Capped: Restricted Free Agents Yet To Sign

by Alexander MacLean on September 8, 2016
  • Capped
  • Capped: Restricted Free Agents Yet To Sign

This week's Capped discusses some RFAs that have yet to sign, with some comparable contracts and 

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Editor's Note: This article was written by new Dobber writer, Alex MacLean. 

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Welcome back to all of the Dobberites who have been waiting patiently for another Capped column. My name is Alex MacLean (AKA. Eskimo Brother on the Dobber Forum), and I have graciously accepted Dobber’s offer to take over the Capped column from Chris Pudsey. Chris did a fantastic job writing these weekly articles, incorporating a nice mix of real life cap thoughts, fantasy insight, and personal analysis of what was happening in the cap world. I missed his articles the last few weeks, especially having recently joined a cap league with him in it. Now he gets to read my mind on salary cap thoughts instead. I hope I can provide even a fraction of what he did for the readers.

My plan here for my first article is to take you through the restricted free agents that remain unsigned, and provide some insight on expected contract value and length, what the hold up in contracts may be, provide some comparables, and whether they may be able to out-perform their contract or not.

Also as a note that Dobber covered in the Ramblings yesterday, potential RFA for the summer of 2017, Jonathan Huberdeau has signed a 6-year extension with Florida for a shade under $6 million (a $5.9 Million AAV to be exact). I own him in my cap league, and I had him pegged around $6 million a year, so this is good news in my mind. Dobber may think that it is a little high, but we both do agree that if he keeps on his trajectory, he will soon be out-performing his salary.

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Hampus Lindholm (D) –  Anaheim Ducks

Previous contract –  Entry level ($894,167 Cap hit)

It is a blow for any cap league owner when a player graduates from their entry-level deal. In this case I think it is even worse, as Lindolm will go from a great own to a net-negative own. Lindholm to me seems like one of those young defencemen that has been around for half-a-dozen years now. That being said, he is in the group of players that are a better real life player than fantasy player. Unfortunately, in most cap leagues, players are still paid in real life money. It actually surprised me at the beginning of the summer to see that it was only his ELC that was expiring. He is calm, poised, and can be used by his coach with confidence at any point in the game.

This versatility adds to the downside in my opinion, though. Take Dion Phaneuf as an example of the last time that Randy Carlyle (Lindholm’s new coach) coached in the NHL. Phaneuf was Carlyle’s best defenceman available; he could toss Phaneuf out in any situation. Phaneuf’s Offensive Zone Start% sits around 40% over the last season and a half under Carlyle (who was fired mid-season). Lindholm on the other hand has a mark almost dead on 50% for the last two seasons, so there is room for regression there. In addition, Fowler, Vatanen and Theodore will be soaking up the majority of the offence for the Ducks. All in all, my advice is to get out while you can from Lindhom, and maybe see if there is someone who will take a risk on the contract not being outrageous.

It seems curious to me that there is no contract settled yet. Yes Anaheim does have both Rakell and Lindholm to sign, so that could be part of it, but there are so many creative ways that they could gain a little cap space to do so. The hold up could also be just on the Lindholm side. It could be that Lindholm is holding out for a NTC/NMC in order to not be one of the log-jam of defence that is shipped out.

More than likely it is just a snag on the years or money. Money seems like the more likely case in my opinion, as term shouldn’t be a problem with a young defenceman on a contending team.

Let’s look at some comparables. I could see the Ekblad contract being one that Lindholm is looking at as a comparable for a long-term $7.5 Million deal. Anaheim would then be looking at the contracts they gave out to Fowler and Vatanen, saying that Lindholm isn’t worth almost double what they are. Hopefully this one doesn’t get messy, and I don’t see Lindholm as the type to push it that way. With that being said, in the end the two sides seemingly always end up meeting somewhere in the middle. I think a 6-year $36 million contract would make sense for both sides.

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Nikita Kucherov (RW) –  Tampa Bay Lightning

Previous contract –  Entry level ($711,667 Cap hit)

I will start this off by saying that I am high on Kucherov for a breakout this year, though I was higher on it before Stamkos signed. On the flip side however, his last two years have seen him shoot almost 15%, and start almost 60% of his shifts in the offensive zone. So this really could be a make or break year for him in terms of showing what he is worth. Could this turn into a saga like Drouin in Tampa, where GM Steve Yzerman refused to crack? Could this turn into a saga like P.K. Subban in Montreal, where he gets a two year bridge deal that he massively outperforms and then the next massive contract forces him out of town soon after? Or could his shooting percentage drop down to normal heights (OZ% and PDO aside) and he becomes a steady 65-point player? All are possible, but if I was a betting man then I would have faith in both Kucherov, and Yzerman, that a good deal gets done and that Kucherov lives up to it.

I don’t see the contract actually being as high as some may suggest. With superstar Stamkos still in town, Kucherov knows he hasn’t done enough to warrant being paid like Stamkos does. So that right there puts an absolute cap at the $8.5 Million a year that Stamkos makes. Going a little further, I think he will end up having to take a chunk less. So I am going to say he ends up with an average annual value (AAV) of $7.75 Million, over a long-term deal of five years at minimum, that he will easily be able to live up to.

