The leverage is shifting with every missed shift.
Hampus Lindholm not only needs to be wearing an Anaheim Ducks sweater if the go-for-it-now franchise hopes to win the Stanley Cup; he may need to get signed soon if the Ducks are to make the playoffs — no sure thing in a Western Conference rife with parity.
(We’re not just saying this because we drafted Lindholm to our fantasy team, but we drafted Lindholm to our fantasy team.)
One of two restricted free agents still not playing as we approach Week 2 of the NHL season, unlike Winnipeg’s Jacob Trouba, Lindholm has not requested a trade. He has, however, requested a raise in the ballpark of 700 percent.
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Lindholm’s ask is believed to be as high as $7 million per year for as many as eight seasons. Florida’s Aaron Ekblad set the ceiling for young D-men with the $7.5 million per year deal he inked in the off-season. When holdout Rasmus Ristolainen settled with Buffalo for $5.4 million over six years, he set the floor for Lindholm’s negotiations.
Though the 22-year-old holds no arbitration rights, the Ducks’ iffy defensive play has led to a 0-2-1 start with a minus-4 goal differential in the early days of The Randy Carlyle Era: Part Deux. Advantage: Lindholm and agent Claude Lemieux.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported on Hockey Night in Canada that the sides were $700,000 a year apart a week ago, and the gap was closing (watch video above).
The Ducks would prefer to retain Lindholm for $5.5 million per year, something in the range of Seth Jones or Morgan Rielly money.
A bargain at entry-level dollars, Lindholm finished second in Ducks ice time last season (averaging 22 minutes), and led all Anaheim blue-liners in both goals (10) and minutes on the league’s No. 1 penalty killing unit. He’s also an analytics darling.
“Hampus is a good skater, and he’s got a good release,” Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf told us recently. “He’s somebody that’s learning his way through the game, all 200 feet. He’s gotta keep doing what he’s doing because he’s been a great developing player for us, and we look forward to hopefully having him back again.”
Upon signing his other RFA holdout, Rickard Rakell, on Friday, general manager Bob Murray addressed the Lindholm situation.
“We’re trying hard to get that accomplished,” Murray told reporters. “There’s different things that can happen here.”
None of those things are easy, though, and that’s because Murray — GM of the Year in 2014 — has committed too much money to veterans.
Anaheim has just $323,335 in cap space to sign, say, a $5.8 million player. (Update: Winger Mason Raymond was placed on waivers Monday, but his $675,000 cap hit won’t provide much relief.)
A declining Kevin Bieksa, 35, will make $8 million over the next two seasons and has no-movement protection. A rather average Clayton Stoner, 31, still has two years left on a deal carrying a $3.25 million hit. And Ryan Kesler, 32, is locked up through 2022 at $6.875 million per. He also has a no-move. We thought this deal would haunt the Ducks eventually, but it’s having an impact now.
Even if Murray waived some youngsters and put Nate Thompson ($1.6 million cap hit) on long-term injured reserve, there wouldn’t be enough cap room to bring Lindholm back from Sweden, where he’s staying in shape.
The threat of an offer sheet lingers, but only six clubs have the cap leeway to afford one right now — Ottawa, New Jersey, Florida, Winnipeg and Carolina — and Lindholm has expressed no desire to leave California.
Other teams — Buffalo, Boston, Detroit, Arizona, and the Rangers — are in the market for a defenceman, so a trade could work. And opposing scouts have reportedly been shadowing Anaheim.
Because of his $4 million cap hit and lack of trade protection, Cam Fowler is the most popular candidate. Problem is, Fowler is a horse. He leads all Ducks in ice time (25:17) and presents a power-play threat. deal him to keep Lindholm, and the Ducks may be better off long-term but not much right now — and this is their championship window.
Adding to Murray’s dilemma is a looming Dec. 1 deadline, after which an unsigned RFA must sit out the remainder of the season.
The common approach is to lock up your best young players first. Instead, Murray went deep on veterans in 2015 and then decided to pay less expensive RFAs Sami Vatanen and Rakell before coming to terms Lindholm.
Now his back is against the wall, and his leverage is slipping to Sweden.