It’s finally time to get excited: the 2018-19 season is just around the corner. With rookie showcases and training camps about to get underway, it’s time to put away the golf clubs and pick up the composites. It’s been quite a long summer (unless you live in Calgary, where catching rays outdoors was largely replaced with staying indoors to avoid the smoke), but hockey is almost back!
Many players are starting their commutes back to their respective NHL cities, but a handful of players still find themselves in a tricky spot. Every year, a group of players ends up waiting as long as possible before inking their new deals: the restricted free agents without arbitration rights. The majority of the time it comes down to a disagreement between team and player on two things: term and AAV. There are currently fourteen players in this category who remain without a contract.
Where do these negotiation stand as of this moment? Where does the biggest concern lie from a team and player perspective? We investigate ten of the most intriguing RFA situations remaining below, excluding the four players who more likely than not will be AHL bound. All contract information was taken from CapFriendly, and contract predictions extracted from Matt Cane’s (@Cane_Matt) 2018 Free Agent Predictions. All AAVs discussed below include bonuses earned by the players. Keep in mind some previous contracts classified as ELC’s include players that were able to slide that contract an additional year based on the number of GP.
William Nylander RW – TOR
- Age: 22
- Previous Contract (AAV): 3 Year, $1,744,167 (ELC)
- Projected Contract (AAV): 5 Year, $7,010,668
- Current Team Cap Space: $13,316,667
Easily the biggest ticket name on this list, it may come as a surprise that William Nylander remains without a contract this late in the summer. Coming off back to back 61 point campaigns, Nylander continues to be a key cog in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ offensive lineup. With over $13 million in current cap space, it would appear that extending Nylander is an easy task. Unfortunately, that enormous cap space is soon to dissolve once both Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner are in need of new deals next July. Factor in John Tavares’ $11M cap hit, and suddenly things seem dire in the Six.
Elliotte Friedman recently spoke on the situation saying the negotiations are far apart, which doesn’t bode well for the Leafs. Talk of team-friendly contracts fly around quickly, but how will rookie GM Kyle Dubas be able to convince Nylander, Marner, and Matthews to buy into the team-first mindset?
Looking at market value, the Nikolaj Ehlers contract at 6 years and $36M, should be what the Leafs are after. It just may not quite be enough to keep Nylander around long term. The Leafs are going to be a playoff team, but perhaps Nylander is used to acquire a bonafide defenseman, an asset the Leafs are missing. This, of course, is speaking down the road, as it is more likely than not Nylander will sign a “show me” contract while the team continues to navigate its tight cap situation.
TWC Prediction: 1 Year, $6.25M AAV, $6.25M Total
Darnell Nurse D – EDM – Signed
- Age: 23
- Previous Contract (AAV) : 3 Years, $1,713,333 (ELC)
- Projected Contract (AAV): 4 Years $4,955,432
- Current Team Cap Space: $3,978,834
Taken seventh overall in the 2013 NHL Draft, Darnell Nurse has developed into the Edmonton Oilers’ best defenseman. He has given the Oilers some much needed stability on the back end and the Oilers would be crazy not to sign Nurse before the season starts.
McDavid’s well-earned $12.5M AAV contract kicks in this season, which makes the current and future cap situation tricky for the Oilers. Having other big cap hits, including as Leon Draistaitl at $8.5M and Milan Lucic at $6M, occupying such little space makes Nurse’s next deal difficult to predict. Cane’s prediction shows a value that, as of right now, the Oilers cannot commit to. Nurse should be a prime candidate for a long term deal, but definitely not for less than $4M per year. Peter Chiarelli insists that Nurse will be signed before the season starts, but I assume it will be for much less and not as long as either party wants.
TWC Prediction: 2 Years, $3.25 AAV, $6.5M Total
Signing Update: Nurse completed the paperwork on a two-year $6.4M contract, that carries an AAV of $3.2M per season. This pays him slightly more than Morrisey’s contract, which was signed a day prior. This was most likely best case scenario for both parties, as a long old-out was expected to linger into the Oilers training camp. The team is able to remain under the salary cap this season (albeit just under at the moment), while also giving Nurse a raise he deserves.
Sam Reinhart RW – BUF
- Age: 22
- Previous Contract (AAV) : 3 Years, $3,544,167 (ELC)
- Projected Contract (AAV): 2 Years, $4,129,312
- Current Team Cap Space: $6,465,476
Sam Reinhart has flown under the radar in Buffalo for almost his entire NHL career. Drafted second overall in 2014, the 22 year old right wing has never quite reached his full potential, but is also nowhere near bust status. Not having Reinhart signed seems to be more of a value issue between player and team.
Consistently producing 40+ points in his first three NHL seasons, Reinhart has improved upon his totals every year. With the opportunity to play alongside Jack Eichel for the foreseeable future, Reinhart could give Buffalo the one-two 1-2 scoring punch they have needed for years. Unfortunately, that perhaps is the cause of the strain in this contract negotiation: the organization wants to separate Reinhart’s perceived value with Eichel from his actual face value.
