A week from now it’ll be August, and that is starting to get perilously close to World Cup time for a lot of teams as they prepare for the 2016-17 season.
And yet, there are a lot of restricted free agents who remain unsigned for next year, and who really should have been locked down by now. Of course, there may be many reasons why teams are holding off from making these deals — and certainly, none feel harried by the threat of an offer sheet — but the fact remains that some these are guys who are going to get paid pretty decent chunks of change for several years to come.
So why wait? Might be a negotiating tactic from the other side, honestly. And sometimes these deals just take a while to come together regardless of how much a team likes or dislikes a guy.
However, there are some players who I’d have really thought their teams would be running through walls to get re-signed, and it just hasn’t happened yet.
7. Rasmus Ristolainen, Buffalo Sabres
I include Ristolainen not because I think he’s particularly good, but because he’s one of those guys whose team projects him to be a future star.
Ristolainen is 21 and the Sabres think he might be a future No. 1 guy. And sure, the stats suggest that he’s more like a “Jack Johnson” type of No. 1 guy than, say, a “Drew Doughty” type, but if that’s what they think, that’s what they think.
Here’s Tim Murray from the beginning of July on the prospect of re-signing their man: “Both sides probably know where we’re traveling to as far as a number. They tell us that he really wants to be here and certainly, we want him to be here. It’s not going to be an easy thing to hammer out and it’s not going to be cheap. But with young, good players, you tie them up and keep going.”
Team and player alike seem to want long-term deals, and if they’re looking at Seth Jones as a comparable, that contract probably doesn’t hurt too badly. (They should not, however, be looking at Seth Jones as a comparable. Giving Ristolainen more than $4 million would be lighting money on fire, and even that’s being generous). The team has plenty of cap space for next year — nearly $9.7 million — so maybe dollars are a sticking point. Or maybe the Sabres just came to the correct conclusion that Ristolainen isn’t as good as most people in the Buffalo area seem to think. But probably not.
It is, however, worth noting that the Sabres also haven’t re-signed Zemgus Girgensons, another guy they’d probably be wise to lock up long-term. They’re the only two NHLers the Sabres have left unsigned. So maybe that’s just how it goes.
6. Jacob Trouba, Winnipeg Jets
This one remains a little difficult to figure out, to some extent. However, with the Jets being a budget team and their actual salaries due next year coming in at about $64.5 million already, the fact that they have cap space is more or less irrelevant. The odds that they’re pushing up to their internal spending ceiling are quite high.
And the fact is that even if they wanted to spend to the actual cap, Trouba would probably take up most of the more than $7.5 million they have to spare. He’s very well-regarded and for pretty good reason, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility that he gets up to the $6 million AAV area. But if they don’t have the internal budget to make it happen for themselves, then it’s potentially more likely that he’s traded for futures than retained by Winnipeg. Especially as time goes on.
Again, there’s probably not much of a threat of an offer sheet here, despite what some reports a few weeks ago said. If it hasn’t come by now, the odds that someone decides, “Ah hell, let’s go for it,” in late July seem narrow. That’s simply not how the NHL works, especially with a flat cap and the widespread belief that offer sheets are inherently inflationary (I’m not sure I agree, but that’s the feeling out there for sure).
At this point maybe you’d be more surprised to see Trouba re-sign than go somewhere else via trade. With very little in the way of actual insight into the thinking for that tight-lipped front office, it’s certainly starting to look like there’s just as good a chance that happens as him actually re-signing with Winnipeg.
5. Petr Mrazek, Detroit Red Wings
This is another guy who is probably liked a little more by his own employer than he probably should be, but given the people the Wings went out and spent money on this summer, you’d have thought this contract would have gotten done earlier.
Mrazek has a pretty decent track record in 94 appearances over four seasons, but obviously he went .921 in 54 games last year and took over the starting job from Jimmy Howard. Perhaps the team’s inability to offload Howard is the reason Mrazek hasn’t been signed yet, and perhaps the Red Wings’ lack of actual cap space to make such a deal is at play. Given who they brought in, how they went from having the money to sign Stamkos-plus to having less than $3.3 million is truly amazing.
He probably has a little more to prove before he earns a big-time deal — ask Jonathan Bernier how many backups have performed well in fewer than 100 career performances and quickly fallen out of favor when handed the starters’ role long-term — but it’s a deal that should have been done by now.
4. Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames
Pretty surprising that the Flames haven’t moved to get Monahan — a guy they apparently consider to be their No. 1 center for the next decade — under contract. The Flames have plenty of cap space, almost $15 million and only Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau (spoiler alert: Gaudreau is No. 1 on this list) to re-sign. The Flames also have UFA Jakub Nakladal, who they quite like, still on the market but no one else has bitten yet, so who knows?
But to be fair to the Flames, there are two things to keep in mind here: 1) The Flames didn’t even re-sign captain and franchise defenseman Mark Giordano until Aug. 25 last year, so they might just work slowly on big, long-term deals everyone knows is coming, and 2) They have to be really careful about spending money even if they have the cap space right now.
To address the second thing first: Sam Bennett needs a new contract after this coming season, and while a bunch of poorly spent money is coming off the books (from Dennis Wideman, Ladislav Smid, Deryk Engelland, and Brandon Bollig, specifically) that’s a lot of guys to replace with at least comparable or perhaps even better players next summer.
To address the first thing second: Monahan and Gaudreau are clearly guys the Flames want around until they’re not playing hockey anymore. And while opinions of Monahan are probably a little higher league-wide than they ought to be, he’s still a good No. 2 center for just about anyone.
Would it surprise anyone to see Monahan and Gaudreau get the exact same deal in the next week or two before they both play for the 23U team at the World Cup? I gotta say no.
3. Tyson Barrie, Colorado Avalanche
Okay I think we all know why Barrie hasn’t signed yet: The Avs seem not to like him very much.
But man, he’s really good. They see him as a No. 4-5 power play specialist, which is frankly insane, but the Avs have done a good job of improving their blue line overall. He’s still the best player on it by a decent enough margin that this shouldn’t be an issue, but we’ve come to expect Colorado to misevaluate its special players.
It’s very likely that Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy would prefer to see Barrie come in around Francois Beauchemin’s $4.5 million price tag, but I’d like to be a rich astronaut and we can’t always get what we’d like. Barrie is a $6 million defenseman, full stop.
This is another situation where a trade might actually be less surprising than a contract. Not that it makes any damn sense.
2. Hampus Lindholm, Anaheim Ducks
Lindholm was legitimately one of the 10 or so best defensemen in the league last season, so the fact that Anaheim prioritized anyone over him this summer is a little confusing. To be fair, Sami Vatanen is also very, very good, so you gotta lock him up too. And also to be fair, the Ducks are a budget team. And also also to be fair, the Ducks haven’t re-signed Rickard Rakell either.
Both are very good young players who deserve plenty of money on long-term deals. One wonders what has to shake loose for them to get this figured out, honestly. If there’s anyone to offer-sheet in this RFA class, it’s Lindholm, not Trouba. He’d have been the best defenseman on most teams last year. But there is, again, no threat of that happening.
1. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
See all the stuff above about Monahan but factor in that Gaudreau is a lot better than him. Give him $7.5 million a year. He’s probably more than worth it.
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