Restricted Free Agents in Line for a Big NHL Payday in the 2017 Offseason

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistNovember 26, 2016

Restricted Free Agents in Line for a Big NHL Payday in the 2017 Offseason

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    The 2017 crop of NHL restricted free agents is thin on notable talent. Only a handful of the 400 players due to become RFAs, such as Chicago Blackhawks left wing Artemi Panarin, will be in line for substantial raises. 

    Some, like Panarin, are completing their entry-level contracts. Others, such as Los Angeles Kings right wing Tyler Toffoli, are completing their second NHL contracts and have arbitration rights. 

    Here's an early look at the NHL RFAs in line for big paydays in 2017. Feel free to voice your opinion on this topic in the comments section.

Alexander Wennberg, Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Contract Status

    Columbus Blue Jackets center Alexander Wennberg is in the final season of a three-year entry-level contract. His annual cap hit is $925,000, though with bonuses, he'll earn $1.4 million. He lacks arbitration rights.  

        

    Performance

    Wennberg, 22, is a steadily improving asset for the Blue Jackets. After netting only 20 points in 68 games as a rookie in 2014-15, he doubled his point total the following season. Wennberg's tallied 19 points in as many games this season. He's tied for the lead among Blue Jackets' scorers and ranks with the league leaders in assists, with 15. 

         

    Analysis

    Having traded away first-line center Ryan Johansen to the Nashville Predators last season for defenseman Seth Jones, the Jackets have a suitable replacement in Wennberg. He's played a significant role in their surprisingly solid start to 2016-17.

    If Wennberg finishes with over 60 points this season, he could be in line for a substantial raise. With over $68 million invested in next season's payroll, the Jackets don't have much salary-cap room. They could try re-signing him to an affordable short-term deal but could go the long-term route if they shed salary elsewhere.

Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers

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    Claus Andersen/Getty Images

    Contract Status

    Edmonton Oilers center Leon Draisaitl is in the final season of his three-year entry-level contract. The salary cap hit is $925,000, though with bonuses, he can earn up to $3.4 million annually. 

        

    Performance

    Draisaitl enjoyed a breakout season in 2015-16, with 19 goals and 51 points in 72 games. The 21-year-old has seven goals and 16 points in 22 games this season. He's third among Oilers' scorers and on track for a 60-point effort. 

         

    Analysis

    Draisaitl's play should earn him a hefty raise. The previous management wasn't shy about re-signing the team's top players coming off entry-level contracts to lengthy extensions, but it remains to be seen whether general manager Peter Chiarelli follows that tradition.

    The German lacks arbitration rights, so Chiarelli could offer an affordable two-year bridge deal with the promise of a bigger payday down the road. Complicating things for Draisaitl is the fact superstar teammate Connor McDavid will also need a new contract in 2018. The Oilers must ensure they have sufficient space to re-sign both players. 

Alex Galchenyuk, Montreal Canadiens

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    Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

    Contract Status

    Montreal Canadiens center Alex Galchenyuk is completing a two-year contract and holds arbitration rights. His annual average salary is $2.8 million, though he'll earn $3.1 million in actual salary this season

          

    Performance

    The 22-year-old Galchenyuk is steadily developing into a reliable scoring star. In 2015-16, he set career highs in goals (30) and points (56) to finish second in team scoring. He has 21 points in as many games, leading the Canadiens and ranking among the league's top scorers

         

    Analysis

    Galchenyuk is filling a vital role as the Canadiens' first-line center. He'll want to be paid as one. He's on pace for an 80-point performance. If he reaches that total, it would further boost his value with the Habs.

    Having agreed to a short-term bridge contract two years ago, Galchenyuk is in line for a lucrative long-term raise. It could cost the Habs up to $6 million per season on a seven- or eight-year deal. 

