NHL Rumor Mill – July 26, 2018
A look at five restricted free agents whose contract talks could drag on throughout the summer in your NHL rumor mill.
THE HOCKEY NEWS: Jared Clinton recently listed Detroit’s Dylan Larkin, Toronto’s William Nylander, Vegas’ Shea Theodore, Buffalo’s Sam Reinhart and Calgary’s Noah Hanifin as five notable restricted free agents whose contract negotiations could drag on throughout the offseason. All are coming off entry-level contracts and lack arbitration rights.
Clinton doubts Larkin’s negotiations with the Red Wings will become contentious, speculating he’ll get something in the $6-million range annually and suggests the Wings might be best served by making it a six-year deal.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press recently reported the Wings are working on a long-term deal for Larkin, perhaps five or six years in length. Wouldn’t surprise me if he’s re-signed within the next two or three weeks.
With the Leafs facing Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner needing big raises by next summer as well as the need to re-sign or replace defenseman Jake Gardiner next July, Clinton suggests a short-term bridge deal might be best for Nylander and the Leafs. Given his point production (122 in 163 games), Clinton points to Jack Eichel, Leon Draisaitl and Mikko Rantanen among those who posted similar numbers in their second and third NHL seasons.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: There was some speculation suggesting the Leafs trade Nylander for a top-pairing defenseman but I think they see him as a long-term part of their future. A bridge deal doesn’t seem fair for a guy coming off back-to-back 61-point performances but the cap issues raised by re-signing Matthews and Marner might not leave the Leafs much choice unless they shed some salary before next summer.
Clinton feels Theodore “seems ripe for the kind of long-term, mid-range deal that other high-scoring, minute-munching blueliners have earned in recent years”, pointing to Kris Letang, Alex Edler and Marc-Edouard Vlasic as comparables at the same point in their careers. If that’s what Theodore is expected to become, Clinton argues the Golden Knights should lock him up now rather than having him cost much more later on.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Golden Knights can afford to pay Theodore a lucrative long-term deal but they could prefer seeing how he performs over the next couple of years before investing in a lengthy deal. I’m expecting he’ll get a bridge contract.
Reinhart’s struggles last season could affect his next contract. He had a disappointing first half but netted 20 goals and 39 points in his final 44 games. Finding the right value and proper term could make this a tough negotiation.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Reinhart was mentioned as a trade candidate at one point last season but that chatter largely dried up since midseason. The Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington recently speculated Reinhart and his agent could seek something along the lines of the six-year deal ($4.85 million annually) recently signed by Calgary’s Elias Lindholm. While the Sabres have plenty of cap space to re-sign Reinhart to that type of deal, it might be best to go the bridge route with the promise he’ll earn bigger bucks on a lengthier deal if he plays up to expectations.
Clinton feels Hanifin, recently traded by Carolina to the Flames, could be in line for more than a bridge deal. His numbers in his first 239 games compare favorable alongside Columbus’ Seth Jones during the same period in the latter’s career. “Jones went on to sign a six-year, $32.4-million deal, which carries a $5.4 million cap hit” coming out of his entry-level contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Clinton also points out Hanifin hasn’t yet shown himself as defensively capable as Jones. They also have to ensure sufficient cap space next summer for Matthew Tkachuk, as well as Sam Bennett and Mike Smith, though it remains to be seen if the latter two have a future in Calgary beyond 2019. This one could go either way. A bridge deal would be sensible in the short term but getting him under a reasonable long-term deal could save them money down the road.