NHL training camps began on Wednesday, and there were several restricted free agents who were absent because they haven't been able to work out a new contract with their teams.
Many general managers are unwilling to make a long-term commitment to RFAs, even if they have proven to be an important part of the team's success for multiple NHL seasons. From a financial perspective, this is a smart route for clubs to take, but it also creates a situation where star players are willing to miss valuable practices and preseason games to get the deal they want.
Let's take a look at the latest news and rumors involving the top five RFAs who still haven't signed a new contract.
Jared Cowen is one of the Ottawa Senators' best defensemen and should be a key part of the team's success this season and well into the future. Unfortunately for Senators fans, Cowen was not among the players who reported to training camp on Wednesday.
Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun provided the latest update on the 22-year-old's contract situation on Tuesday:
Ideally, the Senators would like to get a deal in place as quickly as possible but have work to do. Since they haven't been able to agree on an eight-year deal with Cowen, it might make sense to do something in the 3-to-4 year range.
Cowen is a smooth skater, a tremendous playmaker and has an improving defensive game. The Saskatoon native brings a fantastic combination of size and skill to the ice each shift and plays with the composure of a veteran. This is why he has the potential to become one of the NHL's best two-way defensemen.
With that said, he only has one full NHL season on his resume. A torn labrum limited him to only 17 games (including the playoffs) in 2013.
Signing him long term is the best option for Ottawa, but giving him a contract worth over $3.25 million per season would be a risk given his lack of experience at the NHL level.
Derek Stepan is the New York Rangers' No. 1 center and leading scorer from last season, but unless his contract demands are met, he won't be joining his teammates on the ice for training camp practices any time soon.
Larry Brooks of the New York Post reports that the 22-year-old wants a long-term contract following his entry-level deal.
A deal is not imminent and obviously Derek will not report (to camp) without a contract, his agent Matt Oates told The Post.
Stepan is believed seeking a five- or six-year deal in the neighborhood of $5 million per while the Rangers are believed offering a two-year contract worth between $2.75-and-$3 million a year.
Stepan isn't the first RFA that the Blueshirts have held contract discussions with this offseason. General manager Glen Sather prefers bridge contracts to keep young players motivated before locking them up long term, but he signed star defenseman Ryan McDonagh (also an RFA) to a six-year deal earlier in the offseason.
As one of the team's best forwards, Stepan deserves a long-term contract just as much as McDonagh.
The most notable absence from training camps on Wednesday was St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo.
According to Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the young star is looking for a significant raise and a long-term contract.
Pietrangelo, 23, is believed to be seeking an extension that would pay him $7 million per season on a long-term deal. The Blues, who have a shade over $7 million in salary-cap space for the 2013-14 season, aren’t willing to pay more than $6 million annually.
St. Louis' decision to hold a firm line and not give in to Pietrangelo's demands doesn't make a lot of sense. He's already proven to be a franchise cornerstone defenseman with an exceptional two-way game. Just two years ago he finished fourth in the Norris Trophy voting.
Defensemen with Pietrangelo's size and skill set don't come around too often. For the Blues to build a perennial Stanley Cup contender and become a franchise that the league's top players want to play for, they must show a willingness to sign homegrown players of Pietrangelo's caliber long term.
If the difference between the two sides is only $1 million per season, there's no reason for these negotiations to continue into the weekend.
The Toronto Maple Leafs didn't put enough resources into signing their own free agents before exploring the open market to add high-priced veterans such as David Clarkson to the roster.
The failure to sign key RFAs early in the offseason has put Toronto in a difficult situation with 26-year-old defenseman Cody Franson, who remains unsigned with training camp underway.
TSN's Mark Masters tweeted Leafs general manager Dave Nonis' comments on Franson from Wednesday's camp session:
'We've made him an offer we want him to take and he's declined to take it. There's only so much we can do to get a deal done'; says Franson doesn't think offer is fair."
Franson is a valuable player because he plays physical, makes smart decisions in his own end, kills penalties and is capable of providing 25-40 points from the blue line. He's an ideal second- or third-line pairing defenseman.
With only $1,995,833 in salary cap space, per CapGeek, the Leafs don't have much room to sign Franson for a fair price. At the very least, he's worth $2 million per season. If Franson doesn't sign soon or is traded, top prospect Morgan Rielly could replace him.
As the Buffalo Sabres transition into a new era with Lindy Ruff no longer behind the bench, it's important for the team to build a talented core of young players. As a top-six center with exceptional offensive skill, Cody Hodgson is the kind of player that Buffalo should re-sign to a long-term deal.
Bill Hoppe of the Times Herald has the latest update on Hodgson's contract negotiations.
[Sabres GM Darcy] Regier said the Sabres will 'make every attempt' to get unsigned restricted free agent Cody Hodgson on the ice for Thursday’s first session.
The efforts that are being made by both sides would indicate that we want to get something done as quickly as possible, said Regier, who spoke to Hodgson’s agent this morning.
Both long- and short-term deals have been discussed, he said.
Hodgson, 23, was acquired by the Sabres at the trade deadline in 2012. In 68 games for Buffalo, the former first-round pick has tallied 42 points (18 goals, 24 assists).
Nicholas Goss is an NHL columnist at Bleacher Report. He was a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final, the 2012 NHL playoffs and the 2013 NHL draft.