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NHL’s Top 10 RFAs still unsigned: Latest rumours and reports

NHL's Top 10 RFAs still unsigned: Latest rumours and reports

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It’s a youth-driven league, folks, and the quality of the NHL’s restricted free agents this summer is deep.

Yes, even as we speed toward September.

We still have first-line wingers and at least one franchise centreman who are due for raises, and the number of young top-pair defencemen and emerging goaltenders with No. 1 potential is impressive.

Vancouver’s Jim Benning may be under the most pressure to negotiate long-term extensions with his RFAs. Despite taking care of Thatcher Demko and Conor Garland, he still has two big guns to compensate.

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Cale Makar got paid in Colorado, Miro Heiskanen in Dallas, Brandon Carlo in Boston.

Joel Eriksson Ek committed to Minnesota, Andrei Svechnikov to Carolina, and Sams Bennett and Reinhart to Florida.

With arbitration season come and gone, the next real pressure point to settle unsolved cases will be training camp. (And Jesperi Kotkaniemi proved that offer sheets are still a thing.)

Here is where things stand with the top unsigned RFAs of 2021.

1. Quinn Hughes
Age: 21
Position: Defence
2020-21 salary cap hit: $916,667
Arbitration rights: No
Bargaining chips: 2020 Calder runner-up. Power-play quarterback. 97 points through first 129 NHL games. Key building block in Vancouver. Averages nearly 23 minutes per game.

The latest: Preliminary contract talks got underway between Benning and the two most important engines of the Canucks’ rebuild in early April.

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Hughes has been putting up gaudier numbers than recent RFA defencemen (Charile McAvoy, Zach Werenski, Mikhail Sergachev) and is arguably more important to his franchise’s future.

Benning drew mild criticism for the in-season extensions he handed out to Demko and Tanner Pearson, essentially signing some smaller fish before dealing with the biggies.

While significant money came off the books in July — Loui Eriksson, Alex Edler, Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel — Vancouver inherited Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s huge contract, still has multiple RFAs to satisfy and is dealing with Roberto Luongo’s cap recapture penalty.

Perhaps bridge is the only solution. The good news for panicky people in Van City: Hughes is classified as a 10.2(c) RFA, meaning he cannot sign an offer sheet.

On June 15, agent J.P. Barry suggested to Donnie and Dhali on CHEK that he is exploring a deal longer than five years for Hughes.

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Term will be a major sticking point, and fellow RFAs Heiskanen and Makar helped set Hughes’ market. He won’t be cheap.

Conversations continue.

2. Elias Pettersson
Age: 22
Position: Centre
2020-21 salary cap hit: $925,000
Arbitration rights: No
Bargaining chips: 2019 Calder Trophy winner. Finished 16th in Hart voting in 2020. 66 points in each of his first two seasons. Plus-19 player. Career 17.6 per cent shooter. No. 1 centre. Put up 21 points through 26 games in 2021, and it still feels like underachieving.

The latest: In late January, Pettersson switched agents, leaving Michael Deutsch at Eclipse Sports Management and joining teammate Hughes at CAA. Power brokers Pat Brisson and Barry will handle their extension negotiations — and hold a great deal of leverage.

Barry told Rick Dhaliwal that the plan is to work on both deals together, like the twin monsters Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane signed in the summer of 2014. Unlike Hughes, Pettersson could theoretically ink an offer sheet.

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Barry, you may recall, put the screws to Benning in securing lucrative contracts for Tyler Myers and Loui Eriksson in recent off-seasons. But they were UFAs, not RFAs.

“The Canucks have cap issues. I don’t think we can do long-term deals for Petey and Quinn. We have started the dance; we are engaged in talks,” Barry told Donnie and Dhali.

“We are exploring shorter term for Elias, five years and under. Quinn longer.”

Sportsnet’s Iain McIntyre estimates that somewhere in the ballpark of $14 million in total AAV could get both stars under contract. One would have to bet that means going the Auston Matthews–style, five-year route and keeping the door ajar for another windfall when the cap escalates.

Benning vowed to match any offer sheet on Pettersson during a Sportsnet radio interview in Vancouver on July 22.

