Frozen Tools Forensics: Pending Restricted Free Agents – Part 3
As of June 7, there has only been one RFA signed that would have been in our top 20 and that would be Esa Lindell. I’m sure a few more will be signed in the next few weeks as we get closer to the Entry Draft and July 1. In Part 3 of our look at pending RFAs, we will look at 6 through 10.
10 – Jacob Trouba
Trouba held out before the 2016-2017 season and missed the first month, so there is plenty of precedent for him to stand firm to get what he wants. From most reports, he doesn’t want to stay in Winnipeg and would like to play in the East. Obviously Detroit, his hometown, would be first on his list. Evolving Wild (EW) has his projected contract at five years and $7.3 million AAV, but I could see a seven-year deal in Detroit or another city on his wishlist. When Dustin Byfuglien was hurt in February 2019, Trouba took his spot on the PP1 and prospered.
In the last two quarters of 2018-2019, Trouba had five goals and 27 assists in 41 games (including 16 PP points) for a pace of 64 points. Wherever he ends up for 2019-2020, that team will get a player who has proven that he can quarterback a PP and do it well, along with playing a solid defensive game. Teams that are looking to sign Erik Karlsson should take a long hard look at Trouba instead as a safer, cheaper alternative.
9 – Brock Boeser
From refuted reports, it sounds like the Canucks and Boeser’s camp could be fairly far apart in contract negotiations. I’m sure this will be resolved in the next few months and Boeser will be a wealthy man come October. EW has projected his contract at seven years and $7.0 million AAV, which seems reasonable. Boeser has battled some injuries early on in his career and will be hoping to play 82 games and reach the 40-goal plateau.
Boeser has averaged 35 goals per 82 games in his career so far and should be able to sustain that total as the Canucks’ power play improves (22nd at 17.1% last season) while the chemistry with Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes gets even better. Boeser never looked comfortable on the PP all season as opposed to his rookie year and as a result only had six power-play goals, down from 10. Boeser has been sheltered quite a bit (69.72% OZ starts) but has improved his defensive play so we should see that number decrease going forward to get him on the ice more often. Boeser is healthy this summer and will be able to train for the first time in the off season since entering the NHL.
8 – Timo Meier
Meier was a beast in the playoffs and took over some crucial games for the Sharks to help get them into the semi-finals. He finished with 15 points in 20 playoff games and notably had 76 hits (he had 99 hits in 78 regular season games). He had 30 goals and 36 assists and 250 SOG in a very impressive breakout season. Although this past season might be Meier’s ceiling in terms of production, his playoff performance has raised his value significantly and the Sharks will need to pay more than EW’s projected six years at $5.9 million AAV.
Moving forward, it will be difficult for Meier to get much better production unless he moves up from the PP2 unit and improves upon the six goals and 10 points from last season. If he were to move up to PP1 and get 15-20 points, he might be capable of becoming a 75-85 point player while still adding a physical element and being defensively responsible.
7 – Kyle Connor
Connor improved on his impressive rookie season and posted 34 goals and 32 assists in 82 games last season. Winnipeg will be reluctant to pay Connor much more than the $6.0 million AAV over seven years that they agreed to with Nikolaj Ehlers, but they won’t have a choice. Connor has left Ehlers behind in production and is now playing almost four minutes more per game, and he is a fixture on the PP1. EW has projected Connor’s next contract at six years at $7.0 million AAV, and it’s hard to argue with that figure.
In the last two quarters of 2018-2019, Connor posted 20 goals and 17 assists in 41 games, which would put him on pace for 40 goals and 74 points, well within his reach for next season. He has great chemistry with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler and played with them as linemates 43.8% of the regular season, which was bumped up to over 80% in the playoffs. Next season should see that line together more than 50 or 60% of the time, barring injury.
6 – Zach Werenski
The Seth Jones and Werenski pairing could arguably be one of the top pairings in the NHL and should be at least until the end of 2022 when Jones becomes an unrestricted free agent. The projected contract for Werenski from EW is seven years at $7 million AAV, which would make Jones a huge bargain at $5.4 million AAV. Werenski has put together three very consistent years in the NHL, all before the age of 22. He has never scored less than 11 goals or 37 points and is a solid rearguard who plays PP1 and also kills penalties while averaging close to 23 min/GP. He will never give you many PIM, hits, or blocked shots, but those are not his forte. He has the potential to be a future 60-point d-man.
It will be interesting to see what Columbus does with possibly losing Sergei Bobrovsky, Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene as unrestricted free agents. As it stands, the team will struggle to make the playoffs next season unless some skilled players are acquired to replace those three, assuming they move on. We don’t know what effect this will have on a young player like Werenski moving forward as he is thrust into more responsibility, but it is imperative that the Blue Jackets lock him up long-term.
Next week, we will look at the top five remaining pending RFAs. Thanks for reading! Any suggestions for future columns, please feel free to let me know at @gampbler15
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