After the Tampa Bay Lightning signed Brayden Point to a three-year deal earlier today, fans in Calgary, Winnipeg and Colorado may have received a boost of hope that their own restricted free agent standoffs would be resolved soon. Not so for the Jets apparently, as both Bob McKenzie of TSN and Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic (subscription required) report that things aren’t close with Kyle Connor. Connor’s agent Rich Evans told LeBrun that any speculation that the two sides are close to a deal is “just not true.”
Connor, 22, was considered a more straightforward RFA negotiation than teammate Patrik Laine by many thanks to his consistent production through the first two-plus years of his NHL career, but things have obviously not progressed as quickly as expected. The 17th overall pick from 2015 has 65 goals over the last two seasons and is an extremely important part of the Jets’ offense, but is now at risk of missing all of training camp and perhaps even the start of the regular season.
While Connor would likely not command the near $11MM cap hit that Mitch Marner pulled in on a six-year term, he also wouldn’t come cheap for the Jets if they were buying out unrestricted free agent years. That puts the team in a bit of a pickle given the uncertainty around their cap situation right now. Not knowing what Laine will come in at and with no decision yet on Dustin Byfuglien’s playing career, Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is in a tough negotiating position. If they knew for sure that Byfuglien wouldn’t come back at some point they might be able to reach a little further into their pocketbooks for Connor and Laine, but right now he’s holding $7.4MM in cap space hostage. Suspended by the team, Byfuglien’s deal is currently not counted towards the cap ceiling, but that would change if he returned.
LeBrun also notes that things get even trickier for the Jets (and Flames too) if these negotiations last into the season. While the daily cap charge on a multi-year contract doesn’t change if signed in-season, the year-long charge does as we saw with William Nylander last year. When the Toronto Maple Leafs finally signed Nylander at the end of November, his prorated annual cap hit for 2018-19 shot up to almost $10.3MM. Though there are CBA machinations to allow the Jets some flexibility when it comes to that increased hit, it still makes things more complicated once the season begins.