Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Pool Worthy Restricted Free Agents Still on the Shelf

We're turning the page on the calendar today and we're drawing ever closer to NHL training camps, the first sniff of real homework for us hockey poolies.  Rookie camps are just about to open up, but those kids are either locked in or heading back to the lower ranks after they're done, but the guys that are still big question marks today are the unsigned restricted free agents.

Seven players, who were hockey pool worthy last year, still remain unsigned and are the focus of this post today.  All of them are coming out of their respective entry-level deals and the clubs are now trying to determine whether or not they want to sign them long-term or bridge their deal by a couple of years, playing the wait and see game, trying to confirm whether or not they are worthy of being signed long-term.

Last year, at this time, there were also seven players on the list and they fell pretty quickly after this post, so I'm sure most of the fans of these teams and players are hoping for much of the same this year.

The biggest fish in the restricted free agent pond is William Nylander and his next contract will certainly have a greater effect on the salary cap status of the years after the 2019 season, more than it will the 2019 season.

There's no question that the kid is talented and fits in like a corner piece on a puzzle, but the question may remain... is he THE corner piece that the Maple Leafs need to pay top dollar for?  He's already popped off 135 points in his first three seasons with Toronto, so where is the issue on paying this kid?  With Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner looking for extensions already, John Tavares now in tow, Frederik Andersen anchoring the team and a blueline that isn't cheap, money begins to appear to be quite tight, starting in the 2020 season.

Of course, the whole picture is going to appear much clearer, when Nylander signs his next deal, but whether or not the Leafs will be able to get a hometown discount from the 22-year old Swede for keeping the gang together will loom large for the future of this team.

Things aren't nearly as serious in Buffalo, as they are in Toronto, which makes the Sam Reinhart situation a little less interesting, perhaps, but on the grand scale for the Sabres, not any less important.

It may have taken a little while, but the 22-year old has really started to show what he is really made of with this team, finishing with 50 points in 82 games last season, knowing full well it could have been better, if Jack Eichel remained healthy for the whole year.

The Sabres are growing a pretty good looking franchise on paper these days, having some poor years yield some top end prospects and they have been able to take advantage of some teams selling off pieces, which have aided in making the team look a little bit more competitive.  Getting Reinhart locked in will be a key piece of this puzzle moving forward, but it doesn't seem like it is a slam dunk to get done, which could be troubling.  By my count, the Sabres have $5.4 million in cap space with their current 23-man roster, so money shouldn't really be an issue today and with free agency looming next summer, they should have even more space.

One of the lesser-known players on this list, New Jersey Devils forward Miles Wood, popped out of the woodwork (pardon the pun) and snuck his way onto the pool worthy list of scorers, ranking 197th among all forwards with 32 points in 76 games.

This could be a tricky negotiation, one that the player really doesn't have a lot of leverage on, but the difference between 'what have you done for me lately?' and 'what is your potential for the coming year?' really begins to settle in here.

After two solid seasons, playing in 136 games, it does appear that he is now an everyday player for this club and he may have a case for being paid like one, even though he could possibly be thought of as a bubble player, thanks to some only 'okay' numbers.

One would have to believe that the bridge deal is far more likely for Wood at this point, as much as the player may want a little bit more of a long-term commitment.  I don't think there will be much of a hockey pool commitment from many teams at this year's draft, since he was such a bubble player at the end of last year and there are some up-and-coming rookies ready to take his place (or be better).

Now we get into all the defensemen that are left on the list and we start in Calgary, where the newly-acquired Noah Hanifin is apparently "super close" to a new deal and that is good news for the Flames.

Thanks to the recent buyout of forward Troy Brouwer, the Flames opened up a little more cap space to get a deal done with Hanifin, as reports are suggesting that the deal could be in the 5-year range, worth north of $5 million per season.

In giving up a franchise defenseman like Dougie Hamilton in the trade that brought Hanifin to Calgary, the Flames are destined to pay Hanifin like he is a franchise defender, as he appears to be on the verge of being one of those guys.

With what has already been said in the media reports and still a couple weeks until players start arriving for training camp, there shouldn't be any reason to panic... for now.

I think we're all still waiting to see if Shea Theodore is really going to live up to all the hype he has had in the last couple of years, albeit he made it onto the hockey pool worthiness list after last season's effort of 29 points in 61 games.

We still haven't seen a full 82-game season out of him yet, last year was really his first full season, so there's still a little bit more proof needed that he is worthy of a long-term deal.  Somehow, I think this could still be the thinking for the Vegas Golden Knights, who do appear to be quite high on him, but did he really do enough to earn that big deal or will he still only manage a bridge deal out of it this summer.

If you believe what you have read, in terms of some of the projections that the Hockey News has given him for the coming season, 43 points, then maybe he has a little bit of leg to stand on, but the proof is really in the pudding and Theodore might be better suited for a small bridge deal, hoping that he can work out the kinks and be that full-time guy that everyone expects him to be.

The Winnipeg Jets and Josh Morrissey are likely in some pretty interesting talks, in terms of settling their restricted free agency differences. 

The Jets are another one of those teams that have to look much further ahead down the road with these negotiations, as they have lots of work to do in the next year or so, just to lock down the core group, hopefully for the long-term.  Morrissey will need a new deal now, but Patrik Laine, Blake Wheeler, Tyler Myers and Jacob Trouba will also need new deals in the next 12-to-13 months and that is going to take up a lot of cap space immediately.

I am currently showing the Jets having a 23-man roster and $8.5 million in cap space, but the cap hit that Morrissey gets in his new deal will creep over the length of the deal and where he stands right now, that could put a pretty big dent in what the team could offer the four other players soon.

Today, I could see a guy like Morrissey fetch about $4 million per season, if he was to re-sign long-term and that could be a good deal for both the club and the player, but the argument for upside is certainly there and is probably what is hindering the deal getting done.

And finally, closely following Morrissey in Winnipeg is the same situation between Darnell Nurse and the Edmonton Oilers, certainly looking long-term, but really keeping an eye on the pennies spent.

Nurse is another kid that has plenty of hype around what his future looks like in the NHL and it is certainly bright, but the Oilers will already struggle to afford what that could be worth down the road, as they may struggle with the cost of him, just outside of his entry-level deal.

I currently show the Oilers with a 23-man roster and only $2.2 million in cap space today and he'll be somewhere in the neighbourhood of $4 million per season, much like Morrissey above him here.  If he was to pan out to his expectations, his contracts would be worth much more than that and that's a scary thought for this team, which has already allocated a lot of cap space to very few players.

I don't think it is out of the question to think that the Oilers will be forced to make a move or two, just to make sure they have Nurse on the roster for the coming season.

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