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 the negotiation process.
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. Today we finish up in the Pacific Division.
Tanner Pearson (Los Angeles) – Pearson is a solid, two-way winger who has seen a fair amount of action on a line with Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli affectionately referred to as “That 70’s Line.” He tallied 15 goals and 36 points in 2015-16 and has a scoring rate of 0.43 Pts/Game in 146 career contests. Pearson is currently slated to make $1.4MM in the second and final season of a two-year deal.
Pearson’s career production is similar to that of two recent RFA signees: J.T. Miller of the Rangers and Cody Eakin of the Stars. Miller posted career-best totals of 22 goals, 21 assists and 43 points in 2015-16 and has a career scoring rate of 0.52 Pts/Game. Eakin has a career Pts/Game rate of 0.45 and has scored at least 35 points in each of the last three seasons as Dallas’ third center.
Statistically, Pearson would seem to match up well with Eakin meaning another season of 35 – 40 points could line him up to receive something similar to the four-year, $15.4MM $3.875MM AAV) deal Eakin is set to play under beginning this season. But if the Kings and Pearson can’t get a long-term deal done, it’s possible the two-year, $5.5MM ($2.75MM AAV) bridge contract of Miller works as a comparable.
Joonas Donskoi (San Jose) – Donskoi was a surprisingly steady producer for the Sharks and played a key role in helping San Jose reach the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in franchise history in 2015-16. Given his first taste of North American pro hockey, the Finnish winger contributed 36 points in 76 contests and added another 12 points in the playoffs. Donskoi seemed to find chemistry with Logan Couture this past season and if given another opportunity to play on the skilled pivot’s wing, he could cross the 40-point plateau in 2016-17.
Production-wise, Donskoi would appear to be close enough to Pearson’s level that the Miller and Eakin contracts should serve as fair comparisons. Another possible comparable who would appear to set the floor of Donskoi’s expectations is Michael Raffl, who after seasons of 28 and 31 points, respectively, inked a three-year, $7.05MM ($2.35MM AAV) pact with the Flyers. Both started their professional careers in Europe and jumped to the NHL in their mid-20’s. If Donskoi’s production takes a step back from his rookie level, he could be looking at a new deal in the same range as Raffl’s.
Bo Horvat (Vancouver) – After a solid debut campaign as a 19-year-old rookie two years ago with the Canucks, Horvat bumped his production up from 25 points to 40 points as a sophomore in 2016-17. He has the skill and ability to improve his numbers even further in his third season if given an opportunity for top-six ice time.
If Horvat can take the next step to 50 points or so, a new contract could be similar to that of Nick Bjugstad’s in Florida. After netting 38 points in his first full campaign, Bjugstad tallied 43 in 201-15 and was rewarded with a six-year, $24.6MM deal which took effect upon the expiration of his ELC. Both players are versatile enough to play up and down the lineup and fill a variety of roles. The Canucks will have to be frugal, however, as they already have more than $52MM tied up in 14 players for 2017-18 leaving roughly $20MM or so – depending on where the cap ceiling falls – to re-sign several key RFAs. It’s possible they push for a less expensive bridge deal as a result.
Erik Gudbranson (Vancouver) – The Canucks took some criticism when they dealt 19-year-old Jared McCann, the team’s first-round pick in 2014, and two draft choices for Gudbranson this past May. It’s not that Gudbranson isn’t a good player; it’s more that the Canucks aren’t likely to be a playoff squad in 2016-17 and shouldn’t be sacrificing controllable young talent for a player who is set to get pretty expensive.
Gudbranson inked a one-year pact worth $3.5MM soon after the trade and will again be a RFA after the upcoming season. With five years of NHL experience already under his belt, Gudbranson will be just two seasons away from unrestricted free agency following the 2016-17 campaign. That means any long-term extension is likely going to buy out multiple free agent seasons.
Gudbranson is a physical, defense-first blue liner, who doesn’t contribute much offense. His single-season career-high in points scored is just 13. Obviously Gudbranson will be looking for a raise on his $3.5MM salary. One potential comparable for Gudbranson is Adam Larsson, who signed a six-year, $25MM extension and like the Vancouver defender is known more for his defense than his offense. But Larsson’s deal took effect on the conclusion of his ELC and only bought out a single free agent year.
A closer comparable may be Canadiens defenseman Alexei Emelin, who is also a defense-first blue liner with a career high in points of just 17. He is in the midst of a four-year deal with an AAV of $4.1MM.
With most teams favoring mobile, puck-moving defenders over tough, physical defensive defenseman like Gudbranson, it will be interesting to see what value they place on the big blue liner.