William Nylander dragged things out till the 11th hour in December In 2018.
In 2019, it was a gaggle of guys — including the Lightning’s Brayden Point, Avalanche’s Mikko Rantanen, Flames’ Matthew Tkachuk and Jets duo Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine — who waited till their teammates had a few training camp miles under their skates.
In January, Islanders star Mathew Barzal waited until the boys got a few skates in before hopping on the ice to join the day before his new deal was officially announced.
Now, on the eve of NHL training camps, there’s a new crop of talented restricted free agents still waiting to sign the dotted line, leaving a number of fan bases uneasy. Two guys who were set to be on this list inked new contracts on Tuesday: 2021 Calder Trophy winner Kirill Kaprizov and the Wild agreed to a five-year, $45 million contract, and the Islanders and Kieffer Bellows have (reportedly) shaken hands on a new deal. Will the others follow suit before the skates hit the ice?
Here’s the top five who could be missing out on some 2021-22 season prep — and beyond.
Note: Cap-related numbers courtesy of CapFriendly.
Five unsigned 2021-22 NHL RFAs
Buffalo Sabres: Rasmus Dahlin
As if the Sabres don’t have enough to worry about (see: Jack Eichel), they’re about to head into the first camp under coach Don Granato without their top defenseman. The first overall pick in 2018, Dahlin deserves a solid pay raise despite a season that saw him struggle a smidge; his point production dipped from 40 points in 59 games in 2019-20 to 23 points in 56 games last season with an eye-staggering plus/minus (-36).
But here’s the thing: Dahlin is still a kid at 21, and the upside is definitely there. Some stability behind the bench will surely help his game grow — as well as being surrounded by a roster built to compete. Why he isn’t signed is intriguing, as the Sabres certainly have the space to do so: They’re actually around $2.3 million shy of the cap floor — so there may be more to this story than just money.
MORE: Every teams’ UFAs, RFAs
Ottawa Senators: Brady Tkachuk
Brady Tkachuk is going to Tkachuk, at least according to older brother Matthew.
“It’s a family business. Nobody wants to deal with the Tkachuks in this. But we do it by committee,” the Flames star told Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek on their 31 Thoughts podcast.
“He might be pulling a classic Tkachuk right now. Dad (Keith) held out, Matthew held out, and Brady looks like he’s on his way right now. So hopefully it can get figured out here. But it’s just a lot of fake stuff out there regarding this. They’re not too close.”
Yikes. Not great news for Senators fans regarding the guy they want sporting the “C.”
Tkachuk is coming off a year where he rang up 36 points (17 goals, 19 assists) in 56 games, was a leader on a young, hard-to-play-against team and was a notorious pest. He is reportedly hitting the ice in Michigan as he awaits a new deal that should be in the handful of millions range (there are rumours he has offered a deal in the $8 million range and, based on Kaprizov’s payday, that seems fair). The money should be there for an Ottawa team that still needs to hit the cap floor.
St. Louis Blues: Robert Thomas
The Blues forward may just be 22, but he already has a bedazzled Stanley Cup ring on his hand. So, when you see that the Blues have, oh, about $781,151 to spend (give or take about $1.5 million with some roster finagling), it’s fair to say this one may take a while. Rumors have swirled for months that Vladimir Tarasenko has asked the St. Louis squad to “Show Me” the door, which could open up the money ($7.5 million AAV owed to the Russian winger) to sign Thomas.
He’s a solid third-line centerman who hasn’t reached his potential just yet after missing time due to injury (12 points in 33 games in 2021). The biggest question mark is, how much is he expecting? The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford reported that Thomas thinks he is worth more than what the team is offering, especially after Jordan Kyrou got $2.8 million AAV.
Vancouver Canucks: Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson
You’d think Canucks Twitter would be abuzz with the fact their two young stars are skating in Michigan and not Vancouver (per The Athletic), But they’re not — why? Because everyone saw this coming.
The Canucks salary cap situation was, is and will be for the foreseeable situation, sticky, to put it mildly. As of Sept. 21, CapFriendly has the team at just over $10.6 million in projected cap space — with a potential of up to $16 million — and both players have earned deals well over $5 million each. While Hughes’ may not be a lock for the six-year, $9 million AAV deal Colorado’s Cale Makar got this summer, he’s looking at a hefty upgrade from his entry-level deal. Pettersson, the 2019 Calder Trophy winner, missed 30 games last season, but is a franchise centerman at just 22.
What could be the holdup? It may be more than money.
“This is a slow play by Jim Benning, ownership and the Vancouver Canucks,” TSN insider Darren Dreger said on “Sekeres and Price” on Friday. “Term is important here. I’m sure the Vancouver Canucks would love both of those guys in a two-to-three-year range, but players aren’t comfortable with that. Long term isn’t going to work for both of them largely due to the cap situation. From a player’s standpoint, the sweet spot is in a four-to-six-year range. I don’t feel like the conversations I had today are encouraging that either one of those guys is going to be in camp. “