The 2016 restricted free agent market was one of the most talented – and most entertaining – in recent memory. As hockey moves more and more toward youthful skill and speed, the dynamics of team building have changed as well, as last summer marked the “death of the bridge deal“. A multitude of massive extensions for young players were handed out, including giant new deals for forwards like Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon, Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele, Calgary duo Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, and Florida pair Jonathan Huberdeau and Vincent Trocheck. The 2017 RFA group is no slouch either; it features star scorers such as Minnesota’s Mikael Granlund, Vancouver’s Bo Horvat, Nashville’s Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson, the Tampa Bay trio of Jonathan Drouin, Tyler Johnson, and Ondrej Palat and more.
Yet, the two most intriguing restricted free agents are the youngest of the group: 20-year-old Boston Bruins right winger David Pastrnak and 21-year-old Edmonton Oilers center Leon Draisaitl. Last summer opened the door for the game-changing pair to skip right over an affordable short-term deal that would keep them restricted into a third contract for the “prime” of their career. Now, Pastrnak and Draisaitl have the newly-minted industry standard option of asking for a six- to eight-year deal, lasting well into their late 20’s, worth somewhere in the range of $5-7MM annually. So what exactly will the new contracts look like this summer?
Pastrnak’s agent, J.P. Barry, is on the record as saying that his client is looking for a long-term deal and they are viewing the contracts of Monahan, Scheifele, and Filip Forsberg as comparisons. Forsberg signed a six-year, $36MM extension last June, worth $6MM annually, while Monahan re-signed for $6.375 per year for seven seasons and Sheifele agreed to $6.125MM a year for the maximum eight seasons. The only problem for Pastrnak and his representation in making those comparisons is the consistency argument. Pastrnak has an impressive 64 points through 68 games so far this season, much like Monahan’s 63 point total last year. However, Monahan also put up 62 points the year before and 34 as a rookie. He was only slightly older than Pastrnak when he agreed to an extension, but had far greater production in his first two seasons when compared to Pastrnak’s back-to-back mid-20’s performances. Scheifele also had a similar season to Pastrnak’s last year with 61 points in 71 games, but he too outperformed the young Czech the prior two seasons – and was two years older – when inking his eight-year mega deal. Like Monahan, Forsberg had consecutive 60+-point seasons before earning his new deal.
The Monahan, Scheifele, and Forsberg comparison works far better for Draisaitl. Now in his third NHL season, but still just 21, Draisaitl leads all impending RFA’s with 70 points on the year, following up his breakout 51-point campaign in 2015-16. With back-to-back strong seasons, like the previously described trio, Draisaitl should be comfortably within the $6-6.5MM annual range for his upcoming contract. The Oilers will have to keep in mind the possible record-setting deal awaiting them in Connor McDavid next year, but will not hesitate to pay Draisaitl, who is already one the best #2 centers in the NHL. While a very different player, Draisaitl’s early career arc closely resembles that of Gaudreau, and “Johnny Hockey” signed on for six more years in Calgary at $6.75 per, so don’t be surprised if Draisaitl actually ends up exceeding the $6-6.5MM annual range in his new deal or agrees to seven or eight years as compensation for a lower yearly value.
So what of Pastrnak? No one doubts that he will continue producing at a high level, especially with Boston’s top offensive stars like Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and David Backes signed long-term and in influx of promising talent on it’s way. However, with just one – albeit unbelievable – high-scoring season under his belt, Pastrnak may not be able to crack that $6MM per year mark. Some may point to MacKinnon, the youngest and arguably most talented RFA to re-sign last year, and say that Pastrnak should get the same seven-year contract worth $6.3MM annually. However, MacKinnon was a #1 overall pick and had established himself as a top-line center with a 63-point rookie season in 2013-14, far ahead of where Pastrnak was at that point, which cancels out some of his more recent struggles. Instead, a better comparison is likely Panthers scorers Trocheck and Huberdeau. Like Pastrnak, Trocheck and Huberdeau found only middling success in their first two NHL seasons. Trocheck had a big breakout last year, jumping to 53 points in 76 games, and was rewarded with a six-year deal worth $4.75MM per year. Huberdeau had his breakout in 2014-15 with 54 points and then backed it up 59 points last season, before inking a six-year extension worth $5.9MM annually. What Pastrnak has done this year clearly surpasses anything that the Florida duo have yet to put up and Trocheck and Huberdeau were also two years older than Pastrnak will be when they re-signed, but they set up a more accurate range for what the Bruins wunderkind should expect this summer. Taking likely cap inflation into consideration, Pastrnak is looking at a six-year extension worth $5-6MM per season. Given the Bruins recent issues with retaining young talent, it’s a fair assumption that they won’t play hardball with the young sniper, so expecting the upper side of that scale is perfectly reasonable.