Top 17 unsigned RFAs: Tricky contracts galore

With the UFA madness almost a week in our rear view, it’s go time for restricted free agents.

The recent batch of RFA re-signings — Alex Galchenyuk, Andre Burakovsky, Jesper Fast, Zach Hyman, Oscar Lindberg, Philipp Grubauer, Mark Pysyk — has signaled summer’s shift in focus toward locking up young core players.

Arbitration papers have been filed, agents and GMs are talking, and money is about to start flying.

Here’s a look at the top 17 RFAs whose contract negotiations we’re most intrigued to see play out over the next couple of months based on these twentysomethings’ 2016-17 performance. Some huge deals are on deck.

Mikael Granlund
Age: 25
Position: Centre
2016-17 salary cap hit: $3 million
Bargaining chips: 2017 Lady Byng finalist. Top four in goals, assists, points and plus/minus among 2017 RFA class. Skates nearly 19 minutes a night and is versatile enough to switch from centre to wing. The Wild’s leading scorer, easy. Played post-season with broken hand.
What the future holds: Arbitration is on deck.

With the two-year bridge deal over, it’s time for Granlund to strike it really rich. Consider Minnesota’s other centres: Mikko Koivu and Eric Staal are only getting older. Granlund is the No. 1 pivot of this club’s foreseeable future, and he’s producing at an elite level.

“He played a lot of minutes this year, starting in World Cup, but he competed right to the end,” GM Chuck Fletcher said. “He’ll have to learn ways to create more time and space for himself. I just think he’s such a competitive and such a smart player, he’ll learn.”

The Wild traded Marco Scandella and Jason Pominville to Buffalo this summer in part to free up dollars for Granlund and fellow RFA Nino Niederreiter.

David Pastrnak
Age: 21
Position: Left wing
2016-17 salary cap hit: $925,000
Bargaining chips: One of the NHL’s best bargains and most under-celebrated young stars. A 34-goal and 70-point man already. Added two goals and two assists in six playoff games.
What the future holds: Cash. Slightly overshadowed by teammate Brad Marchand’s Hart-conversation campaign, Pastrnak is due a massive raise from his breakout season at age 20. The guy performed just under a point-per-game pace and sniped his 30th goal with more than 10 games left in the season.

The question is, how bad does GM Don Sweeney want to ink another large-money contract considering he already has three forwards making at least $6 million a year, two defencemen making more than $4 million a year and a $7-million goaltender?

“We want David, and David certainly reiterated a number of times that he wants to play here and stay here,” Boston president Cam Neely told reporters on May 2. “He loves it here. So I feel confident we can get something done with him.”

Step 1 was buying out the last two years of Jimmy Hayes’ contract.

Ryan Johansen
Age: 24
Position: Centre
2016-17 salary cap hit: $4 million
Bargaining chips: Four consecutive 60-point NHL seasons. GM David Poile traded away a high-rated defensive prospect in Seth Jones to land Johansen with the intention of him becoming the Preds’ No. 1 stud pivot. Thirteen points in 14 playoff contests, and his absence was felt in the final.
The latest: Poile challenged Johansen to step up his conditioning in the ’16 off-season. “He needs to be our leading scorer and put up some big numbers,” Poile said in September.

The pivot responded by topping all Preds in assists and points. He won 54.6 per cent of his draws. A low shooting percentage (9.1 per cent) is partially to blame for his goal total (14), but when plopped between Filip Forsberg and fellow RFA Viktor Arvidsson, he centres one of the best lines in hockey.

Nashville extended a qualifying offer worth $6 million (his 2016-17 salary). Negotiations go up from there. A good sign here is that, unlike Arvidsson and Austin Watson, Johansen did not file for arbitration. This should be Johansen’s home run.

Leon Draisaitl
Age: 21
Position: Centre
2016-17 salary cap hit: $925,000
Bargaining chips: “Hey, I’ll settle for less than McDavid!” Third-overall pick. Big body for his age. Registered 0.71 points per game in his first full season in Edmonton. Great in World Cup. Even better on Connor McDavid’s wing. Plays nearly 19 minutes a night and stands out come playoff time.
What the future holds: An important extension. In a perfect world for the Oilers, Draisaitl — 29 goals, 77 points — makes Sean Monahan or Mark Scheifele money. But this is the summer of ’17, not ’16, and McDavid has raised the bar.

