Predicting the Contracts for the NHL's Top Restricted Free Agents
There's really nothing worse than being an NHL restricted free agent at this time of year. Players who lack arbitration rights also lack negotiating leverage, which means you almost always have to take whatever the team wants to give you.
Why? Well, for one, an offer sheet may as well be a unicorn or UFO with as often as they are seen in the NHL, and in some cases, the RFAs aren't eligible for an offer sheet. Ryan Johansen of the Columbus Blue Jackets is offer-sheet eligible, but the team has enough cap room to match anything another team could give him, and the Jackets would match anything, so rival teams aren't going to waste their time by driving up the cost of future RFAs and ruining relationships with other executives.
For other RFAs who lack enough service time, like Reilly Smith and Torey Krug of the Boston Bruins and Danny DeKeyser of the Detroit Red Wings, they can't receive offer sheets.
Another thing holding up deals is players waiting to see what comparable players receive before signing their own deals.
At the end of the day, no one on this list is receiving an offer sheet, so just put it out of your mind.
What will these 10 RFAs receive from their teams? For many of them, it will be bridge contracts, which is just a public-relations term to define contracts that the player almost has to sign because he has nowhere else to go. Some negotiations will leak into the start of training camp next month, while others have the potential to drag into the regular season.
When will these players sign? What sort of cap hit and term can they expect?
This slideshow will examine those questions and hopefully help you get through the dog days of August.
John Moore, D, New York Rangers
Why he's unsigned: The Rangers had a lot of priorities this offseason, and John Moore's contract ranks just ahead of whether to use "Baba O'Riley" as the team's entrance music during the regular season. It also didn't help that while other RFAs had arbitration rights, Moore had none, which means he has no negotiating leverage.
The 24-year-old served as the team's No. 6 defenseman last year, but on a team that had success based largely on its depth, he was a helpful part of the team's run to the Stanley Cup Final. But as a player who was healthy scratched last season, the Rangers front office wasn't rushing to get him under contract.
What's the latest: With the Rangers signing of Kevin Hayes last week, the team has about $400,000 in cap space. That's a bit deceptive, as a few players on the active roster will be sent to the AHL before the season starts. Depending on who makes the team, the Rangers should have between $1 million and $1.5 million for Moore.
Prediction: The Rangers and Derek Stepan took contract negotiations into the season in 2013-14, and the same could happen here. When the dust settles, a two-year, $2.6 million contract will be fair for both parties.
Unrelated: Here's the theme song for television show Dear John, which starred Judd Hirsch.
Nino Niederreiter, RW, Minnesota Wild
Why he's unsigned: Nino Niederreiter is in a unique situation. The Islanders could not have utilized him worse during his first two seasons, burying him in the AHL for most of 2010-11, sticking him on a fourth line during most of his 55 games in 2011-12, then stashing him in the minors for the entire 2013 season.
After coming to Minnesota, Niederreiter had 14 goals and 36 points in his first real shot in the NHL. He followed that with three goals and six points in 13 playoff games. All that likely leads to each side having wildly different opinions on the player's worth.
What's the latest: Michael Russo of the Star-Tribune wrote on Aug. 14 that there hasn't been much movement on a deal with Niederreiter or fellow RFA Darcy Kuemper.
“There’s been nothing lately," Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher said. "In the near future, I’m sure I’ll speak with both agents and we’ll just continue the process. I’ll reach out to them in the near future. We’re over a month ‘til camp. We’ll keep plugging along.”
Prediction: A two-year deal makes the most sense here, as Niederreiter can earn a bigger contract in two years, and the Wild may want him to show more after the muddled start to his career. Two years and $6.5 million for Niederreiter is the best guess here.
Unrelated: Here's Chris Farley as El Nino in a Saturday Night Live sketch.
Ryan Ellis, D, Nashville Predators
Why he's unsigned: There doesn't seem to be any extenuating circumstances or sinister motives here. It seems to be the basic differing opinions of a player's value. Ryan Ellis had six goals and 27 points in 80 games last season, playing mostly on the Predators' bottom pairing.
This could be a situation where one party wants a bridge contract while the other wants more term, but when you're an RFA and lack arbitration rights, this is the territory.
What's the latest: Predators GM David Poile spoke with Section 303 two weeks ago and said both sides were "a ways apart."
“We’re really excited about his future, how he played the last half of the season and the possibilities of his type of game under Coach [Peter] Laviolette,” Poile said. “It’s just the type of negotiation where we just haven’t gotten together. But there’s quite a few younger players that are still unsigned on a lot of clubs right now.”
