Capped: Looking ahead to the RFA class
When looking at the 2019 RFA crop last year, little did we know how much ink would be spilled, and how many controversies begun with that group at the centre. This coming year doesn’t have the same number of high-profile names, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see some similarities between this year and last. The teams that take care of their players most, such as San Jose (Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc) and Pittsburgh (Jake Guentzel, Marcus Pettersson) may get a few RFAs signed early, but for the most part, the RFA class may end up holding out again until later in the summer, waiting for the first couple dominoes to fall. Unlike this past summer with Sebastian Aho, it is unlikely we see an offersheet.
The forward group this year is highlighted by some top-line players in Sam Reinhart, Anthony Mantha, Max Domi, and Kevin Labanc. There isn’t the same star power as last year, however with Domi, Mantha, and to a lesser extent Reinhart on the list there are a few players that could see some lengthy negotiation periods. On the positive side of getting deals for these players done are a few factors. In the case of Mantha, there’s the Yzerman involvement to consider. For Domi, there’s the fact that he really seems to want to be a part of the Habs, and may be a bit more of a team-first guy than Mitch Marner *ducks*. On Reinhart’s end, Buffalo has done a good job of locking up core players such as Jack Eichel and Rasmus Ristolainen early. Meanwhile in San Jose, Kevin Labanc’s extension is likely singed already, and is just post-dated to January first.
Aside from the names above there are also many noteworthy first time RFAs, including (but not limited to): Pierre-Luc Dubois, Tyson Jost, Dylan Strome, Victor Olofsson, and Anthony Cirelli. Some may be signing standard bridge deals around the $3 million mark, however a few players like Dubois ($7 million projected AAV) and Cirelli ($5.4 million projected AAV) we can guess may be signing longer term extensions.
There is a very shallow pool of RFA defencemen this year, highlighted by Brandon Montour, Darnell Nurse, Ryan Pulock, Tony DeAngelo, and Marcus Pettersson all needing new deals with their bridge deals expiring, and players like Philippe Myers and Erik Cernak making their mark on ELCs. Last summer’s set of RFA defencemen seemed to sign some reasonable deals, though the top end defencemen always seem to price themselves out of the range of having value in fantasy. Montour, Nurse and possibly Pulock, may be tough to roster after this year due to their increasing costs, though they will retain some value in multi-category leagues.
Tony Deangelo’s stock is going to vary greatly depending on how he does the rest of the season – which is generally dependent on powerplay time, so keep an eye on that. He’s projected for a $4.7 million AAV, and with where the Rangers’ rebuild plan is at the moment, it may be in their best interest to lock him up long-term on a deal with a yearly salary a touch below that. This would mean that by the time the team is looking to really compete, they still have a few years of DeAngelo left on a bargain deal in his prime.
The depth of the defencemen hitting the RFA market is low this year, meaning that the number of bargain contracts to be signed by defencemen may be lower. As a result, if you can get your defence ready for next season before having to rely on new contracts, you will be setting yourself up for fewer headaches this offseason.
There is Matt Murray, and then there is the rest of the pile here. With recent goaltending contracts to Sergei Bobrovsky, Andrei Vasilevskiy, and Carey Price setting the bar high, Matt Murray will likely try to use them as comparables rather than the bargain deals signed by John Gibson and Connor Hellebuyck. We are likely going to end up with at least $7.5 million for Murray, which will further eat away at Pittsburgh’s ability to provide solid depth for the team, possibly coming back around to hurt Murray’s numbers. As a result, this is a position that I really don’t want a big part of in salary cap leagues if I can help it, and I would be looking to sell high now.
Past Murray, there are a few intriguing names who could one day be starters in the NHL. Linus Ullmark, Joonas Korpisalo, Elvis Merzlikins, Alexandar Georgiev, Mackenzie Blackwood, and Tristan Jarry are getting various shares of starts in the NHL this season, and some will be expected to carry more of the load even as soon as next year. The Columbus situation (Korpisalo/Merzlikins) bears watching, as future contracts will likely dictate the workload expectation. In New York, Georgiev looks to be taking over from Lundqvist, and there are some other goalies that are showing their potential to eventually hold a starter’s job. None of these players should break the bank with you, and looking at Jack Campbell’s two-year contract with an AAV of $1.65 million may be a ceiling for what to expect outside of the Columbus pair – we might see a longer and more lucrative deal if they decide Korpisalo is a possible long-term answer there.
If you have questions, comments, or article requests, you can find me on Twitter @alexdmaclean.
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