World Cup restricted free agents shrug off contract uncertainty

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(Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
(Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

TORONTO – For Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau, the business of hockey has been difficult for the last several months.

He hasn’t enjoyed the day-in-day-out offseason grind of wondering when a new contract will get done.

“Honestly throughout the whole summer contract situation has been so painful … just every day, just something that’s on my mind,” Gaudreau said.

For several high-end restricted free agents like Gaudreau, the World Cup of Hockey is a break from the monotony of sitting around and wondering when a new contract will get finished. Gaudreau will suit up as a winger for Team North America in the tournament, which starts Saturday.

“This tournament has helped me not worry about that to play hockey and have fun,” Gaudreau said.

Added Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba who is also playing for Team North America, “It’s actually been kind of nice to be on a team and be in a locker room again. It kind of got my mind off it actually so I haven’t really dealt with it while we’re here. I’m focused on tis team and looking forward to being a part of this.”

A strong World Cup of Hockey for players could potentially put pressure on teams to make a better contract offer to the player. But it can also harm a player’s chances of a deal to his liking if there’s an injury.

Gaudreau said he took out extra insurance to help put his mind at ease. But would the Flames give Gaudreau a contract worth near $8 million per-year that the forward is reportedly seeking if he suffered an injury problem that became chronic?

Gaudreau saw this tournament as too good to pass up, even if it could impact the negotiation of a new contract in a negative way.

“I was looking forward to playing the tournament right away,” Gaudreau said. “I know we had a few discussions about not playing if I didn’t have a contract. You don’t get many chances to play in the World Cup so I was like ‘let’s get some insurance and I really want to play in this tournament.’”

Restricted free agent players in the tournament without contracts are all looking at their situations differently.

Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov, who is playing for Russia in the World Cup refused to answer any question about his contract. Anaheim Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm, who is playing for Team Sweden, intimated he is a bit shocked that he’s currently playing an NHL/NHLPA sanctioned event without a new deal.

“Maybe a little bit surprised but I can’t do much more than play hockey and focus on my stuff and then whenever they want me to get signed I’ll get signed,” Lindholm said. “I can’t push them to make those moves, they have to make them themselves. It’s out of my hands and out of my control so that’s nothing I’m focusing on.”

Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, who is playing with Finland, is another RFA looking for a deal and isn’t pleased with the fact that he’s still unsigned.

“It doesn’t bother me, but of course I’m not happy how things are going this far,” he said. “It is what it is. Now it’s Team Finland. I have my focus here 100 percent and let’s see what happens after.”

Washington Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov wasn’t that worried about his contract. As restricted free agents, deals for these players often do get done – even if they sometimes get down to the wire.

“I feel fine about that. It’s going to be for sure I will sign, not now maybe later,” Orlov said. “I feel fine about that and focus on tournament and it’s always fun and nice to play for your country when you get a chance especially in the World Cup because all the best players from all countries are here.”

All players said they had consulted their agents on their decisions to play and their representatives figured out the best type of coverage.

“Yeah, I mean it was my decision at the end of the day and we figured out all the insurance and all that stuff beforehand,” Trouba said. “This is something I really wanted to do and I was going to do it either way.”

If anything, the World Cup pushes back the deadline of a contract being completed. There’s no worry about whether a player won’t go to training camp without a deal because the World Cup cuts into camp.

“Honestly, I haven’t even spoken with my agent in about a week and a half,” Gaudreau said. “I’ll let him do whatever he thinks is best and we’ll go from there at the end of the tournament.”

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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