Many of the biggest restricted free agent chips have fallen in the last month or so, with tough-to-compare cases such as Patric Hornqvist’s coming to satisfying conclusions in their negotiations. Still, there are a few scenarios that could linger beyond training camp, with New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal and Dallas Stars power forward James Neal ranking among the top of the list.
Neal’s situation was the topic of discussion between Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk and Craig Custance of the Sporting News today. Nieuwendyk said that he hopes to get a deal done before camp but acknowledges that it could take quite a while to reach a compromise, despite having more comparable contracts to work with than they did in the beginning of the free agent summer.
Nieuwendyk said he has spoken recently with Neal’s agent, Pat Morris, and both sides continue to work on a deal.
Morris works for Newport Sports Management, an agency that has represented many high-profile restricted free agents this summer. Ducks forward Bobby Ryan, another Newport client, is also without a deal.
Newport’s Craig Oster negotiated a three-year, $9.25 million deal for Nashville’s restricted free agent Patric Hornqvist.
Hornqvist put up comparable numbers to Neal’s last season, but Nieuwendyk warned against drawing any conclusions from that contract.
“There are comparables and there are people who belong to the same agent,” he said. “But we do things that reflect where we are . … [Predators GM] David Poile did what he thought was best for his hockey club. We’ll do the same with ours, too.”
As you might have noticed from that excerpt, Anaheim Ducks forward Bobby Ryan still hasn’t finalized a deal yet either despite seemingly being on the verge of doing so last week. This summer must have been a protracted and frustrating one for Ilya Kovalchuk and Nikolai Khabibulin’s agent Jay Grossman, but judging from these currently fruitless situations, he’s far from alone in the frustration.
The Stars and Ducks are cash-strapped franchises whose real-life budgets probably fall well below the NHL’s salary cap ceiling. Ryan and Neal are important pieces of their teams’ future – both near and far – so hopefully both clubs need to get something done.
I’m still not sure why another team doesn’t send an offer sheet Ryan or Neal’s way, though. Sure, the Stars and Ducks would probably match it, but why not make them sweat and possibly put them in a tough spot?
I guess it’s not worth a little awkwardness at the next general managers shindig, then.