With NHL training camps just around the corner, there is a long list of young RFAs who do not have a contract going into the season. Players like Ryan Johansen, Jaden Schwartz, Cody Eakin, Reilly Smith, Torey Krug, Ryan Ellis, Danny DeKeyser and Darcy Kuemper top the list of players who are in the precarious position that comes with waiting for a deal.
No Shortage of RFAs in Need of Deals as Training Camps Approach
Let’s start off with looking at Johansen, probably the best player on this list. After two rather unimpressive NHL seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Johansen exploded for 63 points in 82 games, which included 33 goals. Rumour has it that both camps are willing to do a bridge contract but money is still an issue. He reportedly wants upwards of $7 million but is he worth it at this stage in his career?
In this scenario, it is good for the Jackets to stand their ground on this. They clearly want to see more of Johansen and, especially since he only has one good season in his NHL career so far, a bridge deal is easier to swallow if he regresses. The Jackets have the potential to be a very good team in the near future and Johansen is expected to be one of the centrepieces of that. If Johansen wants the big money, all he needs to do is look at P.K. Subban, who swallowed his pride and burst out as a top defenceman and got rewarded this past summer with a nice 8-year, $72 million deal after his infamous bargain bridge deal.
In the cases of Jaden Schwartz and Cody Eakin, they play for deep teams that feature a lot of big-name players. In Schwartz’s case, the St. Louis Blues are in “win now” mode as the team is trying to go all out to win a Stanley Cup, which was accented this summer by giving Paul Stastny a four=year, $28 million deal. Schwartz looks to be a top six forward going into the season but the Blues have to be careful when doling out the money, especially with teammate and fellow youngster Vladimir Tarasenko in need of a deal next year.
As for Eakin, he had a career year but the acquisition of Jason Spezza bumps him down the depth chart. With this, do the Stars pay Eakin as a top six forward or as a the third liner he is likely to be this season?
In Boston, their cap crunch is likely the reason neither Reilly Smith and Torey Krug are signed yet. A consequence of their success, the Bruins are faced with the scenario where they have to part with some of their players to alleviate the logjam. Smith and Krug quickly became key pieces in the Bruins’ attack and it’s hard to imagine Boston wanting to part with either of these two.
Ryan Ellis and Danny DeKeyser, the two other defensemen on this list, are both in different situations with their respective teams. Ellis is overshadowed by Shea Weber and Seth Jones and his potential is yet to be unlocked. Perhaps the addition of Peter Laviolette, a more up-tempo coach than Barry Trotz, can be the key into Ellis rediscovering that offensive style that got him to the NHL.
With DeKeyser, he has become a key piece for a Detroit blueline that isn’t as formidable as it used to be. Originally signed as an undrafted college free agent, DeKeyser’s ascent has been something to watch. If Detroit wants to keep their two-decade-plus playoff streak going, signing DeKeyser will be crucial.
And then there’s Kuemper. The young goalie has been thrust into the No.1 position for Minnesota several times due to Niklas Backstrom’s injuries and Josh Harding’s illness. The Wild are reportedly wanting to give Kuemper a two-way deal but Kuemper, understandably, doesn’t want one. And why should he? This kid has performed for the Wild, giving them, for the most part, consistent goaltending when no one else could. He is their goalie of the future and shuttling him around in favour of others only to call on him when needed doesn’t look good.
Backstrom is aging rapidly and injuries are constant issue. It’s anyone’s guess as to how Backstrom will respond this season. In Harding’s case, he is good but the MS has shelved him for months on end. As good as Harding is, Minnesota is in a tough place with him. Do they continue to wait for him as he recovers or do they cut him loose to make room for Kuemper who has a better chance of being there every day? At the risk of sounding harsh, the Wild have to do what’s best for them and letting Harding go might be the best thing.
In the new NHL, young players are increasingly getting longer-term deals and when some teams are reluctant to give them, some youngsters are offended by the lack of commitment or lack of money given to them. Every situation is different so players shouldn’t compare themselves. The Oilers gave out big money to Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins but as of right now, only Hall can justify his deal. In contrast, Montreal is big on the bridge contract concept as Carey Price, PK Subban and Max Pacioretty all received one and presumably Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher will get one too next summer.
It’s no surprise young players want everything right away but if they continue to work hard and grow as players, the money and contracts will sort themselves out accordingly and either way, they will be rewarded.
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