This week's Capped discusses the 2017 RFA forward crop, what challenges their negotiations/contracts may bring, and whether to buy or sell.
With having discussed last week that the 2016 restricted free agent (RFA) class was a big part of how the summer played out, it seems fitting this week to take a peak ahead at the 2017 RFA class. We can look ahead to the 2017 group with a lot of interest, but the biggest question is whether this is the year we finally see a big offer sheet.
We can look back on the 2016 group of RFAs as one of the most diverse in terms of situations and results. There were long term deals, bridge deals, holdouts, but still no offer sheets. It seems the idea of the offer sheet really has died. With teams wanting to hold on to young talent, the price to be paid in draft picks is just too steep. If a young, right-handed defenceman like Jacob Trouba doesn’t get signed to an offer sheet, then who will? Well, let’s take a look at who the upcoming RFAs are, and see if we can come up with likely scenarios for them based on their circumstances.
Ryan Johansen (C) – Nashville Predators
Current Cap Hit – $4,000,000
Johansen is currently in the last year of his three-year, $4 Million bridge contract. He seems to have lots of talent, but he has left some money on the table with his slow start to the season. However, he is still Nashville’s first line centre, and from here, two things can happen. Nashville will likely come to the conclusion that he is worth the money for a number one centre, and pay him as such. Alternatively, they can leave him unsigned long enough for another team to come along and try to poach him with an offer-sheet, in the same way the Philadelphia Flyers tried to sign Shea Weber.
No matter who ends up paying Johansen though, it will be more than he is currently making. Johansen could pretty safely be put between the Ryan Getzlaf and the Jason Spezza benchmarks in terms of value as key Western Conference centres. So if we put Johansen between Getzlaf’s $8.25 Million cap hit, and Spezza’s $7.5 Million cap hit, we end up around $7.8 Million. Taking into account that Nashville is a budget team, then we could see a deal as low as $7 Million make sense for both sides. Then the real question becomes: is Johansen worth that much in cap leagues.
His shot rate this season is troubling (on pace for only 180 shots), but otherwise his numbers look decent. He is still on pace for 60 points, and this would be the fourth season in a row for him to do so. If he can get his shot rate up a little, then Johansen will be worth his new contract. But keep an eye on those shots per game over the next month and a half before your league’s trade deadline, because if they dip anymore, then you may want to get out before he gets his new deal.
Evgeny Kuznetsov (C) – Washington Capitals
Current Cap Hit – $3,000,000
Kuznetsov is starting to rebound after a poor start to the season. As he starts putting up points and making the Capitals more than a one-line team, his current bridge deal really looks like a bargain. Moving forward his production over the next few years should fall around the 70-point range (between this season’s production and last season’s production). And just about any contract he could sign would still make him worth the money. That kind of continued offensive production, in addition to high plus/minus and power-play points is tough to match.
Something similar to the deals signed by Mark Scheifele and Nathan MacKinnon could be in store for the skilled Russian forward. This would mean along the lines of six years and just above $6 Million per year. If Kuznetsov were to get anywhere near that kind of an extension, he would still be a great bargain for the capitals, and in fantasy leagues. Even with his recent surge of eight points in his last four games, he is still a buy because he started so slowly. Right now he is still only on pace to hit 55 points, but really he should break 60 without too much of a sweat. This is a 70-point player who had a slow start to the season. Continue to treat him as such.
Alex Galchenyuk (C) – Montreal Canadiens
Current Cap Hit – $2,800,000
Looking to come back off of a recent injury, Galchenyuk is hoping he can pick up right where he let off. Unfortunately for Habs fans and for his fantasy owners, that is unlikely to be the case. Not only is frequent line-mate Brendan Gallagher on the shelf for two months with his second finger surgery of the calendar year, but also Galchenyuk has been shooting a ridiculous 20% through his first 25 games of the season. He is a talented centre, playing with good players on a good team, but his upside will be limited if he can’t even put up two shots per game. Very few players have been able to hit a very high tier while shooting so little, and they have done it with passing. The problem is that Galchenyuk doesn’t accumulate enough assists to be in the conversation of the top playmakers like Joe Thornton, Henrik Sedin and Nicklas Backstrom.
If Montreal is to sign Galchenyuk, it looks as though they will have to make him the highest paid forward on the team. He would leapfrog Tomas Plekanec, who is currently making $6 Million a season. Just like with Kuznetsov, Scheifele and MacKinnon make good comparables. Galchenyuk does also seem to project that he has some room to continue to grow, and may be able to exceed his contract like Scheifele has done this season. That being said, in a salary cap situation, the aforementioned three young forwards all look like they will be better bargains than Galchenyuk.
Tyler Toffoli (RW) – Los Angeles Kings
Current Cap Hit – $3,250,000
Toffoli has been slumping this season, and like Galchenyuk, he will be looking to make his make with his return from injury coming soon. Unlike Galchenyuk though, Toffoli hasn’t had much help from his running mates. The whole Los Angeles Kings team (save Jeff Carter) has struggled to find their offence this season. Even though Toffoli is only on pace for 46 points, he has still been useful to fantasy owners, putting up almost three shots per game. This lack of production this season may also benefit his owners in the long run, as he may take a different approach to contract negotiations this summer.
Toffoli is not going to get as much money as he is probably worth on a long-term deal at this point. So he would be best served by being patient, and signing a smaller, shorter contract. Perhaps something like a two-year contract worth between $4.5 and $5 Million per season. This allows him to fully grow into his own, and show the Los Angeles Kings what kind of player he can be before signing his big contract. This scenario would work out very well for the Kings and Toffoli’s fantasy owners, because having him at a discounted price for those next two years could be golden. He has been trending nicely up for the last three seasons before this year’s road bump. Him and the Kings should be primed for a rebound next year, so buy on Toffoli while his value is a little lower.
As always, thanks for reading, and comments are welcome. I would be interested to hear if there is any more insight into what you may think this year’s RFAs will be looking for in their new contracts.
I am also making my first foray into the twitter-verse. You can follow me on Twitter: @alexdmaclean and see what kind of thoughts I come up with during my non-writing hours.
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