Ramblings: A thorough (and I mean thorough) look at the Restricted Free Agents, and how to play it in your leagues and drafts (Sep 02)
The Fantasy Guide was last updated Friday, but those were just minor tweaks. The big updates come fast and furious when camp opens in less than two weeks. Updates happen so often that you can safely assume once, twice or even three times per day – just re-download the Guide when you want the latest one. Also on Friday – I launched this Guide in French. Please tell your French-speaking brethren that they can now pick up Le Guide des Poolers 2019-20 DobberHockey right here.
There is a hunger in the hockey and fantasy hockey communities for information – any information – on the long list of restricted free agents. And the truth is, there’s really nothing. Nada. All we have is logic and common sense.
A few months back I said that I didn’t think the Free Agent Frenzy on July 1st would garner as many signings. I felt that a lot of teams would be forced to play the waiting game until prices came down, with some UFA signings even dragging into late August or even September. I said this because a lot of teams were in tough against the cap and there were many highly talented restricted free agents that they either had to sign…or at the very least budget for. Well. I had the right line of thinking and the general truth of things. But the end result was the complete opposite. The idiot GMs (Dobber for GM!) still went nuts on Free Agent Frenzy, signing UFAs as if figuring that their RFAs would meekly sign tiny bridge deals and not at seeing the way the NHL world is trending. That sliver of money that teams set aside for their young free agents, they are finding, is nowhere near enough. And so, instead of seeing UFAs unsigned in September we’re seeing RFAs. And things are looking as though they will get ugly fast. Two dominos need to fall – one at forward and one at defense. Once those players sign, most (not all) of the others will sign within days.
If the general managers “win” (hint: the only actual winners are the agents, the only actual losers will be the fans), it will mean either the players sign without missing much of training camp…or … they miss a huge chunk of games, perhaps even sitting out for the season. If the players “win” (same hint as above), it will be after missing training camp and one or two games. Who will blink first? A lot is riding on the Mitch Marner situation, and that’s not a good sign considering how Kyle Dubas did with William Nylander. Dubas blinked first. Nylander is a great player, but the smart player there would have been to trade him in early October. Instead, Dubas needed to prove a point to his fellow GMs. That point being – he will not be pressured into a trade and taking less return. Well, he proved his point. But lost another point, this one to the players. He blinked first and now Marner’s agent expects the same. It was more important, from a business standpoint, to make that point on the players and lose the point to the fellow GMs. Trade Nylander, and you’re not responsible for the precedent. Now he is. The bar was set for Auston Matthews and now, at least in Marner’s mind, the bar is set for him as well. Both players are (or will be) up a good million dollars in AAV as a result of the Nylander cave-in.
Prediction: the players win. They always do (unless it’s a CBA in a lockout, of course). The GMs only hope is for all the RFAs to fire their agents and hire Kevin Labanc’s agent (Mike Curran).
Let’s look at the contract situations, how they look to conclude, and how other players are impacted by any lengthy absence….
Defensemen – high-end
I have Carlo in this category as he is a proven asset coming off a Cup win. He won’t be as cheap as the D I have in the section below, and he may be as expensive as the other three. The Big 3 will want to use Morgan Rielly (six years, $5M) and Seth Jones (six years, $5.25) as comparables – with a standard raise, of course (cost of living? /sarcasm). Carlo will want to use Marc Methot, a defensive defenseman who signed a four-year contract extension in 2015 for $19.6M. Boston can (barely) afford the two contracts if McAvoy comes in at $4M and Carlo at $3.5M. Not happening. Overall, if the GMs can convince one to take a bridge deal, the others will be much, much easier. Werenski is said to be looking for in the neighborhood of $5M AAV over three years. That’s not crazy and the Blue Jackets have plenty of cap space. I think that’s workable, so perhaps they can get him for $4.75, in which case Boston can get McAvoy for $4.5 and Carlo for $4 or $4.25.
I think all four of these defensemen will sign very early in camp, if not before, because the demands don’t seem to be too crazy and each of their respective teams have cap room. I’m very confident – confident enough that I won’t offer up contingency plans for them.
Defensemen – lower-end
These are the defensemen who have proven the least at the NHL level. The AAVs should be quite modest and I don’t think these defensemen will be a problem to sign. Their main difficulty is that each of their teams (Vegas, Dallas, New York, Pittsburgh) are in tough cap positions that they’ll need to resolve first. As for the lone exception here, Belpedio and Minnesota, is due to a new GM being hired (Bill Guerin last week). These defensemen will not be a problem for the regular season, though some cap situations may not be cleared up until part of training camp has been missed.
Now for the juicier stuff…
Forwards – higher-end
In which case I think Connor will be the first. Once he signs, I think Boeser will be next, which may influence Tkachuk and Laine. Using Jake Guentzel and Dylan Larkin as comparables (both signed in the past year): Larkin signed for five years at $6.1M AAV and Guentzel signed for five years at $6.0M AAV. The Jets have some cap space, but they are being cautious about how this gets divvied up. The Canucks also have some cap space, but they would need to sign Goldobin (below) to close to $1M AAV so that Boeser can get $4M – and if he can’t take that, then the team needs to make some moves. The Flames are in the same boat, as they need to sign Mangiapane (below) for cheaper than he’s worth at close to $1M so that they can give Tkachuk $6M and not have to make a trade to free up space. All three teams – Calgary, Vancouver, Winnipeg – can make this work and I think that a few days into training camp it will get done for all.
