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All Eyes on Marner, Is this the Week That Rocks Hockey?



In the words which preceded another melodic guitar riff from the late Tom Petty, the waiting is the hardest part. NHL restricted free agents enter their look period later today in which they can begin to speak with teams in advance of the July 1 free agency period, five full days from now. And everyone is waiting to see if a general manager will finally break the six-year hiatus and the “unwritten rules” to sign an RFA. And if that RFA is Toronto Maple Leafs budding star Mitch Marner.

All eyes are on star players such as Marner, Mikko Rantanen, Sebastien Aho and Jacob Trouba. Their current teams will have the option to match any offers or receive in some cases very generous compensation. For example, the compensation from the signing team to the previous team for signing a top tier RFA to an offer above $10.5 million merits four first-round picks as compensation. Between $8.4 million and $10.5 million the compensation is two first-round picks, a second rounder, and a third rounder.

Yes, steep prices.

There could be cascading effects and it seems there is a rooting contingent on each side.

Tuesday, Pittsburgh Hockey Now spoke with multiple sources who would be directly affected. The consensus was the RFA market is in a frozen standstill until someone takes the first step. Lower tiered restricted free agents are hoping the top players sign a big payday to raise the rates. Teams are hoping no one ventures onto that limb and they retain both power and control in the situation.

In other words, everyone is watching Marner.

In many cases, there are slow to no negotiations. “We need dominos to fall,” is how one source put it.

No player has received nor has any team given a restricted free agent an offer sheet since 2013 when recent Stanley Cup hero Ryan O’Reilly then of the Colorado Avalanche was tendered a sheet by the Calgary Flames.

If it matters to the story, Colorado matched the two-year, $10 million offer.

In 2012, the Philadelphia Flyers made a big run at defenseman Shea  Weber with a 14-year, $110 million offer. The Nashville Predators swallowed hard and matched that offer. Montreal is the current holder of the Weber deed which has a whopping seven years remaining for the now 33-year-old defenseman.

The last RFA to actually change teams was Dustin Penner in 2007. Edmonton pick-pocketed the Anaheim Ducks for the power forward. It has been 12 years since that went down and Anaheim GM Brian Burke threw a public temper tantrum befitting a toddler on Mountain Dew.

Specific to the Pittsburgh Penguins, their RFAs are also watching with great interest as the Penguins have not moved negotiations beyond the “nothing much” phase with a couple of their restricted free agents. The Penguins RFA class includes Marcus Pettersson, Zach Aston-Reese, Adam Johnson and Teddy Blueger.

The rules of the game are rigged against RFAs in this scenario. There are also additional rules which make it tougher for teams to sign RFAs, including the salary cap hit calculations.

For example, if a team went hard after Marner and inked him to a seven-year deal. The salary cap figure would be the total amount of the deal divided by FIVE not seven. Make sense? Of course not, but that’s the rule.

Also, if a player elects to go to arbitration that player cannot sign an offer sheet.

And a team much have their original, untraded draft picks in order to make an offer. A team cannot acquire a first, second or third-round pick to use as RFA collateral.

So, we’re all left to wonder if some team has the guts to give up four first-round picks for Marner who is 22-years old, scored 94 points (26g, 68a) and if the Toronto Maple Leafs can or will match the offer.

Toronto has just under $14 million of cap space but only has 16 players under contract. If a team offered Marner $11 million, and Toronto matched it, they would have less than $2 million to add at least four more players.

For the record, the Penguins don’t have a second-rounder next year so they are limited to offering another team’s RFA below $2.11 million, between $4.22 million and $6.341 million, or over $10.568 million.

The RFA tree has fruit but will someone be brave enough to pick it? For six years, no one has bothered or has been intimidated from doing so. It only takes one success story to start a trend. Today begins the five days which could shakeup the NHL and change the unwritten rules.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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