NHL's Top 13 RFAs of 2022: Latest rumours, reports

Jesse Fuchs & Pat Steinberg discuss the successful first quarter of the season from the Calgary Flames, Andrew Mangiapane's goalscoring prowess, and managing expectations for the rest of the season.

Yes, one could quibble about the ranking on this list, or the players left just outside the cut. That’s because the quality of this summer's impending NHL restricted free agents is so deep.

And loaded with game-breaking young forwards.

We have top-line wingers and emerging franchise centremen who will be due for raises, plus a couple guys who are establishing themselves as top-four defencemen in their early 20s.

Calgary’s Brad Treliving will be under the most pressure to negotiate long-term extensions with his RFAs, but there are stress points in Vancouver, Winnipeg and Ottawa as well.

Plus, we should have a better understanding of who won 2021’s Jets-Jackets blockbuster based on which GM is able to re-sign his star and for how much.

As these RFAs shine in their platform seasons and owners wrestle with a relatively flat salary cap and pandemic losses, midseason extensions for RFAs have been few and far between, setting up some compelling negotiations (or trades?) in the off-season.

Free agency is set for July 13.

Here’s where things stand with the top 13 impending RFAs of 2021.

1. Matthew Tkachuk
Age on July 13: 24
Position: Left wing / Right wing
2021-22 salary cap hit: $7 million
Arbitration rights: Yes
Bargaining chips: Sixth overall pick. Hockey genes. Top-line winger tracking a fourth consecutive 20-goal campaign. 2020 All-Star Game rep. Potential future captain. Notorious for crawling under opponents’ skin.

The latest: Despite a 2020-21 production dip and a couple dustups of off-season trade rumours — a St. Louis homecoming? a package deal to lure Jack Eichel out of Buffalo? — Tkachuk remains an important piece of Calgary’s hopes this season.

Brad Treliving shot down the idea that he’d deal his most marketable star (“There’s nothing to it," the GM said in the summer), but there is a sense of inevitability that the band in Calgary won’t be quite the same after this season.

Eleven roster players are on expiring deals, and a major decision must be made regarding pending UFA Johnny Gaudreau — who could command the most money of any forward on 2022’s open market.

Tkachuk has shrewdly set himself up for a payday no matter how this shakes out.

While his cap hit is $7 million, the winger’s actual salary this season is $9 million. That’s the price Treliving would have to sign off on for Tkachuk’s next qualifying offer. Add in Tkachuk’s arbitration rights, and the player has growing leverage.

Calgary’s front office must devise a long-term plan and commit to the right forwards. Feels like it’ll be a fork-in-the-road off-season in Alberta.

2. Pierre-Luc Dubois
Age on July 13: 24
Position: Centre
2021-22 salary cap hit: $5 million
Arbitration rights: Yes
Bargaining chips: Third-overall pick. Silver medallist for Team Canada at world juniors and world championships. Strong, 220-pound two-way centre. Kicked off his career with two 20-goal seasons. Capable of 60 points. Jets surrendered a haul to acquire him from Columbus.

The latest: Enjoying a fine bounce-back season after a disruptive and disastrous 2020-21, Dubois’s play is justifying a payday. Much like others on this list, the centre’s actual salary ($6.65 million) is greater than his cap hit. It’ll take at least that much for the Jets to qualify him, and more in arbitration.

If GM Kevin Cheveldayoff — who plays his cards close to vest — is to lock up Dubois long-term, which was the plan when trading for him, he might need to sign him to the richest contract in club history.

We’re not certain Dubois and superagent Pat Brisson want a seven- or eight-year deal, but if so, it’ll take a figure north of $8 million on an AAV to get it done.

The easier deal might be five years, but that would walk Dubois to UFA status right after his 29th birthday.

3. Jason Robertson
Age on July 13: 22
Position: Left wing / Right wing
2021-22 salary cap hit: $795,000
Arbitration rights: No
Bargaining chips: 2021 All-Rookie Team and Calder Trophy runner-up. Bronze medallist for Team USA at 2021 worlds. Rare Star forward under age 25 who can produce offence: 30 goals, 78 points through first 82 NHL games.

The latest: Part of the reason Jim Nill has lost interest in extending pending UFA defenceman John Klingberg is because the Dallas GM is seeking to invest a greater portion of his limited cap space in youth.