Tyler Toffoli, Los Angeles Kings

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    Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

    Contract Status

    A center converted to right wing, Toffoli is completing a two-year contract with the Kings His annual salary-cap hit is $3.25 million, though in actual salary this season, he's earning $3.9 million. The 24-year-old has arbitration rights. 

        

    Performance

    Toffoli's blossomed into a skilled two-way forward for the Kings. Last season, he set career highs in goals (31), assists (27) and points (58). He's also a clutch performer, with 12 game-winning goals and six shorthanded goals in his career. This season, he sits tied for second among the Kings' leading scorers, with 13 points in 21 games. 

        

    Analysis

    In just three years, Toffoli's risen to become a crucial member of the Kings. He should have a long-term future in Los Angeles. Given his value to the Kings, they must be prepared to generously compensate him. It could cost around $5.5 million per year on a long-term deal. 

    Toffoli's contract is a two-year bridge. Only two years away from unrestricted free agency, the Kings must re-sign him to a lucrative long-term extension. With over $60 million already invested in next season's payroll, the Kings must find room to retain him. 

Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Contract Status

    Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov is in the final season of a two-year, $6 million contract. His annual average salary is $3 million, though in actual salary, he's earning $3.4 million in 2016-17. He also has arbitration rights. 

        

    Performance

    In just his second full NHL season, Kuznetsov enjoyed a breakout performance. He led the Capitals in assists (57) and points (77), along with scoring 20 goals in 82 games. This season, the 24-year-old is off to a slow start, with only nine points in 20 games. 

         

    Analysis

    Kuznetsov's poor early-season production could adversely affect his efforts for a big raise on his next contract. He could be feeling the pressure of heightened expectations after last season's stellar effort.

    However, there's still plenty of time to regain his high-scoring form. If Kuznetsnov rallies back over the remainder of this season, his next deal would be longer and more lucrative. He could earn $6 million per season. 

Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Contract Status

    Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Ondrej Palat and center Tyler Johnson are completing identical three-year, $10 million contracts. Their annual salary-cap hits are $3.33 million, but in actual salary, they'll earn $4 million apiece. Both are eligible for salary arbitration. 

        

    Performance

    Palat and Johnson are among the Lightning's core players. Palat, 25, is a strong two-way winger with three seasons of at least 40 points on his resume. Johnson, 26, tallied 72 points in 2014-15. He's also a clutch performer, netting 18 regular-season game-winners and seven in postseason play. 

        

    Analysis

    This season, each player is below his usual scoring pace. Palat has only 12 points in 22 games, and Johnson has 14. However, there's still plenty of time left in this regular season for their production to pick up.

    Given their value to the Lightning, Palat and Johnson will likely get significant raises on long-term deals. With over $60 million already invested in next season's payroll, though, the Lightning could end up shedding salary to make room for their new deals. It could cost the Bolts $12 million in combined salary to re-sign the two. 

Artemi Panarin, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    Contract Status

    Panarin is completing an entry-level deal with the Chicago Blackhawks. The salary-cap hit is $812,500, though with bonuses, he can earn up to $3.5 million per season. Because he's 25 years old, he's eligible for salary arbitration. 

          

    Performance

    Winner of the 2016 Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year, Panarin was the rookie scoring leader with 77 points in 80 games. This season, he's showing no sign of a sophomore slump. With 20 points in 22 games, Panarin is tied for second in team scoring and ranks among the league's leading scorers

          

    Analysis

    Panarin quickly adjusted to the NHL game, becoming a valuable member of the Blackhawks' offense. Ordinarily, a player on a cap-strapped club such as the Blackhawks might receive a two-year bridge deal. Panarin, however, is only two years away from unrestricted free agency.

    The Hawks must re-sign him long term, and that will be expensive. They have over $61 million invested in next season's payroll. Another 70-plus-point performance could see his asking price rise to $6 million per season. That could force the Hawks to trade him or find a way to shed salary to make room for Panarin's new contract. 

        

    Player stats (as of Nov. 25, 2016) per NHL.com. Salary info per CapFriendly

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