put on an impressive performance in the playoffs, scoring clutch goals as he helped the Devils to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Last season, however, was a step back, as he scored just 16 points in 42 games. That’s likely a sticking point in contract negotiations, as the Devils may be hesitant to give him too much of a raise after a sophomore slump, particularly considering his standout rookie year came while playing the majority of the season with Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk, both no longer Devils. Still, there seems little reason to believe the Devils will have any trouble re-signing the young centre.
4. Cody Hodgson
After giving the Canucks’ Mike Gillis endless headaches thanks to his agent, Ritch Winter, and overly-involved father, the Sabres might be having trouble with Winter as well. Paul Hamilton of WGR 550 in Buffalo suggested as much, saying that the Sabres might have to trade Hodgson due to Winter.
I sincerely doubt it gets to that point, though, even as contract negotiations appear to be at a stalemate. Hodgson is the closest thing the Sabres have to a top-six centre, scoring 15 goals and 34 points in 48 games last season. Really, that might be the problem, as Hodgson likely wants to get paid like a top-six forward, while the Sabres would want to see more than one good season before making a major commitment.
3. Nazem Kadri
Kadri had a breakout season with the Maple Leafs last year, though he had a fair amount of help from some friendly percentages. His 18 goals and 44 points in 48 games will net him a sizeable raise from his $1.72 million cap hit. Unlike Franson, however, there are no concerns that the Leafs won’t be able to re-sign Kadri. If the Leafs need to choose between the two, it’s certain they’ll choose Kadri, but it’s remarkable that the Leafs ended up in this situation to begin with, given the wealth of capspace they had at the beginning of free agency.
2. Derek Stepan
Stepan has a stronger claim as a number one centre than either Hodgson or Kadri, though he put up an identical 18 goals and 44 points in 48 games to Kadri last season. Glen Sather has a history of offering bridge contracts to RFAs coming off entry-level contracts, so it would make sense that he is doing the same with Stepan, who likely wants a longer-term commitment. That has led to holdouts in the past for Marc Staal and Brandon Dubinsky, so there’s some reason to be worried.
The Rangers are also tight to the cap and could potentially be vulnerable to an offer sheet, but the NHL’s gentleman’s agreement to avoid offer sheets means it’s unlikely to happen.
1. Alex Pietrangelo
Pietrangelo is easily the biggest name among the remaining restricted free agents and is likely to receive a major payday from the St. Louis Blues. The major question is whether the Blues want to sign him to a long-term deal in order to buy up some of his UFA years in the way that other teams have done with their RFA defencemen this off-season or whether they’ll sign him to a shorter-term deal that bridges him to his UFA years where he could expect to cash in if he continues to play at an elite level.
The rumour mill indicates that contract negotiations between Pietrangelo and the Blues have stalled, with some even mentioning the dreaded H-word, “holdout.” That seems unlikely to me: they’ll get a deal done well before training camp.
All current unsigned RFAs, courtesy CapGeek.
|RFA||POS||Team||Previous Cap Hit|
|Stephane Da Costa||C||OTT||$800,000|