A look at next summer’s restricted free agents
Contract clashes between restricted free agents and their clubs have been in the headlines this offseason. Matthew TkachukRFA’s status (and desire to achieve unrestricted free agency) catalyzed this summer’s biggest hit trade, and the ongoing contract negotiation between Jason Robertson and the Dallas Stars could have a major impact on the future of this franchise.
As new stars emerge in the NHL, the importance of a player’s RFA years has never been higher. More and more teams are locking up their young talents earlier and earlier, and here we will take a look at the respective situations of the players who should be next summer’s RFAs.
The easy ones
One of the main reasons the Stars have struggled to sign Robertson to a long-term deal is that they already have big deals on their books for next season and have valuable space. limited to work. With Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Miro Heiskanenand no longer already occupying a significant chunk of the team’s salary cap, the Stars simply don’t have the room to fit a long-term, market-rate deal for Robertson onto their balance sheet.
There are other teams, however, that don’t have that kind of problem, and whether they can get their next restricted free agents locked up is more a matter of finding the right deal for both parties rather than finding a way to adapt to another. big contract on their payroll.
A few players are in this situation, and their teams will likely find it difficult to lock them into new contracts. relatively easy process.
Two of the biggest names are set to become RFA next summer, Trevor Zegras and Troy Terry, fall into this category. The Ducks are one of the few NHL teams that still have a good amount of cap space on their books, and that number will only increase next summer when John Klingberg, Kevin Shattenkirkand Dmitry KulikovOffers expire.
So while the Stars’ ceiling situation will likely prevent them from signing a long-term deal with their star forward RFA, the Ducks won’t have that problem with their two stars. Assuming Zegras continues his rise to stardom and Terry can be a productive top-six forward again, general manager Pat Verbeek and the Ducks should find their RFA negotiation process with these two players a relatively straightforward process. .
The Buffalo Sabers are in a similar boat, with a significant amount of cap space currently available to them and even more slated to open next summer. Center Dylan Cozens will be an RFA at that point, and the Sabres’ financial flexibility will come in handy.
Because the Sabers are in a healthy salary cap position, they could have the option of offering Cozens a long-term contract that could cost more than he’s worth in the short term, but provide savings in the long run. (similar to what the Carolina Hurricanes had in mind when they gave Jesperi Kotkaniemi an eight-year, $4.82 million AAV extension) If the Sabers were a short-cap contender, such an option would likely be closed to them.
Although the Montreal Canadiens aren’t on the same level as the Ducks and Sabers right now, they should be in better financial shape next summer after Jonathan Drouin and Yevgeny DadonovOffers expire. The Canadians, like the Sabers and Ducks, have a talented and rising striker who will become RFA next summer in Cole Caufield. Without the near-term pressures of winning the Stanley Cup or major salary cap issues, it’s likely the Canadiens will have more than enough financial leeway to keep all possibilities open regarding Caufield’s next deal.
The competing teams
This is where things get a little dicey. For the teams mentioned above, the challenge of signing their young players for the long term will not be to sell them the long-term vision of the team. Due to their recent success, these clubs are unlikely to have this problem. Instead, their problem will be the problem the Dallas Stars are currently facing: a lack of cap space.
The New York Rangers are one such team. The Rangers made it to the Eastern Conference Finals this spring, and it’s clear the team intends to go all-in to win the Stanley Cup over the next three seasons, the last three seasons where the Hart Trophy contender Igor Shesterkin costs only $5.6 million over the cap.
The Rangers’ desire to maximize their short-term chances has its benefits, the main one being that they’ve built one of the most talented rosters in the NHL for next season. But this win-now pursuit has its inevitable drawbacks. By building this talented roster, Rangers locked in a significant percentage of their cap space for future seasons and left little room to add longer-term deals to their books.
Especially with their signature of Vincent Trocheck At an eight-year contract, it doesn’t look like Rangers will be able to list any other long-term contracts at market rates for the top four defenders or top six forwards on their cap sheet. Which leaves the question: if one of the Alexis Lafreniere Where Philippe Chytil (or both) are emerging as one of the top six strikers this season, how can Rangers sign them for a long-term extension?