Forwards – middle-tier
Ivan Barbashev signed a two year deal Sunday at just under $1.5M AAV. This probably gets the ball rolling for this tier of free agents, with Kempe and Zacha looking at similar, Goldobin slightly less and Fiala and Konecny a lot more. Barbashev got it done and I wouldn’t be surprised if all six of the above are done before the weekend.
Forwards – lower-end
Saku Maenalanen, Brendan Lemieux, Brendan Perlini
Not overly concerning in fantasy leagues. Had this been another year, these guys could have pushed for $1.6M or even a bit more. But because of the silly non-financial planning of teams during Free Agent Frenzy, these guys will be left with $1.2 or even less. The middle-tier and lower-end free agents are the guys who are getting squeezed.
Forwards – elite
And now for the part of this breakdown that you actually care about (that’s why I stuck it at the end).
Here is where the first domino really needs to fall. And apparently the other two are waiting for Marner. That wait will end once training camp starts and Marner still hasn’t signed (he won’t). When camp is underway I have a feeling that Rantanen or Point (or both) will get serious in their contract talks and get something done.
Tampa Bay has $8.4M in cap space and Point is worth more. Tampa also has contingencies in place, adding great players on the cheap so that they can still win a lot of games even without Point. On one hand the $2.65M AAV they gave to Kevin Shattenkirk and Patrick Maroon was enough AAV to get it done with Point. On the other hand, they couldn’t walk away from such great deals and needed the contingency plan. If you use Auston Matthews as a comparable center, Point is probably worth $10.5M AAV. But with Steven Stamkos at $8.5 and Nikita Kucherov at $9.5, I think Point would be happy with $9.2 or thereabouts. This means that the Lightning need to move someone, and that can be resolved just by sending Luke Witkowski to the minors and bury that $700K. And Louis Domingue ($1.15M) needs to be traded, and he will be.
If Point does not sign in time to start the season
– Tyler Johnson moves to center and Maroon moves into the top six. Both players would get a bump in PP time, as would Anthony Cirelli. The longer Point is out, the more points these three players will get in the early weeks.
– The Stamkos – Kucherov line will suffer a little. Point really took the heat off of those guys and his absence makes it obvious to opponents which line they should be focusing on, solely.
– Andrei Vasilevskiy gets fewer wins. For every nine he would have had, give him eight instead.
Colorado has plenty of cap space: $15.6M. So what are they waiting for? Well, this is just a matter of being reluctant to pay a player over $10 million dollars. Especially with Nathan MacKinnon making $6.3M for another four seasons. But Rantanen just had 87 points in 74 games so how does he not get at least $9M? Tampa brass had better hope Rantanen doesn’t sign before Point because with Colorado’s cap space, the Rantanen contract could be painful as a comparison. Of the three, because of the team’s cap situation, I think Rantanen is the most likely to sign.
If Rantanen does not sign in time to start the season
– Valeri Nichushkin gets a sweet opportunity at redemption. He won’t be prolific at putting up points, but he could be ‘decent’ at it if he gets a chance with MacKinnon.
– MacKinnon would see a drag in his production for as long as Rantanen is out.
– There would be lineup shuffling, with Landeskog possibly taken off MacKinnon’s line as well. That would upgrade Nazem Kadri. But that’s more of a possibility as opposed to a certainty.
– Andre Burakovsky would see a bump in PP time. Both he and Nichushkin have something to prove, so a Rantanen holdout could feasibly turn a career or two around.
Toronto is technically over the salary cap right now, but with two big long-term IR players and a couple of shorter-term ones, they would have around $11M to spend. That could probably get it done with Marner, but Dubas is obviously reluctant to do that. I am starting to wonder if this thing drags into November (and Dubas caves anyway). But let’s not put the cart before the horse here. Of the Big 3, I think Marner will be the last to sign. Which is ironic, because everyone is waiting on him.
If Marner does not sign in time to start the season
– I don’t know if this would have a huge impact on Nylander as I think he will play with Matthews regardless and you can’t really upgrade from that.
– This will impact John Tavares a little, but not too much as he could put up points regardless. If it goes the full season, then I’d knock off five or six points.
– Cha-ching for Kasperi Kapanen, who likely gets the spot on the Tavares line.
– Things also open up for Pontus Aberg (a little) and Ilya Mikheyev (a lot). As noted above with Burakovsky and Nichushkin, a lengthy delay in Marner’s return could make or break a career.
If I am in a draft at all in before September 20, I take any of these unsigned players as I normally would. If anything, maybe I let them slide a round because I think the other owners will back off, leaving me with a nice steal later than I should be getting him. I don’t have a draft before then, so I don’t have to worry about it. And after September 20 I would start to get concerned and it may start impacting where I take players. I will talk about that closer to that date. But don’t be concerned. For now.
Inside the Fantasy Guide on page 28 are instructions on how you can win a FREE Google Home. Unfortunately, international readers, I’m only shipping this within North America. I noted the odds of winning as “one in 1000”, but that was based on projected number of entries. So far there are “59” entries, which means the odds of winning are one in…59! Thank you to the 59 people who have entered. I am pretty good at projecting things, and at this point I can safely project the eventual odds to be in that one-in-150 range – or better – when it’s all said and done. Very good odds! Considering it takes under 30 seconds to leave a comment, I’m surprised more aren’t doing it.
For those of you wondering about my health and interested in an update, I posted my two-year update on Friday here.
See you Monday
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