Thursday, September 01, 2016

Pool Worthy Restricted Free Agents Still on the Shelf

Gambling on unsigned free agents at the hockey pool draft is a fun game, most of time, should work in your favour, but it's hard to say just how the relationship stands at the time, since it is generally speculation and hearsay, unless the player, his agent or the team publicly announce how the negotiations are going, but that's a move for a desperate side.

As we now open up in September, the World Cup teams are now gathering for their brief training camps and our list has a few players that will be taking part and in a couple of cases, they have said that there will be no signing of new deals during the tournament, a pretty good power move, if you ask me.

Let's have a look at who we're still waiting for through restricted free agency...

Topping the list, obviously with the most intrigue, is Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau, who will be representing the North American under-23 team at the World Cup.  He has already said that his side won't get anything done during the tournament, which won't leave much time to get the deal done, but it is still adequate.

It's no secret that the two sides are looking for a long-term deal, despite coming out of his entry-level contract, but how long and how much might be very contentious for the two sides, more how much than how long.  Right now, the Flames have a projected 23-man roster with only $6.8 million in cap space, which might not be enough.

At a projected 75 points on my list, he is one of the top players available to start the season and he will undoubtedly go in the 1st round of my draft and a strong World Cup will certainly help his cause.  The question is, how much time will Gaudreau miss, waiting for his new deal?

Nikita Kucherov was a lock for the Russian World Cup team after two solid seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning and his story continues to get more and more interesting, especially given that the Bolts have continued to be busy adding to their roster and consuming cap space, while he remains unsigned.

The 23-year old is going to be a key piece of Tampa's future and will command a pretty penny and a solid performance at the tournament will only help his cause.  Also coming out of his entry-level contract, it appears that Kucherov will also forego the bridge deal and look for something in the long-term variety.

Currently, Kucherov is projected for 70 points this season, but he will have to get that deal done to be worth that much at the hockey pool draft.  The Lightning only have about $4.5 million left under the cap with their current 23-man projected roster, so there may have to be more movement and shuffling done to get his deal under wraps.

Quietly becoming one of the game's better scoring defensemen, Rasmus Ristolainen might be making more noise when training camp opens for the Sabres, as he is still without a deal to play in the 2017 season.  Posting a 41-point season in 2016 really bumped him up a lot of lists, finishing 24th among all blueliners in scoring and certainly has the potential for more.

One would have to believe that the Sabres are still wanting to bridge the 21-year old out of his entry-level deal, before they get to a more long-term solution, but the numbers are really jumping off the page and that's what the player's camp will be banking on.  Unfortunately for the player, the team has all of the leverage in RFA negotiations, but the Sabres could really use him, if they are going to push for the playoffs this season.

Ristolainen is trending upwards and a 45-point projections is about where I have him right now, but if he isn't signed on draft day, it could be a bit of a wait.

The Washington Capitals and defenseman Dmitry Orlov opted not to go through the arbitration process, despite the player being eligible this summer, so it has been on good faith that the two sides would get their deal done before the season starts and now the countdown has begun.

The 25-year old Russian is set to take part in the World Cup in the coming weeks and he will certainly get a head start, trying to build upon a decent 2016 season, where he finished 52nd among all defensemen in scoring with 8 goals and 29 points in all 82 games for Washington.

Orlov is one of the few major RFA's to not be coming out of an entry-level deal, rather his last cap hit saw him up at the $2 million mark and he is likely looking for a raise on top of that.  The Caps only have about $3.35 million left under the ceiling with their current 23-man roster, not leaving much flexibility for the player or the team.  He could certainly be a candidate for a move, if negotiations fail.

The push for restricted free agent defensemen continues in Anaheim, as Hampus Lindholm still waits for a new deal with the Ducks.  The 22-year old had a little bit of a down season in the final year of his entry-level deal, but his potential is still quite high and that will be a big sticking point, I'm sure, when it comes to deciding on a bridge deal or something more long-term.

His 2016 campaign saw 10 goals and 28 points in 80 games for the Ducks, good enough to be 53rd among all defenders in scoring, but it was down from the 34-point season he had in 2015.  Nevertheless, he will still play for Sweden at the World Cup, taking the spot of injured defender Niklas Kronwall, showcasing his talents early for his contract negotiations.

Once signed, I am thinking that Lindholm should start realizing more of that potential, as his projection for the coming season is in the 35-point range and it could certainly go up from there, if all goes well.

The list of defensemen with huge upsides continues with Jacob Trouba in Winnipeg, as the Jets blueliner has been making some strides, despite being on a very crowded roster.

With a blueline that already boasts Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers and Toby Enstrom, it is a struggle for Trouba to get those big minutes to really shine, but he certainly makes a good go of it, with the minutes that he is given.  In 81 games last season, the 22-year old finished with 6 goals and 21 points, ranking 75th among all defensemen in scoring.

