10 Restricted NHL Free Agents Set for Big Paydays in 2014 Offseason

Allan MitchellFeatured ColumnistDecember 24, 2013

10 Restricted NHL Free Agents Set for Big Paydays in 2014 Offseason

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    NHL teams get their best value from entry-level deals, and they can often find terrific value in the bridge contract. After that, they are going to be paying in full for top quality production.

    In the summer of 2014, there's a long list of top-flight youngsters coming of age and poised to cash in. Many are badly underpaid based on pure performance but have had to endure the years of price controls dictated by the CBA.

    Chances are that some of the contracts signed this coming summer will shock and amaze fans. That bridge contract looks good for a while, but when it comes time to pay, NHL teams are going to have sticker shock.

10. Mark Arcobello, C, Edmonton Oilers

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    What He's Done 

    Signed out of Yale to an AHL contract, Mark Arcobello has worked his way up to the NHL roster and is establishing himself as a useful two-way player with the Oilers this season. Arcobello was among rookie leaders in assists early in the year and took advantage of Sam Gagner's injury to play a bigger role for the club. His first-half numbers (31GP, 3-13-16) have been impressive.

     

    2013-14 Outlook

    Arcobello is currently injured, but with the Oilers struggling at both ends of the ice, he'll get a great chance to play his way back into the heart of the roster when he returns to action.

     

    What He'll Cost

    Arcobello is a Group Six free agent making $600,000 this season and will become an unrestricted free agent if he plays fewer than 34 of the team's final 43 games. It is likely Edmonton will sign him before the offseason, and a contract in the range of $1 million is likely. 

9. Antoine Roussel, LW, Dallas Stars

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    What He's Done

    Antoine Roussel turned pro in 2010 as a marginal AHL player and slowly worked his way up the depth chart. He signed with Dallas as a free agent in 2012 and quickly made his way to the NHL through hard work and responsible play.

     

    2013-14 Outlook

    He was a real long shot for NHL hockey, having no single skill that ranks above average. However, Roussel found a way to make himself useful as he spent more time playing the pro game. He's a physical player who works hard at both ends of the ice and has enough offensive ability to play a regular shift.

     

    What He'll Cost

    Roussel will get a large boost from his $625,000 contract in the offseason. It's likely his contract will come in over $1 million, and with the increased cap, it could end up being significantly higher.

8. Dwight King, LW, Los Angeles Kings

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    What He's Done

    Dwight King is a big, rugged winger who spent over three seasons in the AHL working to become a useful player. His unique combination of size (6'4", 232 lbs) and ability to lean on people allows him plenty of ice time.

     

    2013-14 Outlook

    King has played more than 100 NHL games and seems to be coming into his own with Los Angeles. His playing time has increased (now over 15 minutes a game), and his offense (37GP, 10-7-17) suggests he can take on a greater role.

     

    What He'll Cost

    King is a true bargain at $750,000 a year, and with a 20-goal season possible in 2013-14, there's a good chance he'll earn more than $1.5 million per year in his next contract.

7. Tommy Wingels, RW, San Jose Sharks

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    What He's Done

    Tommy Wingels was a late-round pick in 2008, and he turned pro in 2010. His first season in the AHL showed him to be a versatile forward who could play either wing and score enough to move up to a skill line.

     

    2013-14 Outlook

    This season, he's blossomed offensively and is on pace for a 20-goal, 50-point season. This suggests he's moved into an area where he can manage being a complementary player offensively while still looking after the defensive aspects of the game.

     

    What He'll Cost

    Wingels is at $700,000 this season and is due a healthy raise. A team like San Jose is unlikely to pay too much for a player who doesn't drive the bus, so a cap number in the range of $1.5 million to $1.7 million is likely.

6. Reilly Smith, LW, Boston Bruins

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    What He's Done

    Reilly Smith was a secondary part of the big Tyler Seguin-Loui Eriksson trade this summer and arrived in Boston as something of an unknown. He has been a revelation, showing greater offensive ability than expected and playing a strong two-way game.

     

    2013-14 Outlook

    He is 22 years old and scored 14 goals in 45 AHL games last year during his pro debut. Although he had two big offensive seasons in college (28 and 30 goals, respectively), the outburst is a surprise.

