The 2013 NHL season is three days old, and the top three restricted free agents remain unsigned.
P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens, Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars and Ryan O'Reilly of the Colorado Avalanche don't have a contract, and there are no reports of any of them being close to signing a new deal.
None of these teams will make the playoffs if their top RFA doesn't re-sign as soon as possible. Not only is money an issue with the three players, but contract terms may also be a major factor in these negotiations.
Unless they are making huge money in their second contract, players usually don't like to "burn" unrestricted free agent (UFA) years coming off their entry-level deals.
Let's look at the latest update on Subban, O'Reilly and Benn's contract situations.
Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin appears to be unwilling to give star defenseman P.K. Subban a massive second contract, and it's not hard to understand his reasoning.
While Subban is a top player and immensely important to the franchise, he's only played two years in the NHL and still has a few weaknesses in his game.
If Bergevin gives Subban a new deal with an average salary of $5 million or more, then every other good young Canadiens player coming off his entry-level deal will want similar money. That's not a situation that Bergevin wants to be in during his tenure as Canadiens GM.
However, if Montreal continues to lose games over the first two weeks of the season, Subban's leverage could increase quite a bit.
Maybe @pksubban1's agent Don Meehan is being charged by the letter in his text messages. Anything to report, Don? "No"— Dave Stubbs (@Dave_Stubbs) January 21, 2013
Montreal may prefer to sign Subban to a short-term deal and make him earn a really high salary, but it's not often that teams draft a defenseman with his level of talent. When you find players of Subban's caliber, the smartest option is to sign them long-term.
According to TSN's Bob McKenzie, the contract term seems to be an important part of the negotiations between the Dallas Stars and their star forward Jamie Benn.
Jamie Benn's agent Rich Evans says his client has no interest in a six-year deal and would prefer 3 to 5 years for term. Still working on it— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) January 17, 2013
Dallas would probably prefer to sign Benn long-term, but a five-year deal would be smart for both sides.
The problem for Benn is that the Stars have enough scoring depth to win games while the team negotiates a contract with the young star.
Veteran wingers Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney have played well in the Stars' first two games of the year, and with Loui Eriksson and Michael Ryder also in the team's top-six forward group, Dallas shouldn't worry about its offensive depth and give in to Benn's demands.
The question is how long the Stars will be able to win games without Benn, because six of their next seven games are against playoff teams from last year.
The Colorado Avalanche and their fans must be getting really frustrated with Ryan O'Reilly, who remains unsigned despite having just one good season in his three-year NHL career.
Here is the latest update on O'Reilly, according to TSN's Pierre LeBrun:
There was dialogue today between the Avalanche and Ryan O'Reilly's camp (Pat Morris/Mark Guy of Newport Sports) but still no progress...— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) January 18, 2013
O'Reilly is terrific defensively and an important part of the team's penalty-killing unit. As Adrian Dater of The Denver Post notes, the Avalanche struggled in two areas that O'Reilly shines in during their season opener against Minnesota.
In first game without O'Reilly, Avs allowed two PPG and won 45.8% of faceoffs #hisleversgewentup— adater (@adater) January 21, 2013
While the Avalanche and his agents work toward a new deal, O'Reilly is playing in the KHL with his brother. This is a risky move, because if he suffers a serious injury, it would likely hurt any of the leverage O'Reilly has in contract negotiations.
There is no reason for O'Reilly to want a contract worth more than the two-year, $7 million deal that teammate Matt Duchene signed in June. Not only is Duchene more talented than O'Reilly, he's also had much more success in the NHL.
Duchene has 150 points (65 goals, 85 assists) in 220 career NHL game since his rookie year in 2009-10, while O'Reilly has just 107 points (39 goals, 68 assists) in 236 games. His rookie year was also the 2009-10 season.
O'Reilly hasn't proven that he's worth $4 million or more in a short- or long-term deal to the Avalanche, so the best decision he can make is to sign a similar deal to Duchene's and begin proving why he will be worth $4-5 million in his next contract.