As we mentioned earlier this week, there are several very talented Restricted Free Agents (RFAs) who have yet to sign contracts for next season. Of the 24 RFA defensemen who played in the NHL last season, 15 of them averaged more than 15 minutes per game (minimum 25 GP). Despite the high value of young capable defensemen (see Larsson, Adam), it is the their teams who appear to have the upper hand in negotiations.
Let’s take a look at the top five unsigned defensemen:
1. Hampus Lindholm – Anaheim Ducks – The Ducks number one defenseman, Lindholm averaged 22:00 minutes per night last season with superior possession numbers. His 28 points were 54th among defensemen, but Lindholm is still a bona fide top-pairing option. Lindholm is likely looking for a long-term contract in the $5-6MM range, similar to the Morgan Rielly ($5MM, Seth Jones ($5.4MM), and Nick Leddy ($5.5MM). The Ducks would probably prefer something lower, in the Travis Hamonic ($3.86MM), Oscar Klefbom ($4.17MM), and Justin Faulk ($4.83MM) range. Anaheim is a budget team, and is already only $8.4MM away from the cap ceiling with Lindholm and Rickard Rakell still to sign. Lindholm is not eligible for arbitration, and an offer sheet seems unlikely given the current NHL climate.
2. Tyson Barrie – Colorado Avalanche – Barrie seems to be constantly featured in trade rumors, mainly due to his high-end offensive ability (49 points last season) and coach Patrick Roy’s apparent lack of confidence in him. It doesn’t help that the Avalanche have just $8.3MM in cap space before Barrie and Mikhail Grigorenko’s arbitration hearings in late July. Barrie and his agent don’t need to look any further than teammate Eric Johnson’s $6MM salary for a starting point; Barrie outscored Johnson by 22 points in similar time-on-ice.
3. Rasmus Ristolainen – Buffalo Sabres – Ristolainen lead the Sabres in ice-time by just under 500 minutes. He was also fourth in team scoring with 41 points. He’s also extremely big at 6’4, 207 lbs and mobile. Ristolainen is already the Sabres best defenseman, and he’ll only be 22 in October. The Sabres will look to sign him long-term somewhere in the Faulk to Rielly range. The Sabres have approximately $11MM in cap space and still need to lock up Marcus Foligno and Zemgus Girgensons.
4. Jacob Trouba – Winnipeg Jets – Trouba is in an interesting situation in Winnipeg: he’s considered a future top-pairing player, and is big, mobile, and right-handed. However, he’s blocked from playing top-four minutes by fellow right-handers Dustin Byfulgien and Tyler Myers. Trouba has played the left side before, but like most players performs better on his natural side. There seems to be two options for Trouba; he can sign a bridge-deal and earn a big payday in two seasons when Mark Stuart and Toby Enstrom are free agents, or he can holdout for the big payday now. There was some talk last month about the Bruins looking at Trouba as an offer sheet candidate, but that seems to have passed. He’s not eligible for arbitration, so the ball is in Winnipeg’s court.
5. Danny DeKeyser – Detroit Red Wings – With Niklas Kronwall turning 35 last season, DeKeyser appears poised to be the next big man on the Red Wings blueline. The two defensemen lead the team in ice time, and DeKeyser will likely pass Krowall in that regard next season. The 25-year-old DeKeyser put up just 20 points last season, however Mike Green was the only defenseman who scored more. DeKeyser is scheduled for arbitration on July 28, but could very likely come to a longer agreement with the Red Wings before then.