It’s hard to think that nearly two months and a half after the free-agent market opened on July 1st, 2012 that there is still a plethora of quality unrestricted free agents left to sign such as Andrei Kostitsyn, Kristian Huselius, Shane Doan and Carlo Colaiacovo. Even more surprising is that there are some big name restricted free agents still unsigned by their respective teams.
As September 15th is looming, it is shocking to see that these players have not re-signed with their teams yet, as they don’t know what the terms and conditions of the new collective bargaining agreement will be.
What could be the reasons of this standstill between these young quality players and their general manager? One would think that these players would desperately want to sign as long a deal as their organization is willing to give them before a possible limit on contract length is imposed by the NHL.
It really seems that young, restricted free agents are caught between a rock (suddenly clenched-fisted owners) and a hard place (the looming Sept. 15 expiration date on the CBA, which is why most of these quality RFAs remain unsigned.
Jamie Benn, C, Dallas Stars
With Mike Ribeiro gone to Washington, the 23 year-old Benn is looking to take on more responsibilities this season. The dynamic pivot recorded 26 goals and 37 assists for 63 points in 71 games with the Stars last campaign. With the arrival of Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney as a calm veteran presence in the locker room, look for Benn to focus on his game even more and explode offensively if he finally comes to terms with the organization. Benn is reportedly looking for a long-term deal worth around $5 million/year, a contract that would pay him a little less than Tyler Seguin.
John Carlson, D, Washington Capitals
The 22-year old John Carlson represents to future of the organization on the blue line. After an inconsistent season, during which he notched 9 goals and added 23 assists for 32 points in 82 games, Carlson and his partner Karl Alzner are ready to raise their game to the next level. However, Carlson struggled in his sophomore season, failing to match his rookie points output and finishing with a mediocre -15 rating. Still, with Mike Green spending more time in the infirmary than Bruce Boudreau in a donut stand, Carlson will see plenty of ice-time on the Capitals power-play, which will be rejuvenated with the arrival of power-play specialist Mike Ribeiro. Carlson is looking for a deal hovering around the $4 million/year mark.
Michael Del Zotto, D, New York Rangers
After improving on his disastrous sophomore season with a 41-point campaign (10 g and 31 a) in 77 games with the Blueshirts, Del Zotto is looking to cash in. Part of one the best top-4 in the NHL, along with rearguards Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and Ryan McDonagh, MDZ is a dynamic defender who can play at both ends of the ice as shown by his +20 rating last season. According to Rangers GM Glen Sather, the 22 year-old Del Zotto has been very greedy during the contract talks. While MDZ is a fine player, the Rangers cannot afford to overpay to keep him long-term as Ryan McDonagh will be an RFA at season’s end, and veteran Dan Girardi will be a UFA the summer after that.
Tyler Ennis, C, Buffalo Sabres
With the trade of Derek Roy to the Dallas Stars in exchange for Steve Ott and Adam Pardy, Tyler Ennis is the most likely candidate to earn the number one center job in Buffalo. The speedy Ennis scored 15 goals and 19 assists for 34 points in only 48 contests last season due to injuries, following a 49-point campaign with the Sabres the year before. The diminutive pivot is looking at a career season if he can stay healthy and play on the Sabres’ top line with Jason Pominville and Tomas Vanek. Look for Ennis, who turns 23 in October, to fetch a contract similar to the new pact signed by Kyle Turris in Ottawa, a long-term contract worth a little under $4 million/year.
Cody Franson, D, Toronto Maple Leafs
The offensively-gifted Cody Franson would love to remain in Toronto, but that’s far from being certain. In 57 games with the Leafs in 2011-12, Franson managed to record 5 goals and 16 assists for 21 points, to go with a -1 differential. Franson had an up-and-down season under Ron Wilson, being made a frequent health scratch due to the Leafs’ depth on the blue line. With Jake Gardiner’s emergence as an offensive weapon and Korbinian Holzer’s arrival as a shutdown defenseman, Franson could very well be on the outside looking in, as negotiations hit a dead-end between Burke and Franson’s agent.
Evander Kane, LW, Winnipeg Jets
The 21 year-old power forward had his best season in 2011-12, scoring 30 goals and adding 27 assists for 57 points in 74 games with the Jets. Kane added 173 hits and finished the season with a +11 rating. The Jets desperately need to re-sign him as he will be a key part of the team’s young nucleus of quality players going forward. The problem is that Kane doesn’t seem interested in playing in Winnipeg any more, so a trade scenario is more likely as the days go by. As for his next contract, look for Kane to ask for a contract similar to the contract extension signed by Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins, a four-year, $18 million contract.
Ryan O’Reilly, C, Colorado Avalanche
The Colorado Avalanche’s leading scorer from last season is inexplicably the only big piece on that team who hasn’t been re-signed yet. After two unimpressive seasons in Denver, the 21 year-old O’Reilly exploded offensively in 2011-12, notching 18 goals and adding 37 assists for 55 points in 81 games. O’Reilly represents the future of the Avs, along with Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Eric Johnson. Look for the Avalanche to sign O’Reilly to a short-term contract similar to Matt Duchene’s contract: a two year pact worth around $3 million/year.
P.K. Subban, D, Montreal Canadiens
One of the flashiest defensemen in the NHL, Subban is also one of the most hated players around the league as he tends to get under the opponent’s skin. The 23 year-old Subban recorded 7 goals and 29 assists for 36 points in 81 games for the lowly Habs last year. With a healthy Andrei Markov, Subban should drastically increase his offensive output on the power play next season, after notching only 14 points on the man advantage in 2011-12. The Subbanator is looking for a lucrative contract with the Habs, most likely similar to his teammate Max Pacioretty who will earn $4.5 million/year over the next six years. The hold-up seems to be the term of the contract right now.
Other notable RFAs: Justin Abdelkader, Detroit Red Wings, Dmitry Kulikov, Florida Panthers, Matt Martin, New York Islanders, Ben Scrivens, Toronto Maple Leafs
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A long-time Joe Sakic fan, Fred, 35, is a freelance sports writer and translator. Fred earned a Bachelor of Translation in 2002 at Laval University in Quebec City. He also writes on the Montreal Canadiens for HabsAddict.com and he is an associate editor and a baseball columnist on Dobberbaseball.com. He is also fluent in English, French and Spanish.