Key NHL RFAs remain unsigned: Latest rumours, reports

Newly signed Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner discusses why he turned down any offer sheets right away, didn't ever want to explore that option.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have now altered the RFA landscape thrice in the past 10 months.

William Nylander’s prolonged stalemate in 2018, which flirted with detonation until the five-minute mark, proved the financial—if not on-ice—benefits of playing the waiting game.

Auston Matthews’ five-year, $58.17-million windfall opened eyes on the double-dip that could be available to star players coming out of their entry-level deals and wanting to hit the open market in their 20s. Sebastian Aho followed suit.

And on Friday night, Mitchell Marner raised the bar for RFA wingers, putting his signature on a six-year contract worth $10.893 million per season, selling only two of his UFA years.

Not every organization, of course, is as financially equipped to frontload offers the way Kyle Dubas has been able to. Yet it’s clear the rate and the resolve has been raised for the young elite.

There is bargaining strength in numbers.

After a busy weekend that also saw the best unsigned defenceman, Boston’s Charlie McAvoy, come off the board, we’ve ranked the remaining eight RFAs still unsigned.

Here are the freshest rumours and reports on their individual situations as the NHL pre-season gets underway.


1. Brayden Point
Age: 23
Position: Centre / Right wing
2018-19 salary cap hit: $686,667
Bargaining chips: Established as one of the NHL’s premier two-way centremen and earned some Selke votes. Can check top lines. Put up 41 goals and 92 points. NHL-best 20 power-play goals. Ranked top-10 in plus/minus (+27).

The latest: Tampa GM Julien BriseBois spoke to Lightning fans Sunday and reiterated that he is “very optimistic” about bringing Point back into the fold.

“I don’t see any reason to panic,” BriseBois said (watch below, via Joe Smith). “We want Brayden here, there’s no doubt about that. I know Brayden wants to be here. There’s no animosity.”

Point’s agent, Gerry Johannson, stuck to the plan of letting his client’s fabulous platform year play out before opening serious extension talks. In light of Tampa’s cap crunch — just $8.5 million in wiggle room — Point has been open to a range of term, anything from a two-year bridge deal to a five-year Matthews-type deal to an eight-year lockup.

“He loves it in Tampa,” Johannson told Smith.

Point’s loyalty to Tampa reportedly factored into Montreal GM Marc Bergevin’s decision to instead target Carolina’s RFA centreman, Aho, with his July 1 offer sheet.

BriseBois has already freed up funds by trading winger J.T. Miller to Vancouver and Ryan Callahan to Ottawa and would love to retain Point for something less than top dog Nikita Kucherov’s AAV of $9.5 million, but the GM’s offer of three years around $5.7 million per (first reported by Pierre LeBrun) isn’t cutting it.

2. Mikko Rantanen
Age: 22
Position: Right wing
2018-19 salary cap hit: $894,167
Bargaining chips: Led club in playoff scoring (14 points) and is a career point-per-game performer in the post-season (18 in 18). Second only to Nathan MacKinnon in team assists (56) and points (87), despite playing just 74 games. Back-to-back 80-point seasons. Play-maker on the most dangerous line in the West. Invited to first All-Star Game. A big boy (six-foot-four, 215 pounds). Career-high plus-13.

The latest: Prior to opening night, Rantanen smartly chose to let the season play out in full before negotiating. Then he went out and had a career season on one of the best lines in hockey.

Colorado’s highest-paid player, MacKinnon, carries a $6.3-million cap hit. Rantanen has enough leverage to blow his centreman out of the water.

“It’s not something we’re worried about,” GM Joe Sakic said of Rantanen’s next deal. Cap space isn’t an issue in Colorado. “He’s going to be here a long time.”

The good news: No team has more cap space than Colorado — $15.6 million.

The bad news: If Rantanen signs for, say, six years at his new-and-improved market value of $10.5 million plus, do you really want MacKinnon’s winger making 40 per cent more than him?

“As much as he’d like to be here, he can’t go out and sign an eight-year deal at $1 million a year just to be nice,” captain Gabriel Landeskog told the Denver Post Sunday. “At the end of the day — and I want people to know — we love Mikko and Mikko loves this team, this organization.”

3. Matthew Tkachuk
Age: 21
Position: Left wing
2018-19 salary cap hit: $925,000
Bargaining chips: Sixth-overall pick. Career highs in games (80), goals (34), assists (43), points (77), while posting a career low in PIM per game. Good genes. Likely successor to Mark Giordano as captain. Gets under Drew Doughty’s skin.

The latest: Tkachuk believes Auston Matthews’ five-year monster extension raised the bar, which is a scary thought for the Flames, who must make Tkachuk their highest-paid player.

“It sets that new bar for guys that are in a position to be up for a deal to be a restricted free agent this year,” Tkachuk said on Feb. 6. “It kind of changes every year, it seems like. There’s always that one guy or a couple guys who change the money, whether higher or lower.

“Auston changed it, too, just going with the approach of a five-year deal, too. Maybe people haven’t seen it in a couple years, but it’s not uncommon. Guys used to do that all the time. He definitely set the bar for this year.”


GM Brad Treliving has a track record of locking up his RFAs and has projected confidence that Tkachuk’s negotiations will have a happy ending.

Due to his shrinking cap space ($6.3 million left over after the Andrew Mangiapane deal), Treliving has reportedly entertaining trade offers for roster players like Michael Frolik and T.J. Brodie.

