Jacob Trouba, Johnny Gaudreau and Nikita Kucherov highlight a strong and deep group of restricted free agents that remain unsigned at the moment. While they will each ultimately cash in and receive substantial contracts for the 2016-17 campaign and likely beyond, their status as restricted free agents has certainly complicated their respective negotiation processes.
Next summer, another quality group of players are set to hit restricted free agency, unless they can agree to terms on a new deal prior to the 2017-18 league year. In a series of posts, Pro Hockey Rumors will profile the top pending 2017 RFAs and examine what kind of contract they could elicit assuming they put up a strong performance during their platform year. We move on to the Central Division.
Artemi Panarin (Chicago) – The 2015-16 Calder Trophy recipient can set himself up for a monster payday with another 30-goal, 70-point campaign in 2016-17. Panarin surprised many by quickly acclimating to North America and putting up huge offensive numbers right away. He kicked off the season with a goal in game one against the Rangers and remained consistent throughout the campaign finishing just one month – February – with fewer than 10 points.
The first name that comes to mind as a potential comparable is Vladimir Tarasenko, who netted 37 goals and totaled 73 points before receiving an eight-year extension from St. Louis with an AAV of $7.5MM. Another possibility would be Filip Forsberg, who averaged 30 goals and nearly 64 points in each of the two full seasons prior to inking his new $6MM-a-year deal.
As they do every summer, seemingly, Chicago will be confronted with a cap crunch and will be looking to try to save as much money as possible on Panarin’s next contract. A trade is always a possibility, as they did with Brandon Saad, but it’s hard to imagine the Hawks dealing away two dynamic young talents just two years apart. Best guess is Chicago pushes for something closer to $6MM per on a long term deal and Panarin’s camp asking for something closer to $7MM.
Radek Faksa (Dallas) – Ordinarily, a five-goal, 12-point rookie debut wouldn’t generate much interest but with another season to go before reaching restricted free agency, and all of the offensive firepower the Stars have accumulated, it’s possible the big and skilled Faksa enjoys a real breakout campaign in 2016-17. Faksa is 22, set to turn 23 in January. He’s at an age where players tend to hit their stride and with well over 100 professional games on his resume, Faksa now has invaluable experience to go along with his skill.
The other factor that will make this a potentially interesting negotiation is the Stars cap situation. The team should have around $25MM in available space but with only 11 players signed for 2017-18, the Stars will have to be judicious with their spending. A big sophomore campaign for Faksa will complicate matters for the Stars and their ability to replace other veteran players likely to depart after the season.
At this point, the best guess is likely a bridge deal for Faksa. Even presuming a productive 2016-17 season, he won’t have much of a track record to bank on. Depending on the quality of Faksa’s 2016-17 campaign, a contract comparable to the one-year deals inked by Zemgus Girgensons or Mikhail Grigorenko – for $1.15MM and $1.3MM respectively – could be a fair compromise. Girgensons had a solid 2014-15 season, scoring 15 goals and 30 points before struggling to an 18-point year in 2015-16. Grigorenko posted a scoring line of 6-21=27 for Colorado this past season as a 22-year-old.
If Faksa enjoys a better platform year, then perhaps the two-year, $5.5MM pact J.T. Miller and the Rangers settled on this summer is something the Czech center can shoot for. Miller bested his previous career highs in goals by 12 and points by 20 during the 2015-16 campaign and earned roughly a 300% bump in pay as a result. Faksa has the talent and may get the opportunity in Dallas to post that same type of breakout performance for the Stars.
Nino Niederreiter (Minnesota) – Niederreiter has quietly put together consecutive 20-goal campaigns and established a career best with 43 points in 2015-16 for the Minnesota Wild. He is entering the final season of a two-year, bridge contract that comes with an AAV of $2.67MM.
Niederreiter’s previous two seasons compare favorably to those of New York Rangers winger Chris Kreider. Kreider has tallied back-to-back 21-goal campaigns and combined for 89 points over that span. The big Swiss winger, on the other hand, has totaled 44 goals and 80 points over the last two years. Kreider finished his two-year bridge deal – AAV of $2.475 – and signed a four-year contract worth $18.5MM. That might represent a solid blue print for Niederreiter’s next pact.