Friday, September 01, 2017

Pool Worthy Restricted Free Agents Still on the Shelf

Last year at this time, the list of unsigned restricted free agents was actually quite stunning and there was some 11th hour work done by NHL teams to finally lure players back into their respective jerseys and for one of those players, Valeri Nichushkin, he opted to go back home to Russia, where he'll play for another season in 2018.

This time around, we have a good number of top end free agents still negotiating or playing some serious hardball, which is already leading the rumour mill down the usual dark path of potential trades and other miscellaneous unrest.

Most of the names on the list were pointed out already on the pool projection posts that I had put up a couple of weeks ago, but this is just a quick refresher, as we're now a month away from the draft and you may or may not have already started your homework.  It's probably good to know where they stand, as training camps are opening in a couple of weeks as well.

The slick scoring David Pastrnak has been the biggest focus of trade rumours since the middle of August, as the Bruins may struggle to convince the 21-year old, who scored 34 goals last season, that he may need to bridge out a deal to help the team's cap situation for a couple of years. With players at this age now getting paid, it could be a really tough sell.  The latest from the beginning of the week was suggesting that the Bruins have offered up $6 million per season over numerous years, but it still sounds like it's a bit short.

The projections in place for Pastrnak are suggesting that he could certainly repeat his 70-point performance in the 2018 season and that would make him into a solid 2nd round pick in this year's pool draft.  This also has the best chance of a long-term holdout coming too, which would certainly decimate his overall pool value.

One of last season's big bargain picks in the hockey pool draft, Alexander Wennberg of the Columbus Blue Jackets, may still be flying under the radar to some, but soon, he likely will be a household name.

The 22-year old Swede finished last season ranked 62nd overall in pool scoring, 42nd among all forwards and Stacey C. was able to snag him with an 11th round pick (252nd overall) in last year's draft. That's almost 200 spots better than his draft selection and his trajectory is certainly heading in the right direction.

The Hockey News has him projected at 62 points for the coming season and that's going to be a pretty hefty price tag to match up to, something the Blue Jackets are going to have to consider for the long-term, I'm thinking.

A cornerstone piece in Vancouver is still left unsigned at this point in the summer, but the contract talks with Bo Horvat and the Canucks have been reported to be on track.

Horvat has been making strides in the right direction over his first three seasons with the Canucks, hitting career-high marks last season with 20 goals and 52 points in 81 games.

With the trend line still going up for the 22-year old, it is expected that the new deal will be of the long-term variety and if the reports of good communication between the two sides is true, it shouldn't be very long now.

I think we're all in agreement, that this is a huge year for Sam Bennett and his future with the Flames.  The first hurdle, however, is the contract that is going to allow him to play this season.

The Flames are not exactly in the best shape, cap-wise, to give Bennett something long-term, nor has his numbers given him much of a leg to stand on in negotiations for a long-term deal, so a quick bridge deal would be ideal for both team and player.

Once Bennett is locked into a deal though, however long it turns out to be, he can finally start realizing more of that potential that made him the 4th overall pick in the 2014 entry draft.

The Detroit Red Wings and their salary cap hell that they are going through this off-season has been keeping them from signing one of their key restricted free agents, forward Andreas Athanasiou, and there have been some rumblings that this could cause the 23-year old to depart to Russia for the year.  There is allegedly an offer on the table from the KHL, but the player wants to stay in North America, if at all possible, and so we wait.

There have been all kinds of rumours about the Red Wings still trying to make a deal or two to help their cap situation and they might to make more than one, if they can't open up that extra space for this dynamic winger.

Last season, Athanasiou picked up 18 goals in 64 games played with Detroit and the Wings can ill-afford to be without him, if they wish to be competitive this season, otherwise, it's going to be a very long season in the new Little Caesar's Arena.

The Devils are not struggling with their cap numbers, if you were to believe they weren't a budget team, but they do have to determine how much of a long-term piece of the puzzle Damon Severson will be down the road.

Severson's scoring trend has certainly been going the right way since he jumped into the league full-time in the 2015 season and once signed, he will be expected to eclipse his career-high in points, which he set at 31 last year.  That was good enough for 51st among all defenders, which means he has some real upside to be realized yet.

I am expecting a long-term deal for Severson, as he's a big piece of their future and he certainly has the talent to be the guy for them.  I think it will only get better for him, once the team around him improves to playoff level as well.

Columbus forward Josh Anderson rounds out the list of players that were pool worthy last season and still unsigned.  The 23-year old finally made the jump to the full-time roster last season after a couple of seasons making some brief appearances and he did not disappoint, when he finally made it.  A 17-goal season was a good reward for the team that showed him some faith in having him up there.

Now, the Blue Jackets have to figure out where he's going to play this season and how much that is worth to them.  Unlike Wennberg above, Anderson is more of a depth/role guy, who had some upside to him last season and he would be the sort of player that would likely benefit from a bridge deal, adding the motivation of earning a long-term contract and the team could slide him into their budget easily.

The early projections on the season don't see Anderson reaching the pool worthy heights again, but maybe that bridge deal is what he needs to show us all up.

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