The NHL pre-season is well underway, the puck drops for real two weeks from today, and yet a handful of important restricted free agents are still at a contractual impasse with their respective teams.
While the pressure of another soft deadline, Oct. 3, should snap most of these stalemates over the next fortnight, we’ll be watching closely to see if any of these situations impede the regular season.
Recent agreements between the Jets and Josh Morrissey, Edmonton and Darnell Nurse, and Buffalo and Sam Reinhart have all been two-year bridges at a cap hit between $3.15 million and $3.65 million. Seems like a trend when the long-term negotiations fall apart.
We’ve rounded up all the latest rumours and reports on the four RFAs still looking for contracts in 2018-19. Don’t freak out yet, but consider it soon.
Position: Right wing / Centre
2017-18 salary cap hit: $832,500
Back in July, Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas made a declaration: “We can, and we will” keep all three young stud forwards — Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner and Nylander — in the fold long-term, as well as UFA prize John Tavares.
With Nylander staying in shape back home in Sweden (see fitness level below) and sitting out training camp after back-to-back 61-point seasons, Dubas calmly stood his ground during Tuesday’s televised interview.
“I still have the same level of confidence that we can accomplish what we set out to do,” Dubas said on Sportsnet’s broadcast of the Leafs’ first pre-season game (watch above).
“It’s our full intention that all these young guys are here for a long time and the impediment right now is we’re trying to go through a process with them, with [agent] Lewis Gross and William Nylander and their camp and we’ll continue to work away at it.”
Dubas’s first big extension must be made with the forthcoming raises for Marner and Matthews in mind.
Nylander has reportedly shot for the stars in his initial ask, requesting in the range of $8 million, while it’s believed Dubas would settle for an AAV closer to the $6 million cap hit Winnipeg’s Nikolaj Ehlers agreed to last summer on a seven-year commitment.
Outside of posting a glamour shot from the gym, Nylander himself has been quiet since addressing his situation on Aug. 1 at Smashfest.
“Of course, I want long-term. That’s what I want to do, but we’ll take it slow, day by day, and see what happens,” Nylander said.
The longer this drags on, the greater the likelihood of a short-term bridge deal.
Nylander has little to no leverage here, and Dubas — as promised — is exercising patience.
2017-18 salary cap hit: $863,333
Theodore averaged more than 20 minutes per game for the Stanley Cup finalists, and the youngster’s point-every-other-game pace continued deep into spring. He posted 10 points through 20 post-season contests and, barring a trade, figures to be a top-four Knight for years to come.
Cap space is no issue for the Knights as they look to re-sign Theodore, but McPhee is not afraid to play hardball with his new outfit.
If you thought the Darnell Nurse and Josh Morrissey bridge deals would bump Theodore to the brink, think again:
“We’ll hopefully have Shea under contract soon, and we’ll see how that goes over the next few weeks,” McPhee said Aug. 8 in an interview on Fox 1340 AM. “He’s in a unique position in that he doesn’t have arbitration rights.… So, this might be a little bit different. It might take a little longer, but it’s something that certainly he would like to have done and we’d like to have done.”
The 20-game suspension of Knights defenceman Nate Schmidt (another mobile left shot) puts pressure on GM George McPhee to have Theodore in place for puck drop.
“It’s always best to have all of your guys available, but I don’t feel any particular pressure,” McPhee said last week. “We’ll do a deal when the deal is right, and if he’s not here then someone else will play.”
Position: Left wing
2017-18 salary cap hit: $925,000
The speedy Devils sophomore broke out big-time in 2017-18, scoring 19 goals and 32 points in 76 games despite limited power-play time. Sixteen of Wood’s goals came at even strength, and his underlying numbers should help the size of his raise. Wood averaged 1.11 goals per 60 minutes played five-on-five, which tied him for 23rd overall in that category.
While the sides were reportedly working toward a short-term bridge deal leading up to camp, negotiations have since soured.
“Miles wants to be there,” his agent, Peter Fish, told NJ Advance Media on Saturday. “He thinks this a really great group of guys, and as long as everyone is healthy and does their part, they’ve got a chance to compete with anybody. So he wants to be there.”
Devils GM Ray Shero has said the dialogue disappeared between the Devils and Wood’s camp over the past week, and Fish concurred. The player continues to work out with his personal coaches in Massachusetts.
“Miles would be open to anything,” Fish said, regarding the term of Wood’s next deal. “He just wants to be there and keep proving to the Devils that he can help them.”
Position: Left wing
2017-18 salary cap hit: $894,167
Seeing mostly third-line minutes, Ritchie’s production has been relatively flat over his first two full seasons in the league (28 points in 2016-17, 27 in 2017-18) and he failed to reach the scoreboard in the Ducks’ swift playoff exit. A full year flanking projected centre Adam Henrique could help Ritchie take a step to realizing his top-10-pick potential, and a short-term bet may be in the player’s advantage.
Offers between Ritchie’s camp and Ducks GM Bob Murray have been exchanged and have gone cold. Ritchie is working out back in Ontario, and the sides remain far apart.
Murray prioritized a three-year extension for RFA forward Ondrej Kase (signed Aug. 15) but has said he’s hopeful to get Ritchie’s deal done soon.