Training camps open this week.
The majority of NHLers have already returned to their hockey homes.
And yet? Six restricted free agents are still twisting in the wind.
The last of the unsigned have plenty in common.
None have celebrated their 24th birthday. None had arbitration rights. All are eligible to sign an offer sheet, essentially their only leverage outside of failing to report for camp or threatening to take their services overseas.
With medical tests and kick-off team golf tournaments upon us, here is where things stand with the remaining RFAs of 2022.
Let’s play hardball.
Position: Left wing / Right wing
2021-22 salary cap hit: $795,000
What’s the deal? A major reason Jim Nill opted not to re-sign defenceman John Klingberg is because the Dallas Stars GM is seeking to invest a greater portion of his limited cap space in youth.
Starting goalie Jake Oettinger was bridged on Sept. 1 with a three-year, $12-million contract, shifting all eyes to Robertson.
The 2021 Calder Trophy runner-up has been a godsend, establishing himself as a top-line threat and picking up slack from aging leaders Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn.
Nill faces a compelling question: Try to lock up as much of Robertson’s prime now in hopes he looks like a bargain later, the way he did with a young Klingberg and 2021 RFA Miro Heiskanen? Or go with a bridge deal and risk handing Robertson increased leverage down the road?
Nill told the Dallas Morning News last week that he’s hopeful Robertson will be at camp and that there has been “very open dialogue” and “healthy discussions” with the star’s camp.
“Once you start to get deadlines, that helps to speed things up,” Nill said.
With injured goaltender Anton Khudobin buried on LTIR, Nill has roughly $7 million to work with here.
“These RFA deals will often sit and wait, that’s kind of the nature of it,” Stars owner Tom Gaglardi said on the Cam & Strick Podcast. “We’ve got the cap space sitting, waiting for these guys. And so no, we’re not concerned about it.
“Those conversations are happening. I can’t tell you that a deal is imminent.”
Gaglardi seems to love the player but hate the trend.
“A kid in the third year of his entry-level (deal) puts up 40 goals, and now he wants to make $7 million,” Gaglardi said. “If you want term with that player, he’s going to take you higher than that … The stars are taking all the money, and the guys in the middle are getting squeezed.”
Wonder what Gaglardi thinks of the Tage Thompson and Tim Stützle extensions.
Position: Left wing
2021-22 salary cap hit: $747,500
What’s the deal? Formenton entered the summer hot off a breakout platform campaign in which he erupted for 18 goals and 32 points, proving he can contribute lower down the lineup as a first-time, full-time NHLer.
The offensively minded winger’s two-way game still needs improvement, however.
Ottawa Senators GM Pierre Dorion — one of the undisputed stars of the ’22 off-season — has the cap room to sign Formenton to a longer deal if he chooses, but the executive is said to still be poking around for more help on the blue line.
During a radio appearance with TSN 1200 on Aug. 26, Dorion said he was engaged in positive talks with Formenton’s agent and expects the forward will be signed prior to camp’s opening later this month.
Dorion signed depth forward Tyler Motte to a one-year deal on Sept. 14, giving the Senators extra depth if the Formenton situation drags on.
2021-22 salary cap hit: $894,167
What’s the deal? “Negotiations are going nowhere,” Lewis Gross, Sandin’s agent, told us on Aug. 17.
Why the standstill?
“I can’t answer that. You know I don’t usually say much (publicly) anyway. But they’re just going nowhere right now.”
Gross declined to dive into the details of the Maple Leafs’ final unsigned RFA.
“Negotiating contracts via the media have an adverse impact on player (and) team reputation and traditionally do not create resolutions to private matters,” Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas texted when informed of Gross’s comments.
Multiple factors — money, term, and Sandin’s role in a crowded defence corps — are at play.
With training camp not set to open until September, Gross said it was too early to discuss whether Sandin would participate without a contract in place.
The belief is that Sandin was offered a deal similar to Timothy Liljegren’s two-year, $2.8-million bridge contract.
That rate seems fair, given recent comparables. Anderson signed for one year and $1 million in L.A. The Senators signed Erik Brannstrom for one year and $900,000.
With so many veteran left-shot defenders under contract — Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, T.J. Brodie (who plays the right), and Mark Giordano — it remains unclear where Sandin immediately fits into a lineup he did not crack in the post-season after rehabbing a knee injury.
“They’re massive parts of our future,” Dubas said at the draft, lumping Liljegren into an answer on Sandin’s negotiation. “They’re significantly younger than the other full-time members of our defence corps. And we need them to continue to take steps.
“In Rasmus’s case, one of the major focuses is on trying to set him up to continue to be healthy all the way through the year and putting the proper resources into him to arm him to do that.”
2021-22 salary cap hit: $791,667
What’s the deal? Hague has accrued 42 points and 142 games of NHL experience over the past three seasons in Vegas, establishing himself as a big-league contributor.
In late August, GM Kelly McCrimmon stated that his top priority before camp would be getting Hague under contract, even though Ben Hutton will be ready to take Hague’s shifts if the 23-year-old digs in.
McCrimmon told the VGK Insider Show on Sept. 7 that he expects Hague signed prior to camp.
Goalie Robin Lehner’s shift to long-term injured reserve should provide McCrimmon with the wiggle room to bridge Hague.
That said, McCrimmon did go longer term with young D-men Brayden McNabb (four years) and Zach Whitecloud (six years) out of their ELCs, securing each of their services for less than a $2.9 AAV.
FOX5 Las Vegas’s Vince Sapienza reported on Sept. 9 that there has been “very little dialogue since early July” between Hague and the team and that the player is “getting concerned with the lack of communication.”
5. Ryan McLeod
2021-22 salary cap hit: $834,167
What’s the deal? Concern over getting McLeod signed in Edmonton is reportedly minimal.
“He will be. In fact, he may already have a deal in principle and the Oilers are just waiting for the move that creates the requisite cap space for his deal,” Kurt Leavins of the Edmonton Journal wrote on Sept. 3. “Do not be surprised if he ends up on a 1-year in the $800k range.”
The Athletic’s Daniel Nugent-Bowman has McLeod’s salary in the $975,000 range, with one year more likely than two.
More reason not to fret: McLeod has already joined the boys for informal team practices in Alberta and is planning to attend team events.
With spendy Ken Holland tight to the cap after splurging on UFAs Jack Campbell, Evander Kane, Brett Kulak and Ryan Murray, there have been whispers that a roster player like Warren Foegele, Jesse Puljujarvi, or Tyson Barrie are potential trade candidates to alleviate cap space.
6. Adam Ruzicka
Position: Centre / Right wing
2021-22 salary cap hit: $801,666
What’s the deal? Here’s a question: Do the Calgary Flames view Ruzicka as a full-time NHLer at this stage in his career? Or does Brad Treliving see the forward as a ‘tweener only worthy of a two-way contract?
If it’s the latter, Calgary may consider signing a more established UFA vet (Cody Eakin is on PTO) to a short-term contract, giving Ruzicka an obstacle to hurdle over for a sport in the bottom six.
Treliving has already invited forwards Cody Eakin and Sonny Milano to camp on tryouts, giving Ruzicka more obstacles to hurdle in effort to secure a spot in Calgary’s bottom six.
The big Slovak (six-foot-four, 220 pounds) skated more for Calgary (28 games) than the AHL Heat (16 games) last season, posting a respectable five goals, five assists and a plus-8 rating.
No one believes Ruzicka has reached his ceiling yet.
Contract info via the excellent CapFriendly.com.