Mathew Barzal has developed into one of the leading young scorers in the NHL, and now he is due to get paid on a similar level as the game's top scorers.
The New York Islanders center headlines the list of restricted free agents for the 2020 offseason, and he should be in line for a significant raise from the Eastern Conference side.
A majority of the restricted free agents should end up back with their current teams, but the franchises have to do some salary-cap maneuvering to make the deals work. The Islanders have less cap space to work with than other sides with marquee restricted free agents, like the New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings.
The Rangers were busy on the unrestricted free-agent market last summer, and their task is to lock in Tony DeAngelo after his 50-point campaign. Detroit has more cap space to work with, but along with extending Anthony Mantha, it has plenty of other holes to fill as part of its rebuild.
Predictions for Top Restricted Free Agents
Mathew Barzal, C, New York Islanders
Barzal's production over the past three years commands a more expensive deal. He has three consecutive 60-point seasons, a run that was started by 85 points in his rookie campaign.
The 22-year-old has a base salary of $832,500, and the Islanders should find a way to pay him a much larger salary beginning next season. General manager Lou Lamoriello mentioned in March that the franchise would do everything to match any offers that come in for Barzal, per the team's official website.
"It is our intention to not allow it to get to that point, but should that happen, the answer is yes," he said.
When the regular season was put on hold March 12, the Islanders were in the middle of a push toward the playoffs.
The postseason quest was the team's primary focus, not working on the specifics of a deal, as Barzal noted to NHL.com's Brian Compton:
"There's bigger things we've got to worry about right now in terms of heading to the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs this year. But at the same time, whenever we're ready to sit down and get it done, I'd love for that to happen. At the same time, I'm not a person that's just going to rush this thing or get nervous about it or whatever. I'm just going about my day, and it'll happen when it happens."
The Islanders have $14.6 million in salary-cap space to work with for the 2020-21 season, and they recently signed Jean-Gabriel Pageau to a six-year deal worth $30 million after acquiring him from the Ottawa Senators.
Given their willingness to spend and the potential to contend with the best teams in the Eastern Conference, the Islanders should try to lock down Barzal for the foreseeable future. The best-case scenario for the young Canadian is to sign a deal similar to that of the Toronto Maple Leafs' Mitch Marner, who inked a six-year, $65 million contract as a restricted free agent in 2019.
Marner, also 22, had two 60-point seasons before erupting for 94 points during the 2018-19 campaign.
If Barzal wants to stay around for the long term, his minimum asking price should be what Pageau received from the Islanders. Pageau has two 40-point seasons in his career and is five years older than his teammate. He could also demand to have the highest average annual value on the team, which is currently set at $7 million for next season on captain Anders Lee's contract.
Prediction: Barzal agrees to six-year, $45 million deal.
Tony DeAngelo, D, New York Rangers
The Islanders' crosstown rival has more money to spend in the offseason, and some of the $21.5 million in cap space should be used on a long-term deal for DeAngelo.
The 24-year-old defenseman has developed into a more important part of the Rangers offense this season by increasing his point total from 30 to 53. DeAngelo is making $925,000 and could demand around $5 million AAV on his next contract.
His offensive prowess should convince the Rangers to keep him on a long-term basis. He is the team's top scoring defenseman and ranks fourth in points by a defender in the NHL.
The Rangers made a long-term commitment to their forward line last offseason by signing Artemi Panarin, who is third in the league in points behind Edmonton Oilers pair Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid.
Although an extended deal does make sense, the Rangers could be in a tough situation at the position.
They committed $56 million over seven years to Jacob Trouba and have to improve Adam Fox's rookie deal at some point. Shedding some of Henrik Lundqvist's salary could work to ease the burden on future cap constraints since the Rangers have a pair of young goalies to rely on.
If DeAngelo can be a 50-point player on a consistent basis, the Rangers should push their salary concerns to the side and secure his services during the prime of his career.
Prediction: Rangers sign DeAngelo to five-year, $30 million contract.
Anthony Mantha, RW, Detroit
Mantha has 38 points in 43 appearances for the Red Wings this season, and he has been two points shy of 50 in the previous two campaigns.
The 25-year-old is earning $3.3 million this season, and a larger deal could be in his future because of his upward trajectory on offense.
Mantha told reporters in March that he was looking to stay in Detroit for an extended period, per WXYZ-TV's Brad Galli.
"Hopefully I could stay here for a long time," he said. "That's what I want. I want to change this team around."
Mantha may have had more leverage if he were healthy for the entire season, but earning close to a point per game proves to Detroit he can be a consistent force.
The Red Wings can use him as part of their foundation for the future as they try to bounce back from a league-worst point total. Dylan Larkin's five-year, $30.5 million contract is the most expensive one on Detroit's books for next season, but that could change if it makes a splash in free agency.
A deal similar to Larkin's could be the base for Mantha's demands, and he could go a bit higher if he wants an even longer contract.
Prediction: Red Wings lock up Mantha on six-year, $37 million deal.