The Top 10 NHL restricted free agents
This is one of the toughest times of the year for those who are in cap leagues.
With so many unrestricted and restricted free agents, it makes it tough to balance out a roster. If your team is only $10 million below the cap, but you have seven free agents that will be signed this summer, then you need to figure who is worth keeping and who is worth trading in an effort to shed salary.
Unrestricted free agents are easy to predict. They’ll sign for big money, because a general manager will give it to them.
But it’s tougher with restricted free agents. Do these guys sign a bridge deal? Do they choose to take more money on a shorter term deal to become an unrestricted free agent longer? Are they confident in their spot in the lineup?
As a fantasy general manager, there’s a lot of worry of what could happen to your squad this summer.
That said, here are the top 10 restricted free agents who should be seeing a pay increase this summer.
10. Justin Schultz
It’s amusing to me that two years ago Schultz was an unrestricted free agent, and this season, he’s restricted. But those are the rules. While Schultz hasn’t lit the scoring world on fire (remember those types of threads where people opined he would be a 40-point threat right away?), he’s still expected to be the Oilers leading dman of the future, at least until Darnell Nurse arrives. Schultz should see a small pay increase this year as the Oilers really don’t have a lot of other options on defence.
The only goalie to make this list, Kuemper’s salary will all depend on the health of the two goalies on the depth chart ahead of him. Niklas Backstrom is 36 and very often injured. Josh Harding was great last season, but is dealing with MS. Kuemper was great for the Wild in the regular season and the playoffs, and he had around a $776,000 cap hit. If the Wild decide to have Kuemper be a permanent backup, or even the starter, his salary should rise to the $2 million mark.
8. Jason Demers
There’s nothing flashy about Demers, but the 25-year-old Sharks defenceman is in a good situation right now. He’s coming off a career season with 34 points, and with Dan Boyle traded, he has an opportunity to get more ice time and more power play time. Last season, he made just $1.5 million. But the jury is out on whether he would be fantasy worth if he signs a multi-year deal around $3 to $4 million.
7. Ondrej Palat
You had an awesome season where you became an unexpected finalist for rookie of the year. You contribute both on the power play and shorthanded. And you made under $600,000 last season. What do you do for an encore? Even if he signs for $2 million (which seems low to me), that’s still three times as much as what he was making last season. He’d still be worth it, but it could mean a fantasy general manager would need to sacrifice another player to make extra cap room. (Editor’s Note: Palat signed a three-year deal worth $10 million, announced just after this column was posted)
6. Tyler Ennis
Ennis makes this list simply for the team he plays for. While Ennis has been decent enough on the Sabres (21 goals and 43 points this year following back-to-back seasons of a 58-point pace while making $2.8 million a year), the Sabres have just way too much cap space. As it stands now, they have $32 million in cap space, and that will go up another $4.5 million if they buy out Ville Leino. Watch for Ennis to sign a massive five-year, $25 million deal just so the Sabres can get to the cap floor.
5. Torey Krug
In 2013, Krug seemingly came out of nowhere in the playoffs to help lead Boston to the Stanley Cup finals, scoring four goals and two assists. But no one really knew what to expect of him coming into this past season. Although there were a few bumps and healthy scratches, Krug still had a great rookie season, scoring 14 goals and 40 points, all while having just a $916,000 cap hit. By following that up with a great playoff run (10 points in 12 games), Krug has pretty much guaranteed himself a 100 per cent pay raise.
4. Chris Kreider
The man who has never met a goalie he wouldn’t slide into feet first was actually grossly underpaid this past season. With 17 goals and 37 points in 66 games and an $800,000 cap hit, he had just one-eighth the cap hit of teammate Brad Richards. With a run to the Cup final and four goals and 11 points in 12 games, Kreider is due for a hefty pay raise.
It seems like Zuccarello doesn’t like long-term contracts (he’s had three contracts in the last four seasons), but that may change after the season he had this year. With 19 goals and 59 points, there’s a good chance he triples his $1.15 million salary from last year, especially since he led the Rangers in scoring. Even if the Rangers don’t buy out any of their expensive players (ahem, Brad Richards), they still have $17 million in cap space, so there’s lots of money for Zuccarello.
The Blue Jacket is the most intriguing name on this list, simply because we have no idea what the plan is for the 21-year-old. Does the team give him a bridge contract, which is great for the short-term, but bad for the long-term if he commands more money two years from now a la Subban. Or do they give him a long-term deal, locking him up for the next six to eight seasons, and let the chips fall where they may? I would believe any type of deal. He will probably end up making three times as much money as he did last season though, when his cap hit was $870,000.
1. P.K. Subban
The obvious choice for #1. No player, whether a restricted or unrestricted free agent, will get a higher pay raise this summer. The Habs defenceman will see a pay raise that brings him from a cap hit of $2.875 million a year to potentially in the range of $8 to $10 million. All of a sudden, in cap leagues, Subban goes from a must-have to a must-trade. He’ll simply be too expensive to live up to the fantasy needs of most owners in points only, and even in those leagues that count shots, hits and blocked shots, there are much cheaper options out there.
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