Not only can Draisaitl centre a line by himself, he can slide in as a lovely complement on McDavid’s right side. Is $9 million too much for agent Mike Liut to request? My guess: They settle on a long-term deal worth a little more than $8 million per season.

Analyst Jonathan Willis goes in deeper on the Draisaitl deal here.

Bo Horvat
Age: 22
Position: Centre
2016-17 salary cap hit: $894,167
Bargaining chips: The Canucks’ 2017 All-Star Game rep. Vancouver gave up a No. 1 goalie (Cory Schneider) to draft Horvat ninth overall in 2013. In the process of taking the No. 1 centre baton from one-time league MVP Henrik Sedin. Career-high 20 goals and 52 points.
What the future holds: “We’re going to get something done. Bo will be a part of this organization for a long time,” Canucks president Trevor Linden told a Vancouver radio station this spring. The sides agreed to wait until season’s end to open negotiations on an extension. We go into detail on Horvat’s next contract here.

GM Jim Benning said in late April that the sides have already touched base, but “these things take time.”

“It’s a priority for us, for sure. I’m not gonna set a timeline,” Benning said. “It might be something we end up talking about and working on all summer.”

Colton Parayko
Age:
24
Position:
Defence
2016-17 salary cap hit:
$858,750
Bargaining chips:
Incredible 2016 rookie campaign that saw the Alberta kid log big, important minutes and put up 40 points (including playoffs). One of the best D-men on Team North America at the World Cup. Skates 21 minutes a night. Tough as nails.
What the future holds:
Arbitration or a long-term commitment from the Blues, who had little choice but to trade UFA defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk this season.

GM Doug Armstrong shouldn’t mess around with a bridge deal here. Already a fixture in the top four, Parayko will continue St. Louis’s tradition of excellent D-men.

Writes Jeff Gordon of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “Parayko’s camp realistically can demand $6 million to $7 million per year on a long-term deal. He could settle for a short-term deal through arbitration, but Armstrong risks paying higher salaries whenever Parayko finally signs for the long haul. Where is Parayko’s ceiling? It is far north of Shayne Gostisbehere, a power-play specialist who signed a six-year, $27 million contract with the Philadelphia Flyers.”

Ondrej Palat
Age: 26
Position: Left wing
2016-17 salary cap hit: $3.33 million
Bargaining chips: One of the better two-way forwards in hockey. Underrated at both ends of the ice. Capable of 60 points if he can stay healthy.
What the future holds: A nice raise. Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman eased this summer’s RFA situation by dealing away Jonathan Drouin to Montreal, but Yzerman still must get Palat and centre Tyler Johnson under contract. Both filed for arbitration this week.

That Palat brings a defensive element to his game makes him harder to part with, and he’s on record wanting to sign a new deal ASAP.

Tomas Tatar
Age: 26
Position: Left wing
2016-17 salary cap hit: $2.75 million
Bargaining chips: Three straight 20-goal seasons in Detroit. Led all Wings with 25 goals this year. Most believe he still hasn’t reached his ceiling. Looked fantastic for runner-up Team Europe at the World Cup.
What the future holds: Mon-ay. With Henrik Zetterberg on the sad side of 35, the Wings need to pay men in their 20s to put the puck in the net. Gustav Nyquist makes $4.75 million a year. Tatar is younger and better. He can play either wing and has quietly had a 20-goal campaign for a bad Red Wings club.

Tatar had shoulder surgery in April and addressed his contract situation with the Detroit Free Press.

“We started talking for a little and so far he haven’t talked about much,” Tatar said. “But I don’t see a problem.

“[Detroit] feels like home to me, but I’m not afraid of change,” he added, knowing a trade is possible. “I know it’s a business and if Ken [Holland] would like some deal and he thinks he can help the team this way, it obviously can happen. Like I said, I would just respect it.”

Tatar is looking for term at approximately a $5 million AAV, according to the Free Press.

