The game of chicken which NHL teams are playing against their RFAs will soon come to an end. Somebody is going to lose, and lose big. Winnipeg Jets star sniper Patrick Laine told Sportnet the Winnipeg Jets have essentially ignored him all summer. He is justly beginning to question his time in Winnipeg. Such sentiments echo the same things Pittsburgh Hockey Now and our family of national sites have heard all summer. Even the Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Marcus Pettersson remains unsigned.
There are persistent rumors in hockey circles that a big, BIG splash is coming in September. There are only a few teams with cap space and still big name RFAs on the market, including Mitch Marner, Brayden Point, Matthew Tkachuk, Zach Werenski, and Laine teammate, Kyle Connor.
It isn’t necessarily a game of hardball. It is more like the silent treatment. As one agent recently told the National Hockey Now family, everyone is letting the top of the class set the market, and until the first domino falls, everyone is in waiting-and-see mode.
This week in Colorado, our boy Adrian Dater of Colorado Hockey Now scored an exclusive: Mikko Rantanen negotiations have not started.
In Boston, our boys at Boston Hockey Now have been all over the Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo RFA situation. Negotiations are non-existant there, too.
Except, it is now mid-August. Training camp starts in a few weeks. And more importantly, in September, teams must begin the process of becoming cap compliant. The rules begin to change and the 10% allowance fades away. Hopefully, you’re getting the complete picture now. Players don’t want to be ahead of the market and later realize they signed for less. Teams don’t want to sign players for more because they set the market. And there just isn’t enough money to go around, either.
Well, this is another fine mess you’ve gotten us into Stanley.
Just minutes before the Dec. 1 deadline in 2018, the Toronto Maple Leafs signed William Nylander to a healthy contract with a $10.5 million cap hit for last season but only a $6.9 million cap hit moving forward (money isn’t prorated, so $7 million from December to April extrapolates to $10.5 over a full season). Nylander never really got on track last season. The whirlwind negotiations, the stress of wondering if he would even play, and then playing catch-up, derailed his season. The situation stands as a warning to all teams and players. Nylander got his money but essentially lost a season and he had a higher cap hit.
Someone is going to make a serious run at stealing a star player for a two first round picks, a second and a third-round pick. Would you trade those four picks for Marner or Point? Heck yes, and twice on Sunday.
We are now in an unprecedented situation. The salary cap is meant to disperse talent and create an opportunity for lesser teams to improve with better players from better teams which can’t pay everyone. The CBA and RFA status weren’t meant to become a summer watch party with less action than my High School social calendar.
The clock is ticking but teams are operating under presumptive thinking. Montreal GM Marc Bergevin already broke the seal when Montreal offered Sebastien Aho a contract with an $8.4 million cap hit. Montreal chickened out as they could have been more aggressive. If the scuttle is true, one of the big RFAs is going to have a new home in early September.
This game of chicken will end. A player may wind up in Europe. Or traded. A team which is already tight to the cap may get walloped with a larger cap hit on their player because they waited too long to sign him. But most likely, we’re going to see teams with cap space capitalize.
Ahem, GMs. Finish the game quickly, or someone is going to create a game-changer.