With all of that depth and a lack of minutes, it's really hard to give high projections for Trouba, despite his skill level.  He should be able to break through and have a 30-point year, but it could be a little bit higher, if he was moved in a deal, like some of those trade rumours out there might suggest.

For the Jets, it will be about getting good value from the minutes he'll get and still being somewhat of a budget team, there is no way they are going to break the bank for Trouba.  A bridge deal would be most likely, but it is probably a tough sell and might be even tougher after he plays a large role on the North American under-23 side at the World Cup.

The Ducks have one more player on this list, which is likely complicating the discussions for a couple of players, instead of just one.  Forward Rickard Rakell, a 20-goal scorer for the team last season, is also in need of a new deal out of his entry-level contract and the Ducks could really use his name on the dotted line before the season starts.

Rakell played in 72 games for the club last season and finished with 43 points, ranking 115th among all forwards in scoring and the Ducks' depth at the forward position is rather shallow, heading towards training camp, so it is imperative that a deal gets done here.  The 23-year old will also feature for Team Sweden at the World Cup as another injury replacement, this time for Alex Steen of the Blues.

The depth in the forward ranks may hamper Rakell's overall season, which has his projection down a little from last year's scoring.  I only have him in the 40-point range to start, but that's assuming he can get signed for the coming year.

Anaheim's cap situation is looking rather thin, as they have a projected 24-man roster (one player set for the LTIR), coming in at $4.9 million under the ceiling with both Lindholm and Rakell to get inked.

Tobias Rieder was my intriguing player to watch for the Arizona Coyotes this season in one of my off-season posts, but he has still yet to sign a new deal for the 2017 season (and beyond).

The 23-year old German has been showing some flashes of brilliance, early on in his NHL career, but does struggle to find some consistent scoring.  His 2016 season was definitely a good one, scoring 14 goals and 37 points in 82 games and he is certainly trending the right way.  So much so, he has been included on the roster for Team Europe at the upcoming World Cup, playing on a roster that is a collection of players from countries that don't have a lot of representation in the NHL.

I currently have him to bump up to the next scoring bracket in my projection list, hitting the 40-point mark on an exciting Coyotes team and he could be a big part of their future successes.  With that being said, he will probably get a nice raise, likely to take up a good portion of that LTIR relief that they will be dipping into this season.

The New York Rangers have one more key RFA to take care of this off-season, forward Jesper Fast.  The 24-year old Swede earned a full-time spot with the Rangers in the 2016 season, playing in 79 games for the club, scoring 10 goals and 30 points on the season.

The Rangers have been trying to retool their lineup to become younger, leaner and more cost efficient and Fast should be part of that long-term solution for the club, but the team's overhaul has plateaued some of the projections on a number of players, as their expectations should be close to what they've done in years past and Fast is no different, currently projected for 30 points again in the 2017 season.

Fast didn't make the cut for the Swedish World Cup team this time around, so there should be some extra time to get a deal done before training camp opens and then it will be interesting to see where he fits into the grand scheme of things.

The curious case of Valeri Nichushkin and the Dallas Stars.  The young Russian came shooting out of a cannon in the 2014 season, but ever since, has been dealing with injuries and has really been unable to get himself on track for a long NHL career.

In the 2016 season, he was able to play in 79 games for the club, scoring 9 goals and 29 points, but didn't quite have the confidence in the coaching staff when it came to playoff time and was a healthy scratch, more often than not.  A solid off-season regime will hopefully get his health under control and that could possibly lead to some better scoring numbers, but that might be the sticking point on a new deal, just what will they expect of him moving forward?

Currently, I have the Russian coming in at the 40-point range and fully expecting to see him sign a bridge deal for the next couple of years, trying to push him towards bigger and better things and a long-term contract.  None of these things should be considered to be out of the question for him, it's more a matter of when and not if.

There were some pretty high expectations on Islanders forward Ryan Strome and it turned out to be a disappointing season in 2016.  The restricted free agent played in 71 games, missing time to being a healthy scratch, scoring 8 goals and 28 points in that time.

Coming off a 50-point season in 2015, you can kind of see where the disappointment comes from and that has likely hampered his contract talks, as it generally becomes a conversation about what you've done for me lately.

I don't think Strome is going to stay down in the dumps, he'll bounce back in the 2017 season, thanks to some of the changes made to the lineup and he'll come back to a 40-point year (give or take), but I would imagine the Islanders will try to get him to sign at a bargain rate and maybe a short-term deal would be better for him in the long haul anyways.

With their current 23-man projected roster, the Islanders still have about $3.9 million left in cap space, which should be ample room to get the deal done.

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