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Johnny Gaudreau (LW) –  Calgary Flames

Previous contract –  Entry level ($925,000 Cap hit)

Gaudreau is quite the unique situation. After coming out of college and becoming a scoring machine when playing at home, he is due for a big raise. What makes a comparable even tougher, is that he is a former fourth round pick, and only played two years on an entry level deal. The best comparables for him are probably Vladimir Tarasenko (8-year, $60 Million), and Kucherov (see above). The problem is that he has actually out-performed Tarasenko. Kucherov has no contract yet, in addition to having the “no-tax” benefit of being a Florida based team, thus bringing his contract numbers down.

Calgary would love to have Gaudreau and his running mate Sean Monahan, locked into pairing 7-year deals, or even to get Gaudreau in for an eighth year, potentially having it look almost as much like a steal as Tavares’ deal now does. If they manage to reach a longer-term deal, then I expect it to be between $8-8.5 Million over the same 7 years as Monahan.

Gaudreau could also be looking at the bridge deal model, giving him another two years to show that he deserves a contract in the $9-Million+ range. If that happens, then we probably see two years at around the $6 Million that Monahan, Filip Forsberg, Mark Scheifele and Nathan MacKinnon signed for. I could definitely see that happening, and having Calgary fold for the short-term, which sees Gaudreau get paid on the long run. Unless Gaudreau takes his asking price down a notch now, he likely isn’t in the same ballpark as Calgary. Gaudreau has stated that he doesn’t want to be negotiating during the World cup (that seems a little strange, but I digress) so we may not see a contract until right before the season.

Do not panic Gaudreau owners. He will get a deal done, and will be well worth every penny of just about any deal he signs. Gaudreau has no underlying numbers that to me scream that he cannot keep up his torrid scoring pace. In addition, if he can bring up his road scoring rates to anywhere close to what he does at home, then he would certainly be above a point-per-game (whether he will or not could be a whole topic for another article).

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Rasmus Ristolainen (D) –  Buffalo Sabres

Previous contract –  Entry level ($925,000 Cap hit)

Whenever I think about Ristolainen and his upcoming contract, I can’t help but think about Morgan Rielly being a solid comparable. Ristolainen’s stats from the previous season are a little better (and he does hit a lot more for those in leagues that count it), however my thinking was that Rielly started the year playing very defensive shifts, and learning the Babcock system, which caused his numbers to be a little lower. When you look into it though, it surprised me that the Off. Zone Start% for Ristolainen was actually very low, around 40% over the last two years, whereas Rielly was about 45%. Factoring in that Ristolainen has also shown he is the go-to stud on the PP, and a solid case could be made for him being the better fantasy own, along with taking home the bigger paycheck.

Looking back to the other defenceman already covered, Hampus Lindholm and the 6×6 deal that I predicted make another interesting comparable. For similar reasons as to what Lindholm had, I could see the same deal applying to Ristolainen. It also pays to look into the report that Dobber pulled out in the Aug 16 Ramblings that discusses how Bylsma plans to reduce his workload. This would be a good thing, because as last season went on, Ristolainen’s ice time went up, while his production went down. It seems as though he just got burnt out. All told, if he can keep up his first-half pace, then it stands to reason that in fantasy leagues, he would be well worth any contract of $6 Million or less (my final guess being an AAV of $5.5-million).

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Jacob Trouba (D) –  Winnipeg Jets

Previous contract –  Entry level ($894,167 Cap hit)

Trouba was the subject of a lot of off-season rumours. First he was going to the Islanders in exchange for Travis Hamonic, but that failed to come to fruition when Hamonic removed his trade demand. Second, he was going to Boston when they considered signing him to an offer sheet worth over $9-million. That hasn’t yet come to be, so we sit here at the beginning of September, wondering why another young stud on the blue-line is without an RFA contract. Boston also has yet to address their glaring weakness on D, so maybe there is still a fit.

As fantasy owners, there is the risk of Boston signing him to a massive offer-sheet, so for that reason alone, he is currently a sell in cap leagues in my opinion. In addition, Trouba hasn’t shown the same flash as the other two RFA defencemen mentioned above, but he does have the same pedigree. I would sooner group him with Lindholm over Ristolainen though, as he seems to be more of a two-way player that may also be a better real life player than fantasy player (he does get a big boost in value if your league counts blocks). I don’t think we will ever see a 50-point season out of him, but if/when Byfuglien moves on, then we could see another step forward in production with an increased offensive role.

I remember hearing that Trouba was asking for $42 Million over 6 years when the two sides started negotiating in the spring. Since there has been no deal, I would imagine that Trouba hasn’t dropped his asking price. The $7-million AAV seems a little high in comparison with the other two defencemen. I stand by the $5.5-6 Million AAV for Trouba as well, if he signs a long-term deal. However, I think a two-year bridge deal may be the best bet for both teams here. If Trouba proves that he is as good as he thinks he is, then the Jets would be happy to pay him. The problem with the flip side is well viewed in the example of Tyler Myers, another Jets defenceman. Myers was paid based on potential after a hot start to his career. Winnipeg won’t want another contract of the same style, where the potential is paid for, but never realized. So I think he either gets signed to an offer sheet, or he signs a bridge deal, maybe at around $4.5-million for two years.

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Other RFA honourable mentions and a predicted contract:

Rickard Rakell – 3 years at $4-million per year.

Ryan Strome – 4 years at $3.5-million per year.

Valeri Nichushkin – 2 years at $2.5-million per year.

Dmitry Orlov – 6 years at $3.25-million per year.

 

Thanks to all for reading, and please leave comments either discussing your thoughts about the RFA contracts, or things you liked/disliked about my first Capped article.