There are just two remaining restricted free agents in the league in Columbus winger Josh Anderson and Red Wings winger Andreas Athanasiou. Both players appear to be at an impasse when it comes to multi-year contract talks and it has been suggested that they could go overseas for the season and suit up in the Olympics.
While that would solve a problem in terms of getting them playing time and a paycheck (not to mention a nice bonus of playing in the Olympics, an opportunity that wouldn’t typically be afforded to them), there would still one other problem that will be lingering, a lack of arbitration rights.
Both Anderson and Athanasiou are coming off of their entry-level contracts so arbitration isn’t an option for them and that will still be the case a year from now if they play overseas for the full season. In theory, an offer sheet is a possibility but if a team was willing to extend one by now at a salary that the player wants, it would have already been signed.
As a result, this is a rare circumstance where the teams hold a lot more leverage than they typically do at other times in restricted free agency and that’s likely part of the reason that there hasn’t been much movement lately on either side, short of Anderson reportedly asking for a trade. And even with that, it’s not likely that Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen will be willing to entertain that option considering how hard they worked to keep him away from Vegas in expansion not to mention the precedent it could set in negotiations with future players down the road.
While it would seem like both players are basically at an impasse, there is another option that isn’t really being discussed too much. Pretty much all contract talks thus far have been multi-year deals but why not focus on a one-year pact instead?
While Anderson and Athanasiou would likely be leaving a bit of money on the table for 2017-18, a one-year contract would also set them up with arbitration eligibility next summer. The threat of having an arbitrator side with their numbers in a hearing shifts at least some of the negotiating leverage back in their favor.
Meanwhile, the teams would get their players under contract and playing for them which is the desired outcome while also allowing them some more time to try to hammer out a long-term deal; both players could sign extensions as early as July 1st. In Detroit’s case, getting Athanasiou a bit cheaper would also help in their efforts to work around a tight salary cap situation this season.
Of course, finding the right salary number on a one-year deal is easier said than done. However, it would appear that there’s a better chance of trying to bridge the gap on a contract like that than a multi-year one considering the fact little progress has been made since July.
There are still a few more days before the regular season gets underway so there is still time for Columbus and Detroit to work out multi-year contracts with their respective players. But if talks can’t gain traction soon, the time might be right to compromise and focus on a one-year deal instead.