Moreover, since K’Andre Miller played in the top four last season, how can Rangers afford his next contract? If he takes another step in his development, do they even have a chance to afford a long-term contract with him?
They could, and likely will, go in the short term with these contracts, looking to keep costs as low as possible for these years when they are in contention for the Stanley Cup.
But long-term questions persist. Lafrenière, Chytil and Miller are meant to be the building blocks supporting the next generation of Rangers contenders. Rangers sent a famous letter to their fans and embarked on a major rebuild to acquire players like this trio. If Rangers are unable to keep these young players long-term because they are locked into contracts for veterans such as Trocheck, Barclay Goodrowand Jacob Trouba, it begs the question of why they even chose to undergo such a painful reconstruction in the first place.
So while the on-ice implications of an RFA crunch are relatively simple – it comes down to whether a team has a certain player on their roster or not – particularly difficult RFA situations such as the one Rangers will have to face off next summer have the potential to raise bigger questions about a franchise’s long-term direction and overall team identity.
It’s also worth mentioning that Rangers aren’t the only team approaching the FRG crisis next summer, despite being the ones in the most extreme position. Edmonton Oilers, another Stanley Cup prospect, could find themselves in a similar situation with the defenseman Evan Bouchard.
The same can be said for the Minnesota Wild with Matt Boldyand the Colorado Avalanche with Alex Newhookwith the latter team’s cap sheet set to become particularly tight once Nathan MacKinnonThe upcoming mega-expansion goes into effect.
This group of restricted free agents is perhaps the most difficult for teams to manage. General manager Brad Treliving and the Calgary Flames saw it this summer when Tkachuk informed them of his decision not to consider signing a long-term extension to remain a Flame. While not every RFA eligible for arbitration and on the verge of achieving UFA status will force an exit, RFAs in this section have the potential to make headlines next summer.
For example, the Dallas Stars could be in another one difficult RFA negotiation next summer, when the center Roope Hintz is an RFA. Hintz will have the option of accepting a lucrative arbitration award and then hitting an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2024. Since Hintz is now the Stars’ frontline center, they’ll likely want to stop him from doing so. But with Seguin and Benn each costing north of $9 million off the cap, the Stars may struggle to meet Hintz’s asking price.
They might find it particularly hard to do if they also want to re-sign Joe Pavelskywho has been integral to the development of Robertson and Hintz and will need his own contract.
The New York Islanders are in a similar situation with their own frontline center, with Mathieu Barzal able to accept an arbitration award next summer and become a UFA in 2024. For the Islanders, the expiration of Josh Bailey, Matt Martinand Cal ClutterbuckBarzal’s contracts in the summer of 2024 could be the key to securing Barzal’s next deal.
That being said, however, Ilya SorokinBarzal’s contract is set to expire then, too, meaning Barzal could set the Islanders up for a do-or-die, potentially franchise-altering summer in 2024 if he doesn’t sign a long-term contract as a FRG in 2023.
There are many more pending tenders than the ones we have covered so far, such as Alex De Brincat, Jesper Bratt, Pierre-Luc Duboisand Timo Meier, to name a few. It’s very possible that many of these names will strike extension deals during this season, avoiding the need for a lengthy RFA saga. This will likely be the preferred result for each of these players’ teams.
But the high-stakes nature of NHL contract negotiations means the reality usually never quite matches what teams would like. Players are increasingly empowered to weaponize the tools at their disposal in order to secure the most lucrative contracts possible, and restricted free agency is one of the most powerful tools a player has.
So while every player and every team probably wants to have a quick and easy RFA process that leads to a fair long-term contract, that’s probably not what we’ll see happen next summer. It’s more than likely that a few of these players will hit restricted free agency and dominate the headlines next summer.
Often these situations end with the player in question and his team conceding just a little more than they would like in order to reach a fair compromise. Other times, however, such a compromise cannot be found or is simply impossible to achieve. This is how we get the kinds of hit deals we saw a few months ago.
From the look of things unfolding this season, it wouldn’t be surprising if, thanks to the slew of hard-hitting restricted free agents, next summer was just as exciting as this one.
Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images. Financial information provided with the kind permission of CapFriendly.