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A rehabbing Pettersson tweeted footage of him firing pucks on July 14, an encouraging video for Canucks fans.

Barry reminded on July 30 that agreeing on term is a hurdle in negotiations, but the good news is that both Hughes and Pettersson are committed to re-signing with Vancouver.

In a Swedish interview, Pettersson said that he wants to make sure the Canucks are as committed to winning as he is.

3. Kirill Kaprizov
Age: 24
Position: Left wing
2020-21 salary cap hit: $925,000
Arbitration rights: Yes, but did not file
Bargaining chips: 2021 Calder champ. Blew up with 27 goals and 51 points in 55 games as an NHL rookie, while logging 18-plus minutes nightly. Most points and goals by a rookie in Wild history. Instant star and fan favourite. Minnesota is desperate for young, exciting offensive talent.

The latest: Wild insider Michael Russo of The Athletic reported in late March that Kaprizov’s agent, Paul Theofanous, sat down with GM Bill Guerin to kick off “a long conversation that will eventually lead to a new contract” for the most exciting young talent to pull on a Wild sweater since… who? Marian Gaborik?

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Kaprizov’s status as a 10.2(c) RFA means he’s immune to an offer sheet. His only leverage is threatening to sign in the KHL.

He can become a UFA as early as the 2024 off-season, so Guerin should be gunning for term here.

In polling execs and agents, Russo’s sources’ predictions on Kaprizov’s next contract range from a $6.5-million AAV on a two-year deal to a $9-million AAV for a lockup of six years plus.

Kaprizov headlines a Minnesota RFA class that includes prized forward Kevin Fiala. (The club already took care of Ryan Hartman and Eriksson Ek before they hit free-agent status.)

Certainly, the twin buyouts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter freed up cash for this summer’s spending.

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Kevin Weekes caused a stir on June 18 with his report that talks had gone cold and that Kaprizov was threatening to sign back in the KHL, yanking on his only leverage in this situation.

Guerin said on July 13 that “dialogue is open” with Kaprisov’s camp and that talks began around July 3. The GM cautioned the sides are still early in the process.

Sources described negotiations to ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski as “a deafening silence” at the end of July.

Publicly, Guerin says simply there is nothing new to announce.

The KHL pressure point was raised again on Aug. 9, when Frank Seravalli reported that Kaprisov has a deal in place with CSKA Moscow for one year and eight figures should a new contract with the Wild fail to work out.

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Guerin has indicated for a month that he’s willing to compromise by signing Kaprizov to a mid-range deal (five or six years).

“The Wild still expect to get a contract consummated with Kaprizov despite the threat continuing to come from Kaprizov’s side,” Russo reports.

4. Brady Tkachuk
Age: 21
Position: Left wing
2020-21 salary cap hit: $925,000
Arbitration rights: No
Bargaining chips: Finished fifth in Calder votes in 2019. 125 points through first 198 NHL games. Plays 18-plus minutes per night. Willing to fight Shea Weber. Hits hard and often. Beloved by teammates and fans. His prime will align with Sens’ ascent. Captain material.

The latest: Tkachuk has expressed his love for playing in the nation’s capital. He’s also revealed that his in-depth conversations with management regarding a new contract have been limited.

“That’s a good question,” Tkachuk told reporters in January. “Where the world’s at right now, we haven’t really been talking about (my extension), and we don’t know how the salary cap is going to look for the next couple of years.

“I love being here. I love the crew, love the teammates and the staff, so definitely love it here. But we’ll see how it unfolds.”

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Pierre Dorion re-signed head coach D.J. Smith, which should please Tkachuk. The GM has the cap room to commit and has shown a preference to go deep with RFAs he deems worthy of the core (see: Chabot, Colin White and Matt Murray).

Tkachuk is absolutely worth the investment, so it’ll be fascinating to see how he plays this out. Senators fans needn’t be reminded of past free agents who’ve departed for more money elsewhere.

“We haven’t really started to talk yet,” Tkachuk told the Cam and Strick podcast in June. “So, I’m going to give you the hockey answer and then I’m going to give you the real answer. I will let my agent (Newport Sports’ Craig Oster) and Pierre figure it out.

