A Look at the Current NHL RFA Standoffs
With the NHL’s 2016-17 regular season fast approaching, a handful of talented restricted free agents remain unsigned. While this isn’t an unusual occurrence, the fact two of them are among the league’s brightest young stars – Calgary Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau and Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov – is garnering considerable attention.
In just two seasons, the 23-year-old Gaudreau’s emerged as Calgary’s hottest scorer. With 78 points in 79 games last season, the 5’9”, 157-pounder led the Flames in points and finished among the league’s top-ten scorers.
Kucherov, also 23, scored 29 goals and 65 points in 2014-15. Last season, he tallied 30 goals and was the Lightning’s leading scorer with 66 points the following season. In the 2016 playoffs, he led them in goals (11) and points (19).
Both players seek significant raises on long-term deals. Gaudreau reportedly wants $8 million per season. Kucherov’s asking price is unknown, but there’s talk it could be over $6 million annually.
In Gaudreau’s case, the Flames hope to bring him under contract for between $6.3 – $6.75 million. The Lightning’s $5.5 million in cap space is hampering their efforts to sign Kucherov.
Salary-cap constraints also hinder the Anaheim Ducks efforts to get defenseman Hampus Lindholm and forward Rickard Rakell under contract. The Ducks have around $7.5 million available, but it could cost more than that to get this duo signed.
Lindholm, considered the Ducks top defenseman, could seek over $6 million annually. Rakell, a promising two-way forward, could be looking for $3 million per.
The Ducks limited cap space is giving rise to rumors that they could move a salaried player to create room to re-sign Lindholm and Rakell. Defenseman Cam Fowler ($4 million per season through 2017-18) is considered the prime trade candidate.
In Buffalo, defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen is attending Sabres training camp without a contract. While it’s considered a good-will gesture on his part, it hasn’t brought him any closer to a new deal.
The other notable RFA is Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba. Unlike the others, he’s requested a trade.
Trouba claims he wants to be dealt to a club where he’ll see top-four minutes as a right-side blueliner. Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff reportedly intends to patiently await the right trade offer (a left-handed rearguard around the same age and skill set of Trouba) or a change of heart by the 23-year-old d-man.
If these standoffs carry on into the regular season, there is a December 1 deadline for these RFAs to be under contract. If unsigned by that date, they become ineligible to play anywhere for the remainder of the season.
Most of these players could be re-signed within the next several days. A couple of the teams with limited cap space could also make a salary-dumping deal or two to free up sufficient cap space to accommodate those new contracts.
The countdown is on, setting the stage for what could be an interesting few days leading up to Oct. 12.