With the season now underway, the pressure for teams to come to terms with their remaining restricted free agents really starts to increase. Anaheim’s Hampus Lindholm is one of two remaining RFA defensemen left on the market. Here is a closer look at his situation.
Lindholm continued his progression from the first two years of his career, slotting in once again as Anaheim’s top overall defenseman. He set a career high in goals and ice time per game while also making a sizable improvement in his advanced statistics. On a blueline filled with either offensive-minded players or stay-at-home options, Lindholm’s ability to provide above average play at either end of the rink gave the Ducks a much-needed two-way option on their defense corps.
2015-16: 80 GP, 10 goals, 18 assists, 28 points, +7 rating, 40 PIMS, 149 shots on goal, 22:00 ATOI
Career: 236 GP, 23 goals, 69 assists, 92 points, +61 rating, 108 PIMS, 372 shots on goal, 21:04 ATOI
The term of the contract doesn’t appear to be an issue right now as both sides are interested in getting a long-term deal done. In late September, agent Claude Lemieux sent the following update to Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register:
“We are working on a long-term agreement for Hampus. We have been negotiating for a while and have exchanged multiple proposals. I will say that we, both the team and ourselves, are working on getting this resolved ASAP.”
At this point, money is the key sticking point. One of the complicating factors is that Lindholm has yet to have a breakout offensive season; his career high in points is 34. In contracts such as these, teams are forced to project and pay for future performance and Lindholm’s offensive production has yet to show that he has another element to that part of his game.
TSN’s Bob McKenzie reports that Lindholm is seeking upwards of $6.5MM per season, an amount that would appear to factor in the expectation of a big increase in his point production down the road. Meanwhile, the Ducks are believed to be coming in at least $1MM per year below that amount.
Dougie Hamilton (Calgary) – Six years, $34.5MM – Hamilton signed this deal shortly after being traded to the Flames by Boston in the 2015 offseason. The previous campaign was the best year of his career (42 points in 72 games) while he also played a career high in ice time at just shy of 22 minutes per game. The perception of Hamilton at that time (a two-way defender on the rise) is quite similar to where Lindholm’s currently is although Hamilton’s platform season was stronger offensively.
Seth Jones (Columbus)/Rasmus Ristolainen (Sabres) – Six years, $32.4MM – Both players saw their roles significantly increase in 2015-16, becoming number one defensemen in the process. While Ristolainen has taken more strides on his offensive game, it’s expected that Jones will break out at that end in the next year or two and become a top flight two-way defender, much like Lindholm.
Morgan Rielly (Toronto) – Six years, $30MM – The Leafs signed the 22 year old to this deal late last season, one where he outpointed Lindholm for the first time. Rielly is a strong skater like Lindholm and is viewed as one of the more promising up-and-coming two-way defenders in the NHL making him a comparable that the Ducks have surely brought up in negotiations. However, Lindholm has had a bigger role with the Ducks than Rielly’s with Toronto so his new deal should come in above this.
The comparables are all players coming off their entry-level deals which is where Lindholm currently is now. While their cap hits all start with a five, it’s also worth noting that these were all six year deals and both Lindholm and the Ducks are seeking a longer term. If that does happen, more UFA years would get bought out and those are always more expensive than RFA years which would increase the cap hit.
Projection: Six years, $33.6MM – It’s plausible to expect Lindholm to come close to all of these comparables.
But very few defenders have made more than $6MM coming off their first contract and the ones that have (such as Drew Doughty of Los Angeles and Alex Pietrangelo of St. Louis) have had better track records than Lindholm has at this point in his career so it’s hard to project him exceeding that amount here. Aaron Ekblad’s $7.5MM per year pact signed this summer is a new benchmark but that was signed after just two years of his first contract while he also has the clout of being the number one overall pick. As a result, Lindholm shouldn’t come in anywhere near that high, even if he was to get an eight year deal.