“I think it’s pretty cool going through this for the first time. Of course, it’s a little stressful, and people say you shouldn’t think about it, but it’s your life.

“For it now to be kind of getting into the works this summer, it’s definitely going to be exciting, and I hear different stories about different negotiations and how they go. Being there with Matthew and with his negotiations (with the Calgary Flames), I’m just excited that it’s happened to me.”

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Shawn Simpson reported on Aug. 5 that “Brady loves the crew in Ottawa. But he’s totally waiting to see if ownership is willing to spend what it takes to deliver a Cup team. How that relates to this summer and his deal, I’m not sure. But it was made very clear that he would be all in long term if ownership does the same. At the same time they know the business and won’t be playing any games.”

Elliotte Friedman suggested on July 12 that a three-year bridge might be the route here:

5. Filip Hronek
Age: 23
Position: Defence
2020-21 salary cap hit: $714,166
Arbitration rights: No
Bargaining chips: 2017 Calder Cup champ. 2019 Red Wings rookie of the year. Team Czech staple who won Best Defenceman at 2019 worlds. Puck-moving, right-shot defenceman yet to reach his ceiling. Led team in points (26) and assists (24) this season. Logs 23:23 per game. Improved discipline and defensively during platform year.

The latest: Fantasy managers know: Hronek is that rare Red Wing worth hanging onto, even during the mighty franchise’s patient rebuild.

“A year from now, Filip Hronek’s up and we’ll extend his contract,” promised GM Steve Yzerman back in October, during an appearance on 97.1 The Ticket.

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As recently as the 2021 trade deadline, when he dealt away Mantha, Yzerman highlighted Hronek as a core member of a roster he’s slowly building back to prominence.

Even with the Jakub Vrana and Tyler Bertuzzi deals, Detroit is flush with cap space, so Hronek should surface this summer with more term than any of his teammates. Yzerman was prudent in managing his internal cap in Tampa, so the bar he sets with Hronek will be one worth watching.

6. Rasmus Dahlin
Age: 21
Position: Defence
2020-21 salary cap hit: $925,000
Arbitration rights: No
Bargaining chips: First-overall draft pick in 2018. Calder Trophy finalist in 2019. Fifth defenceman in NHL history to record 30 points before age 19. World junior silver medallist. Building block who wants to stay in Buffalo. 107 points in first 197 NHL games. Skates more than 21 minutes per night.

The latest: The Buffalo News reported on July 21 that contract negotiations are underway between Dahlin and Adams, who has gained some leverage here after the D-man’s disappointing minus-36 performance in 2021.

“Going through a year like this is not easy,” Dahlin said. “The one thing I’ll take with me is that it has been an experience that will make me a stronger person and better player and person.”

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Dahlin was encouraged when Don Granato took over the bench, saying he felt more trusted.

The safe play for both sides might be a bridge, but the Sabres don’t have a single defenceman signed beyond 2022.

Could they lock up Dahlin long-term early in this rebuild of the rebuild and position his as their No. 1, the way Ottawa did with Chabot?

Negotiations are underway.

7. Drake Batherson
Age: 23
Position: Right wing
2020-21 salary cap hit: $736,666
Arbitration rights: No
Bargaining chips: Goal per game en route to 2018 world junior gold medal for Tema Canada. 2019 AHL All-Star Game MVP. Excellent young playmaker whose prime should align with Ottawa’s contention window. 53 points through first 99 NHL appearances. Hot off career-best season in which he put up 17 goals and 17 assists in 56 games.

The latest: Publicly, Dorion has been tight-lipped with regards to extension negotiations with his budding stars. But one would have to believe the Senators have interest in long-term deals for core pieces like Batherson.

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Next to Tkachuk, extending Batherson — a legitimate, two-way, top-six forward still a year away from arbitration rights — must be a top priority.

“If you asked Ottawa fans if they’d sign Batherson to a seven-year deal at $4 million per year, I think most would jump at that deal. But I think if you’re the Batherson camp, maybe you look at the [three-year, $10.5-million] bridge deal Mark Stone signed coming off his entry-level contract back in 2015,” writes The Athletic’s Ian Mendes.