Prediction: This one could take a while, but a two-year deal in the neighborhood of $5.5 million is likely what it takes to get this done.
Unrelated: Here's a clip from the movie Die Hard that features Ellis laughing.
Danny DeKeyser, D, Detroit Red Wings
Why he's unsigned: The answer to this question is generally the same for every player on this list: Danny DeKeyser is an RFA who doesn't have arbitration rights. He had four goals and 23 points in 65 games last season and was second on the team in total ice time and third in even-strength ice time, averaging three seconds fewer per game than Niklas Kronwall.
DeKeyser is 24 years old, having spent three years at Western Michigan, making him a more mature product than most players on this list.
What's the latest: In a breakdown of DeKeyser in the Detroit Free Press, Helene St. James says a deal is "in the pipeline," and while the length of the pipeline is not specified, a deal sounds like it's close.
Prediction: Considering his age, production and value to the team, DeKeyser should get four years and around $14 million, but because of his status, he'll likely have to swallow a two-year deal and get his payday later.
Unrelated: The ending of The Usual Suspects (NSFW) is still pretty great.
Tyson Barrie, D, Colorado Avalanche
Why he's unsigned: Tyson Barrie is an offensive defenseman who posted 13 goals and 38 points last season, which ranked first and second, respectively, among Avalanche defensemen. But in terms of ice time and responsibility, he was more of a bottom-pairing player, which confuses his overall value.
The 23-year-old Barrie very likely wants top-shelf money, while the Avs want to offer let's-wait-and-see money, which is the modus operandi in most RFA situations.
What's the latest: Vice president of hockey operations Joe Sakic had this to say about Barrie to the Denver Post late last week.
"We have four weeks," Sakic said. "Not everything happens right away, and some things take time. I'm confident he'll be here."
Sakic also felt confident about Paul Stastny staying with the Avs, and we all saw how that worked out.
Prediction: This feels like a situation in which a bridge deal will come back to bite the Avs, but considering they are $2.8 million from the cap, that seems to be the most likely outcome here. A deal in the range of two years and $5 million is the probable end game.
Unrelated: Here's some person beating Mike Tyson's Punch-Out by knocking out Tyson in the first round. Nintendo clips—nothing better.
Jaden Schwartz, LW, St. Louis Blues
Why he's unsigned: It's a combination of three things keeping Jaden Schwartz unsigned: the lack of arbitration rights, his outstanding 2013-14 (25 goals, 56 points) and the fact the Blues have only about $3 million in cap space. That's probably a fair cap hit for the 22-year-old, but it's understandable if he believes he's worth a little more than that.
What's the latest: Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch held a chat in late July and had this to say about Schwartz's contract situation.
"I wouldn't be worried. As we've heard countless times, the NHL is a league that responds to deadlines and there is no deadline standing in front of the two sides at this moment."
Truer words were never spoken. Something will get done, but it will probably be done right before or during training camp.
Prediction: Schwartz and the Blues almost have no choice but to go with the vaunted bridge deal, seeing as they are so close to the salary cap already. Schwartz is likely staring down a two-year, $6 million deal or perhaps a smaller dollar amount than that.
Unrelated: If you didn't realize you were getting a Spaceballs clip here, you haven't been paying attention.
Reilly Smith, RW, Boston Bruins
Why he's unsigned: What I will write here will also apply to Torey Krug in the next slide: The Bruins have about $3 million in cap space, and that's probably the bare minimum for what it would take to sign Reilly Smith. Not only did he have a great first year in Boston, posting 20 goals and 51 points, but he will likely have a bigger role this season with the departure of Jarome Iginla.
The Bruins have the most complicated RFA/salary-cap situation of any team in the league, and it won't be solved without a trade or GM Peter Chiarelli playing some extremely hard hardball.
What's the latest: Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe discussed this fact over the weekend, and while it's just speculation, it's informed speculation from one of the best beat writers in the NHL.
"It would be possible to re-up Krug and Smith without moving salary; it would not be preferable. Management would have close to zero roster flexibility to trade or sign players or carry extra bodies.
"A trade, therefore, is coming.
"The Bruins have excess on defense. General Manager Chiarelli has repeatedly classified nine defensemen as contenders for jobs when training camp opens Sept. 18. David Warsofsky, one of the nine, can be assigned to Providence without clearing waivers. But that leaves eight still in varsity play, which is one more than the Bruins usually carry."
Prediction: This one could take a while. But once Chiarelli makes the corresponding move to free cap space, Smith could be in line for a longer deal instead of the customary hold-you-hostage-I-mean-bridge deal. Smith's cap hit could be closer to $4 million, as long as the proper amount of space is cleared, but a one-year deal is in play, too.