“Detroit offered me a contract, and even with a few options — for a year, or four or five. We’re still talking about the length, and of course, the financial amount of the contract,” Tatar told CSA.sk, via the Detroit News. “However, we aren’t going anywhere, and there’s been time enough.

“Arbitration is the last option. I have to sign off; it’s just a mandatory contract. Unless I agree with Detroit, I’ll go to the court [arbitration], where they’ll give me a year’s contract. That would probably be my last season in Detroit. We’ll see in a few days or weeks before it all comes together.”

Tyler Johnson
Age: 26
Position: Centre
2016-17 salary cap hit: $3.33 million
Bargaining chips: Led all players in 2015 playoff scoring, putting up 13 goals and 10 assists in 26 games for the Cup finalists. Point per game (17 in 17) in 2016 post-season. Longtime relationship with head coach Jon Cooper. From undrafted to blowing up for 72 points as an NHL sophomore in 2014-15. Bounced back from a disappointing 2015-16 and finished with 19 goals and 45 points in 66 games in 2016-17. Kills penalties.
What the future holds: A modest raise, before or after arbitration. When UFA-bound captain Steven Stamkos agreed to return for $8.5 million a year in 2016, that signaled the rest to fall in line financially. Considering Nikita Kucherov signed for three years at $4.76 million per season in the fall, Johnson must aim lower.

Alexander Wennberg
Age: 22
Position: Centre
2016-17 salary cap hit: $925,000
Bargaining chips: Career highs in goals, assists, points and plus/minus coinciding with the best regular season in Blue Jackets’ history.
What the future holds: Wennberg’s perfectly timed breakout season will make him a priority re-signing. The previously cap-tight Blue Jackets allowed UFAs Sam Gagner, Lauri Korpikoski and Kyle Quincey to walk, plus they bought out Scott Hartnell. All of which makes re-signing Wennberg much more palatable. Winger Josh Anderson (RFA) still needs a new deal, too.

Wennberg hired a new agent, Pat Brisson, and told the Columbus Dispatch he’s had preliminary discussions about an extension.

“We’ll see,” he said. “Nothing is done right now. There’s no rush, either. Take it when it comes.”

Connor Brown
Age: 23
Position: Right wing
2016-17 salary cap hit: $650,000
Bargaining chips: A work ethic his coach adores. Quiet 20-goal rookie campaign. More even-strength goals in 2016-17 (17) than Alex Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews, Phil Kessel, Tyler Seguin and a bunch of other scorers you think are way better.
What the future holds: A sweet raise that falls above Zach Hyman’s $2.25 million cap hit and below Nazem Kadri’s $4.5 million. Brown doesn’t hold arbitration rights, but Mike Babcock & Co. want him to be part of the club’s long-term future.

GM Lou Lamoriello promised Brown would “be here in October.”

Viktor Arvidsson
Age: 24
Position: Right wing
2016-17 salary cap hit: $631,667
Bargaining chips: Grown into a ridiculously cheap point producer. Skates like the wind. Enjoyed a career year and deserved his top-line promotion.
What the future holds: After exploding for an out-of-nowhere breakout season —31 goals and 30 assists — the fourth-rounder will put pressure on GM David Poile to keep he and fellow RFA Johansen together. The question becomes this: How deep (dollars and years) do you commit to a forward after one season of elite production?

Arvidsson elected to file for arbitration. This negotiation should be a good one. Out-of-thin-air estimate? A five- or six-year deal at $4.2 million per season.

Conor Sheary
Age: 25
Position: Left wing
2016-17 salary cap hit: $667,500
Bargaining chips: Stanley Cup champion twice over. Put up nearly a point per game in his first full NHL campaign. Plays nice with Sidney: 23 goals and 53 points.
What the future holds: A relative windfall. To think: the undrafted Sheary was on an AHL-only deal until 2015-16. Now he has two Cup rings and has slid in lovely to the left of the world’s greatest player. Keeping Sheary in the fold will ease the pain of losing UFA forwards Chris Kunitz, Nick Bonino, and Matt Cullen.