Recent rumors suggest that the team is likely to only offer him a two year bridge deal, which could work in Reinhart’s favor. With other more lucrative extensions coming down the road for some young players, the team may want to avoid a shorter deal, especially if he continues to produce. If he continues to bank on himself, and continue to improve his point totals, Reinhart’s next extension could be even more fortuitous than what he could make right now.
TWC Prediction: 2 Years, $4.25M AAV, $8.5M total
Josh Morrissey D – WPG – Signed
- Age: 23
- Previous Contract (AAV) : 3 Years, $1,363,333 (ELC)
- Projected Contract (AAV): 1 Year, $2,668,791
- Current Team Cap Space: $10,239,170
The Winnipeg Jets are in a unique salary cap situation that is undoubtedly impacting Josh Morrissey’s impending signing. The past two season have see the 23 year old blueliner establish himself as a bonafide top four defenceman in an already stacked Winnipeg lineup. The main problem facing the Jets is that four of their current NHL dmen are due for new deals next summer. Tyler Myers, Jacob Trouba, Ben Chiarot, and Joe Morrow are most likely in line for raises that could easily price them out of Winnipeg. Not to mention the inevitable Patrik Laine extension to boot.
That leaves Morrissey in a tricky situation. He remains very confident a deal will get done soon, but speculation as to how long that deal will be is up in the air. A long term deal may be in both parties’ best interest, as it remains to be seen how many NHL calibre defensemen Winnipeg will be able to ice at the start of next season. With the majority of its young core signed, or will be soon, it would be wise for Winnipeg to add Morrissey to that list of players.
TWC Prediction: 5 year, $3.875AAV, $19.375M Total
Signing Update: Morrissey was able to join the Jets’ training camp much earlier than originally expected, as he signed a two-year $6.3M contract that carries an AAV of $3.15M. The Jets never really had much of a salary cap issue this year, as mentioned above, it all came down to how long they were able to lock up Morrissey for. Note that the original piece was crafted before Blake Wheeler’s massive extension. Two years is probably shorter than both the team and player wanted, but they are able to come to an agreement so Morrissey can have a full camp. Two years down the road, after some more pricey contracts, his deal could be even trickier to negotiate.
Noah Hanifin D – CGY – SIGNED
- Age: 21
- Previous Contract (AAV) : 3 Years, $1,775,000 (ELC)
- Projected Contract (AAV): 2 Years, $2,336,359
- Current Team Cap Space: $7,538,290
The youngest player on our list, Noah Hanifin is expected to fill a top four role next season for the Calgary Flames after being acquired in the Dougie Hamilton trade. Having three full seasons by the age of 21 is rare for a defenseman, especially having produced at the level he has in Carolina. The only real question that remains is how high is his ceiling?
Buying out Troy Brouwer’s contract gave the Flames more than enough room to fit Hanifin under the cap this season, but it’s moving forward where things get tricky. With no real big contracts coming off the books next year, and Matthew Tkachuk in need of an extension, the Flames could be strapped moving forward. The team and player both are looking for a long term deal, in the range of five years, and it certainly could come with a bit of a discount. The Flames gave up a great contract in Hamilton and should replace it with one equally as good. Brad Treliving has a track record of signing value extensions and hopefully he can work his magic again with Hanifin.
TWC Prediction: 5 years, $4M AAV, $20M Total
Signing Update: The Flames officially inked Hanifin to a six year, $4.95M AAV contract late on August 30th. The deal will take him through to the 2023/24 season where he will then become a UFA. Depending on how Hanifin ends up playing for the Flames, this contract could end up being a steal or a bust. If he continues to lift his ceiling then the $4.95M AAV will look marvelous down the road. Unfortunately if he levels out with similar production to his first three seasons, this may end up looking far worse than expected.
Shea Theodore D – VGK
- Age: 23
- Previous Contract (AAV) : 3 Years, $863,333 (ELC)
- Projected Contract (AAV): 2 Years, $2,059,284
- Current Team Cap Space: $8,687,500
The Vegas Golden Knights absolutely fleeced the Anaheim Ducks during the expansion draft by prying Shea Theodore away from the team that drafted him. Theodore contributed 26 points in only 61GP last season, adding another 10 during their Stanley Cup Playoff run. It’s not a question of if he will sign long term, it’s only a matter of when.
The Knights will have over $13M in cap space once David Clarkson is placed on LTIR, which gives them so much breathing room it’s honestly ridiculous. George McPhee is a smart GM so don’t expect him to hand over a blank cheque, but he has been generous with some of his extensions thus far. Theodore should project to be this team’s #1 defenseman going forward, and is most likely looking to get paid like one. This should be the least stressful of all the contract negotiation on this list as there is willingness on both sides to ink a long term deal.