Robertson and emerging goaltender Jake Oettinger are supplying excellent value on their entry-level contracts. Both are restricted free agents come summer, however, and will require decent raises. Robertson, in particular, has been a godsend, establishing himself as a top-six threat and picking up some slack from the 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 Nill did with 2021 RFA Miro Heiskanen? Or go with a bridge deal and risk handing Robertson increased leverage down the road?

4. Patrik Laine
Age on July 13: 24
Position: Left wing / Right wing
2021-22 salary cap hit: $7.5 million
Arbitration rights: Yes
Bargaining chips: Second-overall draft pick. Columbus already gave up a top centre (Dubois) to acquire Laine. Capable of ripping 40 goals. Marketable personality. Blue Jackets need all the scoring they can get.

The latest: Despite the Finnish sniper’s hot start this fall (10 points in 10 games) — a fine rebound from his dismal 2020-21 — injury and the tragic death of his father, Harri, have made for a rocky platform season.

Laine accepted a hefty qualifying offer last summer (one year at $7.5 million), but he’ll again be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights in the summer.
GM Jarmo Kekäläinen cannot run the risk of inking Laine to another one-year deal and effectively walking an elite talent to unrestricted free agency shortly after he turns 25.

So, does Laine want to commit long-term to an organization that has been shedding assets for futures and clearly needs several more pieces to contend?
A critical second half will be integral to Laine’s value, and the value Columbus sees in him.

Both sides seem content to play the waiting game here.

5. Josh Norris
Age on July 13: 23
Position: Centre
2021-22 salary cap hit: $925,000
Arbitration rights: No
Bargaining chips: First-round pick. Incredible release. No. 1 centre potential. Key acquisition in the 2018 Erik Karlsson blockbuster trade. 33 goals and 59 points through first 89 NHL games. Prime aligns with young Senators core. Centres Nick Paul and Chris Tierney could both walk as UFAs.

The latest: Preliminary talks between Norris’s agent, Newport Sports’ Craig Oster, and GM Pierre Dorion are believed to have already commenced.

But if the prolonged RFA negotiation between another Oster client, Brady Tkachuk, and the Senators taught us anything, this one could go down to the wire.

Norris was provided a handy comparable when the Montreal Canadiens jumped to extend 22-year-old centre Nick Suzuki to a handsome eight-year, $63-million extension in October. Since then, Norris has been the more productive player.

Dorion skipped the bridge and committed long term to core pieces Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot and Drake Batherson.

Good teams are built up the middle. Why would he not try the same philosophy with Norris?

6. Jesper Bratt
Age on July 13: 23
Position: Left wing
2021-22 salary cap hit: $2.75 million
Arbitration rights: Yes
Bargaining chips: Fast becoming one of the NHL’s most underrated forwards. Silky mitts. Four consecutive 30-point seasons in which he’s steadily increased his points per game. Selected to Sweden’s 2019 world championship squad. Devils’ highest scorer at the halfway mark.

The latest: Bratt is about to make the franchise pay.

Delivering back-to-back career seasons since signing his two-year bridge contract, Bratt is thriving in a breakout performance for New Jersey.

The sixth-rounder might be a bit of a late bloomer, but his confidence and underlying numbers are accelerating upward. In a somewhat surprising move, Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald committed early and aggressively to Bratt’s younger teammate, Jack Hughes, with an eight-year, $64-million whopper.

Hughes is a centre and arrived more highly touted; Bratt is a winger.

With the Devils’ largest cap hit, P.K. Subban ($9 million), coming off the books, space to extend Bratt won’t be an issue. But keeping his price tag well below Hughes’s might be.

7. Andrew Mangiapane
Age on July 13: 26
Position: Left wing / Right wing
2021-22 salary cap hit: $2.425 million
Arbitration rights: Yes
Bargaining chips: MVP for gold medallist Team Canada at the 2021 worlds, scoring seven goals in seven games at the tournament. Named to Canada’s Olympic long list. Provides critical even-strength scoring. Solid penalty killer. Accepted a team-friendly bridge deal last time.

The latest: Mangiapane said he was open to a long-term deal in Calgary the last time he turned RFA, but the Flames’ tight cap situation made a two-year contract the best option.

Well, the versatile forward appears ready to make them pay this time — either by landing a windfall or setting himself up to walk away in his prime.

