All the major unrestricted free agents have been scooped off the market, and those early summer, cap-space-clearing moves we see every year are now in the rearview. That doesn’t mean there’s not still a lot to be resolved, though, especially when it comes to the few key remaining restricted free agents and a couple of guys who are set to become UFA’s in 2019.
For RFA’s like Willy Nylander in Toronto, William Karlsson in Vegas and Noah Hanifin in Calgary, the first day of training camp is the first key deadline, while if any of them remained unsigned by December 1, which is highly unlikely, they will be ineligible to play in the NHL in 2018-19. For Teams like the Blue Jackets and Senators facing the prospect of losing their most valuable players as UFA’s next summer, the time to make a move was probably yesterday, but getting that done as soon as possible will help yield a maximum return.
Here’s a look at five intriguing, and still unresolved, storylines to pay attention to in the coming weeks.
“We can, and we will.” That’s how newly-minted GM Kyle Dubas responded to the lingering question of whether or not the team could feasibly retain its young core of Nylander, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner after the addition of the $11-million-per-year John Tavares on July 1. Dubas’ mission to make good on his promise starts with Nylander, who remains unsigned after posting two consecutive 61-point campaigns in the final two seasons of his entry level deal.
Nylander, who is penciled in as Matthews winger for the foreseeable future, is the only player the team has to lock up this offseason, but Dubas will obviously be keeping the pending 2019 extensions for Matthews and Marner in mind when negotiation both term and AAV with Nylander’s camp. The Maple Leafs currently have $14.7-million to play with for the upcoming season and are an estimated 31.5 million under the cap for 2019-20.
The 26-year-old is just a year away from unrestricted free agency, but Panarin is not currently open to negotiating an extension with the Blue Jackets — putting the team in a bit of a bind as it tries to navigate a progressively trickier situation with the star winger. The most recent development in the saga has Panarin setting a ‘deadline’ of September 13 to negotiate a new extension with either the Blue Jackets or a potential trade suitor, according to Aaron Portzline at The Athletic.
As Portzline explains, the value of the package Columbus could yield in return for the all-star will likely be significantly impacted by Panarin’s willingness to sign long term with any team that acquires him. If the self-imposed deadline holds true, Panarin won’t be interested in negotiating an extension with any team after the set date, which means a high likelihood of him hitting the free-agent market next summer, or Columbus receiving a less-than-ideal return at some point during this season.
Everyone is pretty well-versed in this situation by now, and it doesn’t seem to be any closer to a resolution as we sloth our way through the final chunk of July. Escalating tensions between Karlsson and team owner Eugene Melnyk and the latter’s self-proclaimed unwillingness to spend the kind of money it takes to build a winner has driven a wedge between captain and team, making the prospect of a Karlsson deal all but a certainty.
Potential trade suitors have been granted permission to try and negotiate a long-term extension with the 28-year-old — who becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2019 — signalling a high likelyhood that No. 65 will be moved before the start of the season, while Ottawa can get the highest return possible. It was reported over the past couple of weeks that Dallas and Tampa Bay, in particular, were very close to getting a deal done for Karlsson, but those rumours were called “inaccurate,” by Lightning GM Steve Yzerman. Along with the Bolts and Stars, San Jose and Vegas are also in the mix for the two-time Norris Trophy winner.
The 25-year-old took Las Vegas and the rest of the hockey world by storm during the Golden Knights’ inaugural season, posting 43 tallies and 78 points to lead the team in both departments while finishing behind only Patrik Laine and Alex Ovechkin in goals league-wide. It was a stunning season, to say the least, and now Vegas GM Gorge McPhee finds himself in the unenviable position of trying to appropriately evaluate the monetary value of a player who scored just six times the season prior and posted an absurd 23.4 shooting percentage in 2017-18.
Karlsson is arbitration eligible and it appears his case is moving in that direction. However, the Golden Knights would be wise to negotiate a short-term extension where they can find out exactly what Karlsson is about over the next couple seasons while not causing tension with the player that arbitration cases often bring.
The shocking Hanifin for Dougie Hamilton trade landed the Flames a blueliner who, they feel, has a higher defensive ceiling and is a better long-term fit for the club. Even if the team is correct in that assessment, they lost the cost certainty that Hamilton’s deal — three years remaining at $5.75 million per — brought.
Unlike Elias Lindholm, who was the other RFA acquired in the deal, Hanifin has no arbitration rights so the two parties will have to come to an agreement before the opening day of training camp, which shouldn’t be an issue according to GM Brad Treliving. The Flames currently have $7.3 million in cap space for the upcoming campaign and an estimated $17.7 million for 2019-20, while Hanifin made $1.7 million in each of his first three NHL seasons in Carolina.