Of concern: Sheary was dropped to the Penguins’ third line at times during the 2017 playoffs (just two goals in 20 games) and suffered a concussion against the Washington Capitals.

Sheary and Pens defenceman Brian Dumoulin both filed for arbitration.

Mika Zibanejad
Age: 24
Position: Centre
2016-17 salary cap hit: $2.625 million
Bargaining chips: Sixth-overall pick. Back-to-back 20-goal campaigns. Has increased his point total every season before getting hampered by injury this year. The Rangers gave Ottawa a No. 1 centre in order to land Zibanejad, so they’re already half committed.
What the future holds: A more permanent role in New York and a nice, if not mind-blowing, raise. The Rangers are getting older. It’s imperative that young, reasonably priced forwards like Zibanejad take the baton.

GM Jeff Gorton already inked UFA Kevin Shattenkirk and RFA Jesper Fast for reasonable rates and will work to keep Zibanejad’s price low, too. The Swede filed for arbitration and wants to stay.

Captain Ryan McDonagh raves about Zibanejad’s all-around game, and he’s been a good fit. There’s room for him to take another step with the off-season departure of centre Derek Stepan to Arizona.

Robin Lehner
Age: 25
Position: Goaltender
2016-17 salary cap hit: $2.25 million
Bargaining chips: The best goalie the Sabres have under control. Two straight seasons with a save percentage of .920 or better while backstopping a lottery team thin on the blue line.
What the future holds: An arbitration date and an interesting negotiation with new boss Jason Botterill. The emotional Lehner has provided excellent netminding behind a bad Buffalo squad and he’s wrapped up a three-year contract. Do the sides want to make a long-term commitment here? Our guess is a two- or three-year pact. On a good team — something Buffalo might become in a couple years — Lehner could be a star.

Botterill recently told the Buffalo News that he’s had conversations with Lehner and his agent, Craig Oster.

“They understand our position. We’re looking forward to trying to find a way to get a contract done with him and move forward on the season,” Botterill said.

“It still continues to be a feeling-out process for myself and Robin trying to get to know each other, but we’ve had a good couple conversations, and Craig Oster and I have a very good relationship. We’ve worked on many a deal together, and I certainly have a firm belief that we’ll get something done here over the next month or so.”

Nino Niederreiter
Age: 24
Position: Right wing
2016-17 salary cap hit: $2.67 million
Bargaining chips: Set career highs in goals (25), assists (32), points (57) and plus/minus (+17) this season. Big boy (6-foot-2, 211 pounds). Point per game in the 2016 post-season.
What the future holds: Could nearly double his money. The Swiss forward has shown wonderful consistency throughout his three-year bridge deal — three straight 20-goal seasons — so it should be time for GM Chuck Fletcher to make a long-term commitment here.

But like many Wild players, Niederreiter failed to score against Jake Allen in Minnesota’s Round 1 playoff exit to the Blues.

“He’s been streaky before. He’ll be streaky again. He gets hot. He gets cold,” Fletcher said. “I don’t know that he’s that much different than a lot of goal-scorers. He certainly made a lot of big plays in Game 5.”

Connor Hellebuyck
Age: 24
Position: Goaltender
2016-17 salary cap hit: $692,500
Bargaining chips: How often do you have a No. 1 NHL goalie making less than $700,000? More wins (26) and shutouts (four) than any other goalie in his RFA class.
What the future holds: A significant raise and fewer starts. The Jets wisely hit the UFA market to find Steve Mason, a veteran Hellebuyck can lean on for advice and someone who is used to sharing the workload.

Hellebuyck filed for arbitration. Expect a short- to mid-range deal in terms of years as Hellebuyck’s .910 career NHL save percentage doesn’t command a massive commitment at this point.

More intriguing RFAs: Micheal Ferland, Sam Bennett, Ryan Spooner, Anthony Duclair, Damon Severson, Ryan Dzingel, Esa Lindell, Brian Dumoulin, Nathan Beaulieu, Calvin De Haan, Nikita Zadorov, Andreas Athanasiou, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Nate Schmidt, Jordan Martinook

(cap info via the excellent CapFreindly.com)