Before free agency opens on July 1st each year, teams are given brief windows to speak with impending free agents from other clubs, both unrestricted and restricted. While they are officially not allowed to talk contract details during this time, the two sides may discuss the direction of the team, the fit of the player, and other details adjacent to a contract signing. Of course, financial details sneak in as well, allowing for the late-June rumor mill to heat up and the massive influx of signing announcements as soon as the clock strikes noon Eastern on July 1st.
Per TSN, the NHL has announced the opening dates for free agent contact for this year. Beginning on June 23rd, at exactly 12:00 AM ET, teams may begin talking to unrestricted free agents. This is one day after the conclusion of the NHL Draft, when teams can wholly shift their focus over to the free agent market. Three days later, on June 26th, teams may also start contacting restricted free agents. In general, the UFA talks are far more fruitful than the RFA talks, but in an off-season with few elite unrestricted free agents and many elite restricted free agents – not to mention teams in difficult cap situations with RFA’s to sign – the odds of an offer sheet are higher than they have been in years and it could be that those RFA discussions actually yield a contract or two this summer.
Before teams can truly start to consider free agent signings, there are a couple of other factors that need to be decided as well. On the team side, restricted free agents must have received their qualifying offers by June 25th. An RFA who receives this offer remains restricted, but one who does not becomes unrestricted. It is not a coincidence that the RFA contact window opens after this deadline, as that official determination is needed. On the league side, teams also need to know what the salary cap ceiling – and for some the floor – will be for the 2019-20 season. Roster building is all a function of the salary cap and many teams will make decisions on free agent offers based on where next year’s cap ends up. There is no official date for when this announcement will be made, but CapFriendly has tentatively set the ceiling at $83MM and the floor at $61.3MM for their metrics, based on previous reports and expectations.