Batherson’s camp might be wise to see if Tkachuk’s new deal raises the internal bar.

8. Anthony Beauvillier
Age: 24
Position: Left wing
2020-21 salary cap hit: $2.1 million
Arbitration rights: Yes — but did not file
Bargaining chips: First-round pick. Represented Canada at 2016 world juniors and 2018 world championships. 20-goal talent if healthy. Scored a career-best five game-winners and posted a career-best plus-15 rating in 2020-21. Skates more than 16 minutes a night. Raises performance in postseason, scoring 27 points in past 41 playoff games. Best buddies with Mathew Barzal.

The latest: Lou Lamoriello was able to lock up RFA Adam Pelech long-term for a relative bargain, and the GM should attempt something similar as he negotiates with the unsigned Beauviller and RFA goaltender Ilya Sorokin.

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Some suspect that Lamoriello has agreements in place with UFAs like Zach Parise, Kyle Palmieri and Casey Cizikas but has opted not to announce those deals to maximize his leverage here.

Because Beauvillier did not file for arbitration, this situation could linger a while. Still there is no doubt that the player and the team have a mutual interest in getting a deal done.

“We have to look at the big picture as far as where the contracts are, and where they’re coming up in the cap world that we live — and a flat cap as you all know,” Lamoriello said.

9. Ilya Sorokin
Age: 25
Position: Left wing
2020-21 salary cap hit: $2 million
Arbitration rights: Yes — but did not file
Bargaining chips: Turned pro at age 17. Arrived to NHL ready after developing for a long time in the KHL, making five All-Star Game appearances. 2018 Olympic gold medallist. 2019 Gagarin Cup champion and playoffs MVP. Posted impressive 13-6-3 record with three shutouts and .918 save percentage as an NHL rookie in 2021. Went 4-1 with a .922 in the postseason.

The latest: As a 10.2(c) RFA, Sorokin is ineligible for an offer sheet, and he opted not to file for arbitration despite having the option.

“I don’t want to go to arbitration. Why spoil relations with the management?” Sorokin was quoted in a Russian-language interview. “It seems to me that the issue of the contract can be resolved humanly.”

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The Islanders still have capable veteran Semyon Varlamov, 33, under contract through 2022-23, at which point Sorokin should ascend to undisputed No. 1 status.

The question is whether the team goes longer term now (the Rangers’ four-year, $22.6-million pact with Igor Shesterkin would be a comparable) or kicks a bigger deal down the road. If going the latter route, Washington’s one-year, $2-million deal with Ilya Samsonov would presumably be the floor.

10. Nolan Patrick
Age: 22
Position: Centre / Right wing
2020-21 salary cap hit: $874,125
Arbitration rights: No
Bargaining chips: Second-overall draft choice in 2017. Promising young centreman on a team in need of offence-drivers in the middle. Back-to-back 30-point seasons to start career.

The latest: With injuries derailing his NHL start, the once-prized Patrick was dealt by Philadelphia, the team that drafted him, in a three-way deal that landed him in Vegas.

As the Golden Knights watch their own former centre prospect Nick Suzuki flourish in Montreal, they hope to strike gold by buying low on Patrick — who’s in need of a fresh start following a dismal nine-point effort in 2020-21.

“It obviously wasn’t the year I wanted to have in Philly last year,” Patrick told the Las Vegas Sun on Aug. 21. “I think a fresh start was the best thing for me. Coming to an organization like Vegas is obviously extremely exciting. For my offseason training, I’m extremely motivated after the season I had. Looking for a bounce-back year. I’ve been doing everything I can to get myself ready for the first game.”

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We’d bet on a bridge deal here.

More notable RFAs: Kailer Yamamoto, Casey Mittelstadt, Eeli Tolvanen, Robert Thomas, Dennis Cholowski, Kieffer Bellows, Henri Jokiharju, Filip Gustavsson, Libor Hajek

All salary info via the essential CapFriendly.com.



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