Huge If True: What's happening with unsigned NHL RFAs?
[Breaking down the plausibility of the week’s biggest rumor.]
The regular season gets closer every day, but there are still a few high-profile unsigned restricted free agents who need new contracts before the season starts.
The biggest and most obvious of these, this week at least, is Jacob Trouba, whose agent recently revealed a trade request made back in May. But in terms of unsigned young stars, he’s actually a rather faint one. Names like Nikita Kucherov, Johnny Gaudreau and Hampus Lindholm are still out there sans contract; and with the World Cup of Hockey wrapping up this week, one assumes a lot more work to get deals done will begin shortly thereafter.
But even ahead of the official end of the World Cup — congratulations to Canada, by the way — it seems many people are turning their attention to this issue. Most notably, Bob McKenzie gave us the mother of all RFA rumor roundups this week, supplementing plenty of other reporting on the subject that has been widely circulated in recent weeks.
Just to rattle off the list of names he addressed in his Wednesday morning tweetstorm: Tobias Rieder, Rasmus Ristolainen, Lindholm, Trouba, Kucherov and Gaudreau.
Who’s Going Where?
To start with Rieder, whose status doesn’t get discussed much both because he’s not an overwhelming player (and certainly not a household name) playing in a market that doesn’t get a lot of media attention. He had 14 goals and 37 points last year, and McKenzie says he wants a two-year, $5 million bridge deal ($2.5 million AAV). Arizona doesn’t want to give him that much.
It was reported by Sarah McLellan down in Arizona that Rieder won’t show up to camp even after Europe is eliminated from the World Cup finals. His agent is citing things like intangibles as to why Rieder is worth $2.5 million against the cap. I don’t even think it needs to be an intangible argument; he is very tangibly worth that much. John Chayka calls the situation “disappointing” but can’t fish between the couch cushions for $300,000 more per year.
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So Rieder could take a few hundred grand less on such a short-term deal, McKenzie says. Or he could pull a Trouba and demand a trade. Or he could go to the KHL. Or he could just hold out (which, yeah, I know it’s not technically a holdout because he isn’t under contract).
Meanwhile, Anaheim is looking at other potential hurdles with Hampus Lindholm. Mainly that he won’t take short money just to get a contract in; he uses the term “skambud” which roughly translates as “a shamefully low offer.” He also says he believes the two sides are “a decent distance” apart on a deal, and later vaguely threatens to play elsewhere (the KHL?) if a deal can’t be reached, saying he won’t “just sit in the stands and cash in.”
McKenzie says both he and Rasmus Ristolainen, who hasn’t reported to Buffalo camp for obvious reasons, are looking for deals in the $6-6.5 million AAV range, while their clubs want to keep that number about a million dollars lower. However, Ristolainen also said at the World Cup that he thinks a deal can get done before the season starts.
This is probably also the case for Trouba, McKenzie says, but if he is traded that could make a contract happen fast. Presumably anyone who gives up what Winnipeg is looking for in such a trade highly values Trouba and would pay him commensurately. However, it’s unlikely he’d sign an offer sheet because that just gives Winnipeg the chance to match and then he’s stuck there, which he doesn’t want.
Moving on to Kucherov, he probably wants a little more than $6 million a year for six seasons, which seems perfectly fair. Everyone including the Bolts would agree there. But Tampa doesn’t have much cap room right now, and might need him to take a bridge deal just to make things work. They might not want to, but that’s where they’re at until Ben Bishop is traded. And even then, multiple high-value RFAs are up to be re-signed at the end of this coming season.
Last week Yzerman said the team really wants to re-sign Kucherov, for obvious reasons. They want it done ASAP, too. They recently re-signed Nikita Nesterov (one year on short money), so that’s another consideration cleared out of the way. Likewise, Kucherov is already talking like he’s been re-signed, telling the Tampa Bay Times last week, “It’s a great chance to go on another run at the Stanley Cup.”
As for Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary wants him to take something in the neighborhood of $6-6.5 million — in line with the richest contracts on the team — while the player has been long reported with an ask of $8 million AAV. The argument in Calgary’s favor is that Gaudreau falls into a weird category of RFA that doesn’t even technically make him a free agent. He is, instead, a 10.2(c) player, which means he can’t be offer-sheeted at all because he doesn’t have three years of pro experience. To that end, Calgary asks why it should go that in-pocket for a player who has literally no leverage other than withholding his services.
The Flames are optimistic Gaudreau will re-sign as training camp continues without him, but McKenzie suggests the player could be holding out for more than the originally reported $8 million. And also that there hasn’t been any discussion lately.
The thing to keep in mind here is that these are all players teams would rather re-sign than trade, let walk, see leave for some foreign league, etc.
Because pretty much all of these guys are coming off entry-level deals and probably don’t have a huge amount of money in the bank, the likelihood of a holdout of more than a few games — like PK Subban a few years ago — seems pretty remote. The threat of a KHL defection for a guy like Rieder seems pretty real, because mid-level European-born players are exactly the types the KHL can successfully poach with tax-free contracts and a chance to play a bigger role (because the teams aren’t good).
One imagines that Lindholm doesn’t fall into that category, though, because he’s elite in the NHL, only 22, and is a key player for Anaheim. Rieder doesn’t fit that bill for Arizona, as evidenced by Chayka squeezing him for like a quarter of a million dollars. And Buffalo likes Ristolainen enough to make a flight to another continent unlikely as well.
This is also true, to a lesser extent, with Kucherov, whose issues stem more from his team being too good and having to sign a ton of players for big money. Both sides want a deal to get done, so one imagines it will sooner than later.
As for Gaudreau, the revelations of him maybe wanting as much as $2 million more per season than the team would like, and the total lack of negotiations of late? Yeesh. That’s worrisome. Don’t know how you sort that out in two weeks, but it’s Johnny freakin’ Gaudreau, so Brad Treliving will figure something out, I’m sure.
This Is So Huge, If True: Is It True?
On a B.S. detector scale of 1-5, with one being the most reasonable and 5 being the least:
Here we go:
Rieder takes less money than he wants:
Rieder goes to the KHL:
(Slightly more likely than taking a bit less than he wants in Arizona.)
Trouba gets traded:
Trouba re-signs and Winnipeg trades another right-shot D:
Trouba gets offer-sheeted:
(No one is gonna get offer-sheeted.)
Lindholm signs for more than $6 million AAV:
Lindholm signs for less than $6 million AAV:
Ristolainen signs for more than $6 million AAV:
Ristolainen signs for less than $6 million AAV:
Kucherov signs something like $6 million times six:
Kucherov signs a short-term bridge deal:
Gaudreau signs north of $7 million:
Gaudreau takes a Monahan contract:
Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.
(All statistics via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)
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