“My advice to him would be to do a short-term deal by way of arbitration or negotiation — negotiating ideally — and then let’s wait and take a look at the landscape,” agent Ritch Winter told Eric Francis.

“You’re a year away from being an unrestricted free agent at age 27 and, really, in the heart of your best producing years of your career. There’s nothing more valuable in a player’s career than his ability to look into free agency and see what the options are, and I highly recommend that he focus on that.”

The best option for Mangiapane would be the worst one for Treliving, whose plate will be overloaded with tough decisions.

Calgary already has five forwards making $4.85 million or more in 2022-23, and that list does not include Gaudreau, Tkachuk or Mangiapane. Yikes.
“At the end of the day there may be a number that Andrew finds very compelling, that he will take — that’s his choice,” Winter added.

“He likes Calgary. He has lots of friends in Calgary and best friends on the team. The team may be the best choice, so you don’t want to close the door on Calgary being his spot. There’s a lot of factors that weigh in favour of him signing long term in Calgary after free agency.”

8. Tony DeAngelo
Age on July 13: 26
Position: Defence
2021-22 salary cap hit: $1 million
Arbitration rights: Yes
Bargaining chips: Right-shot defenceman in his prime. Skates 19-plus minutes a night. Proven producer from the back end. One of best bargain buys of the summer. Letting his play do all the talking (so far).

The latest: Leaving New York City with bridges burning in his wake, the lightning-rod DeAngelo accepted a humbling $1-million shut-up-and-play deal with contending Carolina.

Halfway through his redemption bid, the offensive defenceman has kept his opinions to himself and played to his strengths. The Hurricanes may have lost Dougie Hamilton to free agency, but dollar for dollar, DeAngelo has done a fine job of providing some of Hamilton’s playmaking.

“We felt comfortable after doing all the research of bringing him here on a short-term deal, and we’ll continue to work with him,” said GM Don Waddell, who absorbed some fan criticism for the hire.

“Tony recognizes that he’s made mistakes. Every time he has made mistakes, he has improved on it. It’s something that he’s fully aware of, we’re fully aware. That is why, again, we did a short-term contract with a very low number. We’ll get him here, get him in our environment, and we believe it will all go well for us.”

That Carolina is rumoured to be keenly interested in trade-bait defencemen like John Klingberg and Jakob Chychrun suggests DeAngelo — whose play demands a raise — is at risk of pricing himself out of town come summer.

Or perhaps things have gone so well, that the sides re-up for another short-term deal.

9. Mario Ferraro
Age on July 13: 23
Position: Defence
2021-22 salary cap hit: $925,000
Arbitration rights: No
Bargaining chips: Won gold with Team Canada at 2021 worlds. Skates an eye-popping 24 minutes a night. Fan favourite who runs his own YouTube channel. Beginning to flex some of the offence he wielded in college. Plays bigger than his size.

The latest: Ferraro won’t wow you with his stat line, but he’s increasingly assuming a more important role on a San Jose blueline desperate for a youthful boost.

Surely, Ferraro noted his UMass D partner, Cale Makar, hit a home run in negotiations with the Avalanche last summer, and it sounds like he’ll be gunning for security as well.

“The Sharks are the team that trusted me and drafted me,” Ferraro told reporters. “I’m very loyal to this to this organization. I don’t see there ever being any better organization that I’d like to be a part of.

“I’d love to be a Shark forever.”

The affable Ferraro is being mentioned as future captain material.

While there’s no rush to slap a letter on him yet, there is more money available to take care of him and potential UFA Tomas Hertl now that Evander Kane’s salary has been freed up.

10. Brock Boeser
Age on July 13: 25
Position: Right wing
2021-22 salary cap hit: $5.75 million
Arbitration rights: Yes
Bargaining chips: First-round pick. Bronze medallist repping Team USA at 2016 world juniors. 2018 NHL All-Rookie Team and All-Star Game MVP. Three-time 20-goal scorer. Two-time 50-point getter.

The latest: Boeser was downright electric as a rookie, stacking a career-best 29 goals and causing Canucks fans to believe this was just the beginning.

Much like the rest of the roster, however, Boeser has cooled since then — which should make his next negotiation a doozy.

