As the Stanley Cup finals are being played, the free agents still playing are increasing their value each game in which they play well. In Part 2 of our look at pending RFAs, we will look at the top 11 through 15. I could have made this a top 30 as there are a few players omitted that could be here including Brandon Carlo, Ivan Barbashev, Oskar Sundqvist, Joel Edmundson and Danton Heinen who are still playing in the final. I’m going to include the top two RFA goalies below as G1 and G2.
#15 – Kevin Labanc
I’m proud to say I picked up Labanc for my keeper pool team after his OHL campaign in 2014-2015 of 107 points, even though he was only a 6th round pick. I’m ashamed to admit, I dropped him the following season even after he improved to 127 points in the OHL because he was only a 6th round pick. I was wrong and he has emerged as a second line winger on one of the best teams in the NHL. He had 56 points on 17 goals and 39 assists after putting up 40 points the year before (In what I thought would be his peak again). He has increased is output in each of his three seasons and had 32 points in the last 39 games this past season. A pace of 67 points. Can he improve again? I’m not going to be the one to say no. His projected contract is three years at $3.7 million AAV.
#14 – Ivan Provorov
Provorov had a step back this past season with seven goals and 26 points and a minus-16. It was going to be difficult for him to improve upon his 17 goals the year before, but many had thought he would hold the line in points at the very least. He is not a PP fixture with only a career high of six points on the PP in his rookie year and only two last season while averaging under two minutes per game. There is hope that he will be the 50-point defenseman that the Flyers drafted him to be and there is little reason to think he won’t be if he plays on the first PP unit in the future.
Standing in his way are Shayne Gostisbehere and the Flyers deploying four forwards on the first unit over 93% of the time. There are some concerns with his IPP dropping from 50.0 to 28.9 since his rookie season along with his first assists dropping from 15 to 11 to five in his three seasons. His shots decreased from 203 last season to 145 this past season. This might be a transitional period for a young player who has seen his icetime increase from 22 minutes to over 25 minutes since his rookie season and he must manage his game accordingly. His projected contract is six years at $6.7 million, which seems very high.
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#13 – William Karlsson
At 26 years of age Karlsson is the oldest RFA in the top 20 (aside from the two goalies). He was the breakout player of 2017-2018 in Vegas’s improbable regular season and playoff run. There were warning signs aplenty that Karlsson wouldn’t be able to duplicate. His PDO was 105.0, which dropped down to 98.6 this season along with his shooting percentage dropping from 23.4 to 14.2. He is still a very good player that is at the point production level that he can sustain between 55-65 points and 25-30 goals. Never exceeding 200 shots in a season, he doesn’t shoot the puck enough to warrant pencilling him in for more than 35 goals again. His projected contract is five years at $6.5 million AAV.
#12 – Patrik Laine
Going into this season, I’m not sure I would have had Laine outside of the top three on this list, but here he (arguably) sits at #12. I’d profiled Laine earlier in the year expressing doubt in his game in February and it didn’t get any better the rest of the season. There were rumours that he was battling back issues most of the season and it seems strange to say, but owners better hope that is the case. For his last two quarters of the season, he played 41 games and had six goals and 12 assists on 101 shots. That is a 12 goal and 36 point year pro-rated. Not production that warrants a long-term $10 million AAV contract. Evolving Wild has his projected contract at seven years and $7.2 million, which seems like a bargain in comparison to where Laine was at the start of the year. I’d consider it expensive for a sheltered 50-60 point player who has defensive issues. I will give Laine the benefit of the doubt and I think he will rebound back to 35-40 goals next season, but would Winnipeg deal him in the next year or two?
#11 – Charlie McAvoy
It will be interesting to see what the Bruins do with Torey Krug next season as he will be a UFA at the end of it. Will they re-sign him or be happy with McAvoy and an emerging Matt Grzelcyk as their PP quarterbacks of the future? Either scenario will have a pretty large impact on McAvoy’s future point production. He has had very little PP production his first two seasons in the NHL and has managed to pro-rate over 42 points in both seasons. He has missed significant time both of his seasons from injury and I’m excited to see him play over 70 games. The Bruins prolific PP (3rd in the regular season; 1st in the playoffs) is not going to change to suit McAvoy as long as Krug is on the team, so it would be best to temper production improvement hopes for McAvoy in the short term. His projected contract is six years at $7.3 million AAV.
#G2 – David Rittich
Regardless of what happens with Mike Smith, Rittich will be pencilled in as the backup or 1B on the Flames next season. The 45 games that Rittich played last season was the most he has played at any level since 2015-2016 (Czech Extraliga) and is the second most ever for him. He had an excellent start to 2018-2019, when in his first 24 games, he won 14 and posted a save percentage above 0.920 along with 66.7% quality starts. He faded in the second half with a save percentage around 0.900 and only 38.1% quality starts. His WAR (wins above replacement) was quite good at 2.5 compared to Mike Smith at 0.7. I would think that the Flames will sign Rittich to a two or three year deal between $1.5 and 2 million AAV.
#G1 – Jordan Binnington
If the Rookie of the Year award included playoffs, hands down it would be Binnington’s award. As it is just the regular season, I don’t believe he played enough games to warrant it, but we will find out. The small game sample shouldn’t detract from his incredible year and if you include the playoffs up to game two of the final with Boston, his stat line is still impressive. In 53 games he has 37 wins, six shutouts, a save percentage above 0.920. His quality start % of 64.2 would put him third in the NHL behind Darcy Kuemper and Frederik Andersen for goalies that played more than 50 games in 2018-2019.
The big question going forward is will Binnington be able to sustain his success? Goalie is the most difficult position in hockey to remain consistent and perform well for not just a season but over a career. He faced the least amount of shots in the NHL for any goalie with 30 games or more at 25.22 shots/g and his save % and GAA has been trending slightly towards the average, from the last quarter into the playoffs. As a 25-year-old rookie, his time is now and he will want to get five or six years in a contract moving forward. The Blues would be wise to limit it to a two or three-year contract, but how can they pay him less than Jake Allen at $4.35 million AAV no matter the term?
Next week we will start to look at the top 10 remaining pending RFAs. Thanks for reading!
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