     

    What He'll Cost

    Smith's entry-level deal is for $900,000 and burns off this season. If he continues on his current pace, the Bruins are looking at something about $1.7 million or more to re-sign him.

5. Eric Gelinas, D, New Jersey Devils

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    What He's Done

    Eric Gelinas was drafted in 2009, and the tall, lanky rearguard took little time moving up the pro depth chart. His first AHL season in 2011-12 showed excellent promise, and he arrived in the NHL this season. So far, he's been outstanding (29GP, 4-11-15) and is earning Calder Trophy consideration.

     

    2013-14 Outlook

    Gelinas is just getting started, and he stepped right into the lineup when the Devils were struggling and hasn't missed a beat. His combination of size and skill makes him a very valuable young player.

     

    What He'll Cost

    New Jersey will probably look to sign Gelinas to a bridge contract before buying free-agent seasons. He's currently making $660,000 per season and is likely to be over $1.5 million a year on his next deal.

4. Jaden Schwartz, C, St. Louis Blues

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    What He's Done

    Jaden Schwartz was a first-round pick in 2010 and turned pro in 2012, making quick work of the minor leagues. He played limited minutes in 2012-13 but has blossomed this year (34GP, 11-15-26) and is on pace for a 60-point season.

     

    2013-14 Outlook

    He's a speed demon with terrific offensive talent and no fear of traffic areas, and that's a very nice combination. Schwartz lacks experience, but the success he's enjoyed since arriving in pro hockey suggests he's going to be around for a long time.

     

    What He'll Cost

    His entry-level deal is ending this season. It comes with a $830,000 cap hit. Based on current performance, his bridge deal should be in the $2 million range for St. Louis.

3. Robin Lehner, G, Ottawa Senators

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    What He's Done

    The 2009 draft pick has been a famous prospect for a few years now and is emerging as the superior goaltending option in Ottawa. Since turning pro in 2010, Robin Lehner has played at least five games in each NHL season. This year, his .926 save percentage sparkles, and he'll be the No. 1 man with the Senators soon.

     

    2013-14 Outlook

    It seems as though Lehner has been around forever, but he's just 22 years old and has a very bright future. Among the players on this list, he is the most likely to sustain his role, and the starting job is just around the corner.

     

    What He'll Cost

    He's an $870,000 cap hit and just coming out of his entry-level deal, meaning a bridge contract is the next logical step. However, the frugal Senators have been known to ignore bridge deals and sign players to long-term deals. If they choose to go that route, Lehner could be earning more than $3 million this coming season.

2. Ryan Johansen, C, Columbus Blue Jackets

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    What He's Done

    Ryan Johansen is a 2010 lottery pick for the Blue Jackets, but like so many of their selections, his development didn't go in a straight line. He arrived in the NHL at age 19, and his first two seasons were uneven and without offensive flair. This has been the breakout year for Johansen, who is on pace for a 30-goal, 60-point showing.

     

    2013-14 Outlook

    Johansen is among the most naturally talented young centers in the NHL, his combination of size and skill making him a truly valuable young asset. The Blue Jackets were patient with him, and it looks like it'll pay off for them. He is a big center who can play effectively on a top line for years.

     

    What He'll Cost

    Johansen's entry-level deal comes with an $870,000 cap hit, and it's likely the player will want to sign a bridge deal to get a bigger payday down the line. I wouldn't be surprised to see the team push for a contract that buys some free-agent seasons, meaning he could have a $3 million cap hit next year.

1. P.K. Subban, D, Montreal Canadiens

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    What He's Done

    The 2007 draft pick is one of the most exciting players in the NHL. His impressive offense (on pace for close to 60 points) added to his ability to play a shutdown defensive role makes P.K. Subban a rare and valuable asset. Subban's Norris Trophy is a reflection of his status as a quality NHL defenseman. 

     

    2013-14 Outlook

    He's 24 years old, playing at a high level and making positive things happen for Montreal. The outlook is extremely bright for Subban, who has given Montreal quality production since arriving in the NHL in 2010.

     

    What He'll Cost

    Montreal's negotiations with Subban weren't friendly on the bridge deal a couple of years ago, and now some of the power has transferred to the player. Subban's cap hit is $2,875,000, and he isn't far from unrestricted free agency. It's easy to create a scenario in which he gets a long-term deal in excess of $6 million a year from the Habs—or finds himself in another NHL city.