Boeser’s agent, Ben Hankinson, said that he and former GM Jim Benning had discussed a six- and seven-year options for Boeser coming out of his entry-level deal. Ultimately, a three-year bridge won the day.

Although Boeser’s cap hit is $5.75 million, his actual salary is $7.5 million — so a one-year qualifying offer for that amount will need to be sent his way by whomever Jim Rutherford hires as Vancouver’s next GM.

With Elias Pettersson underdelivering since his raise and Bo Horvat and J.T. Miller hitting UFA in 2023, the next GM faces some interesting questions as he builds the future core of Vancouver forwards.

11. Adrian Kempe
Age on July 13: 25
Position: Centre / Wing
2021-22 salary cap hit: $2 million
Arbitration rights: Yes
Bargaining chips: First-round pick. 2018 world championship gold medallist for Team Sweden. Named to 2022 All-Star Game amidst a career season. Speedster. Big body.

The latest: With his three-year bridge contract winding down, Kempe has slammed the gas. He exceeded his career highs in goals and game-winners prior to the schedule’s halfway point and was named the Kings’ representative to the all-star game.

“It was a little bit of a shock. I’m very excited for it,” Kempe said. “I felt like going into this year I want to take another step, scoring goals and shooting more. It’s paying off right now. I’m trying to have at least three shots on goal every night.”

Further, Kempe’s ice time has increased in all situations as he gains more defensive trust from coach Todd MacLellan.

We don’t envision Kempe’s extension causing an issue. As veteran Dustin Brown’s $5.875-million cap hit comes down (or off the books), a chunk of that should go toward Kempe’s raise.

12. Noah Dobson
Age on July 13: 22
Position: Defence
2021-22 salary cap hit: $894,167
Arbitration rights: No
Bargaining chips: First-round pick. Represented Team Canada at 2019 world juniors. Already earning top-four minutes in New York. Right shot. Already hit career highs in goals and points. 20 games of playoff experience.

The latest: Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech didn’t secure their life-changing extensions until their late-20s, and Dobson will sit down at Lou Lamoriello’s negotiating table with little leverage (i.e., no arbitration rights).

Yes, Dobson finding his stride in the final winter of his entry-level deal is fantastic news. Still, we bet it’ll be in the player and team’s best interest to go short term. By the time Dobson is ready for a big extension, the cap should be on the rise.

"I think he’s playing with a lot more confidence," future Hall of Famer and current defence partner Zdeno Chara said. "You can see in his game he’s making some plays, being there for us in crucial times. He’s using his hockey sense and his skating ability. He’s playing really well."

13. Ilya Samsonov
Age on July 13: 25
Position: Goaltender
2021-22 salary cap hit: $2 million
Arbitration rights: Yes
Bargaining chips: First-round pick. Silver and bronze medallist at world juniors. 2016 Gagarin Cup champion. Capitals do not have an NHL goalie under contract for 2022-23. Big frame (6-foot-3, 200 pounds). Wins games.

The latest: The patiently developed successor to Braden Holtby has played well enough to keep the Capitals in the mix for contention in a tight Metropolitan Division — but he is still seeking a serious commitment from management.

There was some speculation that Washington was tempted to expose the young goalie in the Seattle expansion draft. The Russian was ultimately protected and signed to a one-year prove-it deal that rides him to a potential arbitration case this off-season.

GM Brian MacLellan’s biggest question mark heading into 2022-23 could well be his crease. With both Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek on expiring deals, it will be interesting to see whom he takes care of first and for how much.

Because the Caps are in win-now mode, playoff performance should play a huge factor here.

Other notable pending RFAs: Victor Olofsson, Jesse Puljujarvi, Jared McCann, Sonny Milano, Pavel Zacha, Kevin Fiala, Jake Oettinger, Alexandar Georgiev, Vitek Vanecek, Ondrej Kase, Danton Heinen, Luke Kunin, Lawson Crouse, Kasperi Kapanen, Denis Gurianov, Kirby Dach, Martin Necas, Adam Boqvist, Sean Durzi, Jack Roslovic, Kaapo Kakko, Alexander Romanov, Oliver Kylington, Nicolas Hague, Nicolas Roy, Rasmus Sandin, Michael Anderson, Timothy Liljegren, Dysin Mayo, Kaapo Kahkonen

Contract info via the excellent CapFriendly.com.

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