TWC Prediction: 6 Years, $5M AAV, $30M Total
Miles Wood LW – NJD
- Age: 22
- Previous Contract (AAV) : 3 Years, $925,000 (ELC)
- Projected Contract (AAV): 2 Years, $1,910,742
- Current Team Cap Space: $18,156,667
Unless you were a die-hard New Jersey Devils fan, you probably hadn’t heard of Miles Wood until he burst onto the scene last season with 19G and 13A. He had played in 60 games before last season, but he really made a name for himself in 2017-18. The former fourth-rounder finds himself on a team with plenty of young talent and plenty of cap space. I am sure he would love to get locked up for a longer period of time, but the Devils may think differently.
It is always tough to judge a contract based on one breakout season. Was it an anomaly, or was it a sign of things to come? The Devils would be wise to give Wood a slight raise from his ELC, but keep the term down to see if he can be a mainstay moving forward.
TWC Prediction: 2 Years, $1.75M AAV, $3.5M Total
Nick Ritchie LW – ANA
- Age: 22
- Previous Contract (AAV) : 3 Years, $1,627,500 (ELC)
- Projected Contract (AAV): 2 Years, $1,624,869
- Current Team Cap Space: $6,134,167
Nick Ritchie unfortunately didn’t have the contract year he wanted, as his goal and point toals decreased from the previous season. Still a very serviceable young player for the Anaheim Ducks, it would be wise to assume his production could increase this season. With the team ravaged by injuries last year, Ritchie will likely have consistent linemates that will allow him to develop chemistry all season.
Taken 10th in the 2014 NHL Draft, Ritchie has not quite lived up to expectations as of yet. His PPG trails compared to other players from his draft class, but similar to a Sam Bennett and Kevin Fiala, there is still the chance for him to reach his ceiling. A “show me” deal is most likely in line for the 22 year old, very similar to what Cane has predicted.
TWC Prediction: 2 Years, 1.55M AAV, 3.10M Total
Michael McCarron RW,C – MON – Signed
- Age: 23
- Previous Contract (AAV) : 3 Years, $1,075,833 (ELC)
- Projected Contract (AAV): 1 Years, $739,186
- Current Team Cap Space: $7,812,025
A former first round pick that hasn’t been able to fully make the jump to the NHL, Michael McCarron should have an excellent opportunity to play a full season this year. He has been primarily a right winger in the NHL so far, but McCarron also has the ability to play down the middle. Based on the Montreal Canadiens’ depth chart at the centre ice position, he could be called upon to fill that void.
With only eight points (2G and 6A) in 62GP, his offensive production has never quite adapted to the NHL level. His AHL production isn’t quite appealing either, but he should project to be a reliable depth player for the Canadiens. That being said, it’s surprising to see his contract negotiations drag out this long. A sub $1M contract on a short term, and possibly even a two-way deal, should get done before training camp starts.
TWC Prediction: 1 Year, Two-Way, $750K Total.
Signing Update: Not a major move, but McCarron ended up accepting the teams’ qualifying offer of $874,125 for one season. He will remain an RFA next season, but will be fighting for a job in camp over the next few weeks.
Jordan Schmaltz D – STL – Signed
- Age: 24
- Previous Contract (AAV) : 3 Years, $1,208,333 (ELC)
- Projected Contract (AAV): 1 Years, $666,727
- Current Team Cap Space: $284,845
The St. Louis Blues made a wealth of offseason moves these past few months which sets them up to be a major contender in the Western Conference. To get to that status though, you have to be willing to spend. The Blues sit with second least amount of cap space in the league, with only $284,845 remaining to sign Jordan Schmaltz.
With only 22 NHL games under his belt, he is a prime candidate to be the teams’ 6th or 7th defenseman. He is easily in line for the league minimum on a one or two-way contact, but the Blues have to do some serious cap restructuring to be able to fit him in. With no players on their way to LTIR, it remains to be seen how Doug Armstrong will be able to pull this off.
TWC Prediction: 1 Year, Two-Way, 650K Total
Signing Update: Schmaltz signed a two-year, $1.4M contract back on September 12th. The second year of his contract appears to be one-way, but will be on a two way deal this season. The Blues are sitting right at the cap ceiling and have some interesting roster moves to make, that may or may not include Schmaltz sticking around.
Without a doubt, all of these RFA holdouts will be resolved at some point in the near future. Most of these players are important pieces to their teams and agreements will be reached sooner or later. None appear to have graduated to the stalemate status we have seen in years prior with players like Ryan Johansen or Johnny Gaudreau. Some players may end up receiving much less than expected, in both term and total dollars, but it’s simply all the more motivation to earn more money down the road. In today’s NHL, having value contracts, especially from young, talented players is almost a necessity. It’s not surprising that team’s are trying to save every dollar they can on extensions for young players. As the season approaches, the story lines around these RFAs will be interesting to watch.