Treliving publicly downplayed that a Marner deal would affect the Tkachuk talks.

“I don’t think there are any dominoes,” Treliving told reporters last week. “Everybody has their own individual situations, no different than any other organization or any company. You know what’s going on out there, but you have your own situation and your own structure and all the things that you do internally.”

4. Kyle Connor
Age on July 1: 22
Position: Left wing
2018-19 salary cap hit: $925,000
Bargaining chips: Back-to-back 30-goal campaigns. First-round pick. Coming hot off career highs in goals (34), assists (32) and points (66). Bright spot (three goals, five points) in Jets’ disappointing first-round exit. Can contribute to both special teams. Better two-way winger than fellow RFA Laine. Wonderful chemistry with Winnipeg’s top players, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler.

The latest: Last week’s report from Sportsnet’s Sean Reynolds that at least three clubs have discussed a potential offer sheet for Connor should be taken more as a sign that tensions are ratcheting than a departure is imminent.

Connor has proven a valuable member of the Jets’ top six. He’s more well-rounded and consistent than the flashy Laine, and therefore a safer bet on a long-term deal.

Marner’s contract not only increases Connor’s argument for a hefty raise but underscores the Maple Leafs’ ability to sweeten the pot with signing-bonus-heavy deals. The Jets operate on a stricter budget and have traditionally been reluctant to cut a stack of massive cheques on July 1.

“Clearly, we’re a better hockey team with those guys in our lineup,” captain Blake Wheeler told reporters. “You support them, and you want them to capitalize on their value and come into camp excited about being here.

“But the rest of it is out of our control and, to a large degree, is out of their control. It’s going to get dealt with and figured out. And when it does, we’re going to give them a big, old hug and get them in the group and get them up to speed.”

5. Patrik Laine
Age on July 1: 21
Position: Right wing
2018-19 salary cap hit: $925,000
Bargaining chips: Second-overall pick. Otherworldly shot. World junior champion. 2017 NHL all-star. Three consecutive 30-goal seasons. Showed well in 2019 post-season (three goals, five points in six games). Beauty quote.

The latest: Laine did nothing to quell the uneasiness in Winnipeg when he spoke with Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston a month ago.

“You never know where you’re going to play next year, so I’m just prepared for anything,” Laine said.

Laine suffered a minor groin injury in the playoffs and was dealing with back problems during a season in which his year-over-year production dropped from 70 points to 50. He’s flashy, he’s streaky, and his defensive game is under question, but the man can score in bunches.

Laine is currently training with Swiss powerhouse SC Bern as his agent and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff work toward a solution.

According to Andy Strickland, Winnipeg recently offered a bridge deal with an AAV around the $5 million mark. It’s believed Laine is willing to go short-term as well. He’s better than he showed last season, and a couple years of consistent play could match with a rising salary cap and allow him to hit a home run two or three summers from now.

6. Anthony Deangelo
Age: 23
Position: Defence
2018-19 salary cap hit: $863,333
Bargaining chips: First-round pick. Right shot. Posted NHL career highs in games played (61), assists (26), points (30), plus/minus (+6) and time on ice (19:19) for rebuilding Rangers in 2018-19. Second-most power-play time, behind Kevin Shattenkirk, who’s since been bought out.

The latest: Deangelo’s agent, Pat Brisson, informed Larry Brooks of the New York Post last week that he and GM Jeff Gorton have engaged in “conversations about possible solutions.” Wonderfully vague.

Brook reports that Gorton is willing to raise Deangelo’s salary to $925,000. That figure seems awfully low for a 30-point blueliner and a plus player on bad team, but the arrival of Jacob Trouba and Adam Fox nudge Deangelo down on the depth chart.

7. Julius Honka
Age: 23
Position: Defence
2018-19 salary cap hit: $863,333
Bargaining chips: First-round draft pick (14th overall in 2014). Member of Finnish national team. Mobile right-shot defender in a league that values those guys.

The latest: Finding it difficult to soak up ice time in Dallas (Honka averaged 13:42 over 29 appearances in 2018-19), Honka formally requested a trade after all the healthy scratching became too much to bear. GM Jim Nill said he’ll do what’s right for the organization.

As Sportsnet’s Eric Engels reports, the Montreal Canadiens—who swung and missed on Jake Gardiner—are among the clubs exploring a swap.

“Did we handle him right at times? Yes or no, we don’t know. And it’s on the player, too,” Nill told reporters last week. “You get an opportunity, you’ve got to grab it. Sometimes, things don’t work out. There’s different personalities, but that’s sports and that’s life.

“Some people fit in, some people don’t, and away we go.”

8. Saku Maenalanen
Age: 25
Position: Right wing / Left wing
2018-19 salary cap hit: $925,000
Bargaining chips: Big Finnish power forward (six-foot-four, 207 pounds) who arrived in North America well-seasoned as a Liiga pro. Played integral role in helping Olun to Finnish Elite League championship in 2018. Familiarity with Hurricanes franchise centre Sebastain Aho dates back to junior. Won world junior gold in 2014. Selected to 2018 national team.

The latest: Showing well in the AHL last season, the gritty Maenalanen earned a call-up in January and made enough of an impact in the bottom of the lineup to stick through the playoffs. As camp opened last week, however, Hurricanes GM Don Waddell said that “as of now” Maenalanen will remain back home in Finland. For the player, a fifth-rounder who was drafted back in 2013 by Nashville, failure to earn another contract with the Canes could end his NHL dreams.

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