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The NHL’s arbitration season is now officially over with Tyson Barrie signing a four-year contract the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday.
Barrie’s case was the final one on the docket.
Filing for arbitration can be used as a negotiation tactic to put a deadline on contracts and now that those deals are done the attention moves to the rest of the restricted free agents who haven’t been signed.
Some negotiations have appeared to be difficult with both sides evaluating the player’s worth differently – this is reportedly the case with Jacob Trouba.
Other teams are trying to make their contracts work with the salary cap along with their internal salary structure like the Anaheim Ducks with Hampus Lindholm and Rickard Rakell.
The Tampa Bay Lightning locked up all their important restricted free agents and unrestricted free agents so now they need to manage their salary cap in a way that enables them to sign Nikita Kucherov and leave enough space for Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat next summer.
It’s simply unclear what’s taking the Calgary Flames so long to get franchise cornerstones Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan signed. Both will get paid, but the longer the team waits the more questions pop up.
We delve into all these issues with our five restricted free agent situations worth watching and why they’re important.
5. Rasmus Ristolainen and the Buffalo Sabres
The 21-year-old Ristolainen developed rapidly in the past year going from 20 points in 78 games in 2104-15 to 41 points in 82 games in 2015-16.
Die by the Blade pointed out how he turned from a raw, young blue liner to an all-situations player averaging 25:17 of ice-time per-game.
Risto does everything required of him as a defenseman. He blocks shots, hits forwards, clears the blue ice around the goalie, gets pucks out of the zone, joins the rush, pinches decently enough and is a big part of the special teams setup. He’s got plenty of time to continue to add muscle and work on different aspects of his game.
The down side of Ristolainen’s game involves his advanced stats. He held a minus-3.81 score and venue adjusted 5-on-5 CF% and a 44.44 5-on-5 score and venue adjusted CF%.
Will these numbers improve as the Sabres get better or are they symptomatic of a less-than-stellar puck possession game? This probably weighs in Buffalo’s thinking on the matter.
4. Rickard Rakell and Hampus Lindhom and the Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks have $9,270,834 million in salary cap space, which is an issue in these negotiations.
Last season, Lindholm was a do-it-all defenseman for the Ducks who averaged 22:00 minutes per-game with a career-high with 10 goals. He also held a 57.97 score and venue adjusted 5-on-5 CF% as well as a plus-7.39 5-on-5 CF% Rel.
It would make sense if the 22-year-old Lindholm received something similar to the $32.4 million contract Seth Jones received from the Columbus Blue Jackets.
After the Ducks picked Rakell 30th overall in 2011 he developed into one of the more underrated talents in the organization. Last season he took the next step in production, more than doubling his career-high goal total from nine in 2014-15 to 20 in 2015-16.
The Orange County Register says that a long-term $4 million per-year contract is probable.
If Lindholm gets $5.4 million annually and the 23-year-old Rakell gets $4 million that puts the Ducks over the cap, which means another salary will need to be moved. Anaheim is also a budget team which increases the likelihood that another move could happen to get both players signed. Cam Fowler’s name had been mentioned in the past, but he hasn’t been moved yet.
3. Jacob Trouba and the Winnipeg Jets
There seems to be a disconnect between the Jets and the 22-year-old defenseman in terms of value. On “That’s Hockey” TSN’s Gary Lawless said Trouba sees himself as a vital cog with the team.
“Jacob Trouba doesn’t want to play in the bottom pairing anymore,” Lawless said according to The Score. “He wants to play with Dustin Byfuglien or one of the other top four D in Winnipeg. He wants power-play time. He wants to be a big part of what they’re doing in Winnipeg if he’s going to be here for a long time.”
Do the Jets feel the same way?
In December it was reported Trouba wanted more than $56 million over eight years, a report his agent denied.
The Winnipeg Sun pointed out that there is no deadline – at least until training camp starts. The Sun also noted that Trouba seemed to “plateau” over the last few years. If you’re the Jets, do you give an asset that may not improve to his once perceived ceiling a long-term deal, or a shorter-term ‘show me’ type contract to motivate him.
Wrote the Sun:
Trouba’s best hockey is likely ahead of him as well, but is he going to blossom into a top-pairing blue-liner or be an excellent No. 3?
The answer to that question varies depending on who you talk to and is the most likely stumbling block in ironing out this next contract.
As a rookie in 2013-14, Trouba had 29 points in 65 games played, but last year notched 21 points in 81 games.
2. Nikita Kucherov and the Tampa Bay Lightning
Last season the 23-year-old Kucherov turned into one of the top weapons on the wing in the NHL. He scored a career high 66 points in 77 games – which was a higher points per-game rate than captain Steven Stamkos.
In the playoffs, Kucherov was the engine that drove the Lightning to within one game of their second straight Stanley Cup Final appearance with 19 points in 17 games played.
He held a plus-2.65 score and venue adjusted 5-on-5 CF% rel and a 54.67 CF% in the regular season.
General manager Steve Yzerman recently said he wasn’t worried on the ability to come to terms with Kucherov.
“We continue to communicate with his representation,” Yzerman said in a recent interview with the Tampa Bay Times. “And we expect to have him under contract to start the season.”
Currently the Lightning have $6,591,667 million of salary cap space for next season with the team also needing to re-sign Nikita Nesterov.
The bigger issue will come the following summer where Tampa has just over $55 million committed to 25 contracts. The team needs to re-sign Johnson and Palat that offseason and Kucherov’s contract will no doubt impact this.
1. Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan with the Calgary Flames
The Flames have a lot of cap space at their disposal ($14,969,601) to get these contracts done and both players are going to get large raises of their entry-level deals.
Last season Gaudreau finished sixth in the NHL in scoring with 78 points. He’s a wizard with the puck and a draw every night for the Flames at home or on the road.
Former coach Bob Hartley often praised Monahan all-situations center who can plug the middle for the team for many years.
The Hockey Writers recently looked at Gaudreau’s comparables and noted Vladimir Tarasenko (eight years at $60 million for a $7.5 million per-year salary cap hit) as the main measuring stick. This would put Gaudreau around the $7 million per-year range, probably over that number.
Monahan’s main comparables are Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon ($44.1 million over seven years for $6.3 million cap hit) and Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov who got a six-year $35.4 million contract at a $5.9 million salary cap hit in his most recent deal.
The Flames have just $36,763,733 million committed to 23 contracts for next offseason. The only major restricted free agent they’ll need to re-sign is young center Sam Bennett. It seemed like a no-brainer to get these contracts finished early in the summer. The fact that they’ve gone this long is somewhat surprising.
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