Unrelated: Here's John C. Reilly as Steve Brule learning about paninis.
Torey Krug, D, Boston Bruins
Why he's unsigned: What I will write here also applies to Reilly Smith in the previous slide: The Bruins have about $3 million in cap space, and that's probably the bare minimum for what it would take to sign Torey Krug. The 23-year-old had 14 goals and 40 points last season, which ranked him tied for sixth and 23rd in each category among blueliners, respectively.
Just like Smith, Krug lacks arbitration rights. Pair that with the Bruins' cap situation, and this was a deal that was going to take a long time to come together.
What's the latest: Continuing on what Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe has to say on the matter, a trade of a Bruins defenseman needs to happen.
"The Bruins would like to make a hockey trade. They’d prefer an experienced right wing — a right shot, at that — to play on the No. 3 line instead of slotting in a youngster.
"They also need to clear salary. Krug was the leading scorer among rookie defensemen last year. Smith is a good fit alongside Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron and is a back-door threat on the second power-play unit. They deserve raises."
Hockey trades are the No. 1 trades that happen in hockey. But at the end of the day, a hockey trade has to happen for hockey contracts to be signed by these hockey players.
Prediction: Shinzawa foresees one-year deals for both Smith and Krug. That would allow each player to have arbitration rights and more leverage next summer. Their contracts will come down to how much cap space Chiarelli can clear before the start of the season.
Unrelated: I like the Tori Amos song "Silent All These Years," and it was either this or a Tori Spelling clip from Beverly Hills: 90210.
Justin Schultz, D, Edmonton Oilers
Why he's unsigned: Justin Schultz is quite the complicated fellow. After most of the league courted him out of Wisconsin two years ago, Schultz was a disappointment defensively with the Edmonton Oilers. He has 60 points in 122 career games, something that would play well in an arbitration hearing but, as you may have guessed by now, he isn't eligible for arbitration.
Further complicating the situation is the fact that Schultz earned around $3.7 million last season and doesn't want to take a pay cut, despite the fact his play probably doesn't warrant a raise.
What's the latest: Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal had this to say on the Schultz negotiations.
"Long-term vs. a shorter test-drive. Now, it appears, it’ll be two years, or maybe three.
"Certainly not four. That would take him to the precipice of unrestricted free agency and the Oilers are definitely not doing that. They either want to buy some of his UFA years by going five or longer, or they’ll stay two or three years."
Prediction: When P.K. Subban took his bridge deal to a $9 million payday, he signed a two-year deal with a $2.875 million cap hit. That makes all the sense in the world for Schultz, but again, that would require him taking a pay cut. It seems like Schultz and the Oilers will have to come terms on a two- or three-year deal with a $4 million cap hit.
Unrelated: There was a time in our country's history in which someone pitched a sitcom about American soldiers in a German POW camp during World War II and a network said, "Yes, that sounds hilarious!" There was a Sgt. Schultz bafooning his way through episodes, and seriously, this was a real show that ran for years.
Ryan Johansen, C, Columbus Blue Jackets
Why he's unsigned: Ryan Johansen is to 2014 restricted free agency what P.K. Subban was to 2012 restricted free agency. It seems like a no-brainer to give Johansen a long-term deal instead of messing around with a bridge deal, although he's hardly the lock for greatness that Subban was, and that's how Johansen's camp feels.
The Jackets want a short-term deal. Johansen had 33 goals and 63 points last season and wants a long-term deal. The Jackets are holding all the cards, so a deal hasn't gotten done.
What's the latest: This has been a contentious, public negotiation, and in a column from Michael Arace of The Columbus Dispatch, you could drive a truck through the divide between the two sides.
"They have nominally agreed to a two-year term. They are some $3 million apart per year on the value. Johansen’s side is asking for something around $7 million per season, and the Jackets are offering something in the neighborhood of $4 million."
The issue here is Johansen feels he's one of the top centers in the league after last year's performance, while the Jackets don't want to pay an exorbitant amount of money to a player who had 14 goals in 107 games over his first two seasons.
Prediction: Just like with Subban, this has the potential to leak into the start of the regular season. It's good that both sides seem to understand that a two-year deal is the length, but that gap in term is scary if you're a Jackets fan. At the end of the day, Johansen will settle and very likely make the Jackets pay through the nose in two years, just like Subban did with the Canadiens.
Unrelated: A lesser man would close this out with a Scarlet Johansson clip, but since I am a great man, I will close this out with Hanson singing "MMMBop."
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