We are less than a month away from the start of the World Cup and training camps. However, there are still 15 restricted free agents remaining, and many of them are not who you would expect to be unsigned at this point. Two NHL teams’ leading scorers, four top-four defensemen, and several other high quality players are still looking for new deals.
Let’s continue our break down of the remaining RFAs by taking a look at the Atlantic Division:
Buffalo Sabres – $8.15MM in cap space, according to Cap Friendly – Like the Anaheim Ducks, the Sabres have two RFAs remaining; also like the Ducks, it’s their third line center and number one defenseman. Zemgus Girgensons and Rasmus Ristolainen were the Sabres’ first round picks in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Ristolainen lead all Sabres defensemen with 41 points (good for fourth in team scoring) and averaged nearly three more minutes of ice time per game than the next skater. Over his three-year career he has been counted on to be an all-situation defender, starting more than 57% of his shifts in the defensive zone and still leading all Sabres defensemen in scoring over the last two seasons. The Sabres will want to lock him up long-term.
Meanwhile, Girgensons had something of a down year in 2015-16, dropping from 30 points to 18 despite playing 10 more games. Expect a one-year contract in the $1MM range as he looks to rebound.
Tampa Bay Lightning – $6.59MM in cap space, according to Cap Friendly – Lightning GM Steve Yzerman managed to re-sign Steven Stamkos and extend Victor Hedman, but has yet to sign their leading scorer from last season: Nikita Kucherov. Kucherov has put up seasons of 65 and 66 points and will be looking for a Filip Forsberg-type contract. Forsberg also was coming off back-to-back mid-60 point seasons and signed long-term in Nashville for six years at $6MM per. While the Lightning could likely make that salary work this season, it’s next summer that has to be looming large for Yzerman. The other two members of the Triplet Line, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat, and starting goalie Ben Bishop all need to be re-signed, though Bishop figures to be traded to avoid losing him for nothing in the expansion draft.
The Lightning also have defenseman Nikita Nesterov to sign. The young depth defenseman will be looking for a bigger role after the team bought out Matt Carle in June. He’ll likely sign for a short “show-me” contract to prove he can continue to be a regular on a Cup contending team.
You can read our review of the Pacific Division RFAs here.