Late in restricted free agency, there are still a number of highly skilled players who remain unsigned. These players generally lack leverage, because other teams behave cautiously given the compensation rules. Then consider that this late in the summer, most teams have their budgets set. If a restricted free agent is paid, it’s often to buy years of unrestricted free agency.
Even into August, there are still candidates to have those years controlled. Here’s a look at what kind of deals four of them may be pursuing.
- Nikita Kucherov – Having just turned 23, Kucherov is coming off a 30 goal, 36 assist season, leading the Lightning with 66 points. In 2015, his season was nearly identical, with one fewer goal, and the same number of assists. Filip Forsberg is a year younger, but put up very similar offensive numbers for Nashville this year. Forsberg just signed a six year contract worth $6MM per year. Look for Kucherov to get a similar deal. Projection: 6 years, $36MM
- Johnny Gaudreau – Just shy of 23, Gaudreau has 55 goals, 143 points, in 160 NHL games. This year, Gaudreau hit career highs of 30 goals and 48 points in 79 games. There has been talk of the Flames and Gaudreau pushing for a deal since February, with nothing to show for it. As Eric Francis notes in that link, the closest comparable is Vladimir Tarasenko, who is signed to an eight-year, $60MM contract. Still, there’s a case Gaudreau has actually shown more in the NHL than Tarasenko had before signing. The Flames are also more dependent on him, at least until someone like Sam Bennett breaks out. Projection: 8 years, $64MM
- Hampus Lindholm – At 22, Lindholm led defensemen in Corsi Relative. That is, he increased his team’s share of the game’s shot attempts more than any defenseman to play 750 minutes. Lindholm’s problem is that NHL teams are often skeptical of these numbers. This leaves defensemen of similar ages and with similar scoring numbers as the most likely comparisons. Calgary’s Dougie Hamilton got $5.75MM per season last year, but he also plays the much scarcer right side, and Calgary traded assets for him. It would have been fairly embarrassing had he not been signed quickly. The Ducks will play hardball, but if they get Lindholm at under that price, it’ll be well worth it. Projection: 5 years, $25MM
- Jacob Trouba – Trouba is 22 and well regarded around the league, but the reported debate over role will hurt him. As mentioned before, restricted free agents are paid usually when teams want to buy years of unrestricted free agency. If the Jets don’t believe that Trouba is ready for an increased role, it’s unlikely they’re in a rush to pay him for it. This has the looks of something bitter developing, but it’s most likely he’ll get some sort of bridge deal. Projection: 2 years, $8MM