Examining NHL’s top remaining RFA situations: Contracts, offer sheets, and cap space

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NHL training camps are just a couple of weeks away and there are still a number of significant restricted free agents who are unsigned.

Vancouver’s duo of Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes tops the list, while Kirill Kaprizov (Wild), Brady Tkachuk (Senators), and Rasmus Dahlin (Sabres) are also seeking new deals.

What sort of contracts are they looking for? What kind of contracts should they get? Could see another offer sheet like Carolina’s successful signing of Jesperi Kotkaniemi this past week?

We take a look at all of those questions here.

Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks

Team salary cap situation: $10.6 million in remaining salary cap space, (per Cap Friendly) plus $3.5 million in long-term injured reserve relief when Micheal Ferland ends up there.

2020-21 stats: Pettersson (26 games, 10 goals, 11 assists); Hughes (56 games, 3 goals, 38 assists)

Offer sheet risk: Moderate. The Canucks’ salary cap situation, combined with the fact they have two top-line RFAs still sitting here unsigned, should make them an offer sheet risk for at least one of them. In theory. But any team that wants to sign either Pettersson or Hughes is going to have to a rich enough offer to convince them to sign, and be enough to prohibit Vancouver from matching. That sort of offer is getting until the multiple first-round pick tier. Pettersson is probably worth that, so it might be worth it. The jury is still out on Hughes.

What sort of contract are we looking at? Pettersson is already a top-line center and should be viewed as the Canucks’ cornerstone player. He is sensational. But he also recently said in a Swedish interview that while he wants to stay in Vancouver, he also wants to play in a situation where he has a chance of winning, something that has not happened lately in Vancouver. Could he take a short-term bridge deal, see how the Canucks progress, bet on himself (one he would almost certainly win), then cash in down the line?

Hughes’ deal might be a little tricker. He has been outstanding offensively so far in his career, but his defensive game took a small step back this past season. He is definitely part of the young, up-and-coming group of defenders ready to take over the position. Are the Canucks confident enough to give him a deal comparable to Cale Makar and Miro Heiskanen?

[Related: Every free agent signing by all 32 NHL teams]

Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo Sabres

Team salary cap situation: $23 million in cap space and still needs to spend more than $2 million to reach the salary floor.

2020-21 stats: 56 games, 5 goals, 18 assists

Offer sheet risk: Extremely low. The Sabres could literally match any offer any team could throw at Dahlin, and it is doubtful that anyone is confident enough in Dahlin to throw an offer so lucrative at him that it would make Buffalo consider not matching it.

What sort of contract are we looking at? This is a tough one. Dahlin’s potential is still enormous, and he has shown flashes of being a superstar level player. But his 2020-21 season was a bit of a mixed bag. He seemed to take a step back early in the year, and then looked like a completely different (and better) player in the second half after the coaching change. And that has been a constant problem. In three years he has already played for three different coaches who all had different ideas for the type of player he should be, and as a result we do not even know what type of player he is. This situation screams bridge contract.

Brady Tkachuk, Ottawa Senators

Team salary cap situation: $24 million in salary cap space and still need to spend $3 million to reach the salary cap floor.

2020-21 stats: 56 games, 17 goals, 19 assists

Offer sheet risk: Extremely low. Just like the situation in Buffalo, Ottawa could match literally anything and almost certainly would. There are always going to be (very legitimate) questions about the Senators willingness to pay top dollar under Eugene Melnyk’s ownership, but Tkachuk is the centerpiece of this rebuild. They are not letting him get away.

What sort of contract are we looking at? This should be a long-term deal. No need for a bridge. And it would probably actually save the Senators money in the long-run to get him signed now. If Tkachuk gets a bridge deal he could really cash in on his next deal if he continues to develop the way he has. He is their best player, potentially a future captain, and there is no reason to think he should not be able to get — and be worth — a contract similar to the one Ottawa signed Thomas Chabot to a couple of years ago (eight years, $64 million).

Kirill Kaprizov, Minnesota Wild

Team salary cap situation: $12 million in salary cap space, but it disappears quickly next season due to buyouts.

2020-21 stats: 55 games, 27 goals, 24 assists

Offer sheet risk: Literally none. He can not sign an offer sheet because he signed a two-year entry-level deal in 2019-20 and did not play a game. That means he is not eligible to sign an offer sheet. So no risk. The bigger concern has been him going back to the KHL and playing in Russia.

What sort of contract are we looking at? The Wild have reportedly made long-term offers of seven and eight years to Kaprizov that would make him the highest paid player in the history of the franchise. Kaprizov is reportedly looking for a shorter team deal.

The problem with that for the Wild is that because Kaprizov is already 24 years old he would be eligible for unrestricted free agency at the end of almost any short-term deal. That is not at all what they want. That is part of what is making it a difficult negotiation because both sides have very strong reasons for wanting the type of contract that they want.

Minnesota wants to keep its superstar for as long as possible, and the superstar almost certainly wants to keep his options open for another big pay day and the possibility of unrestricted free agency at an age where teams will still pay top dollar. Somebody is going to have to blink here.

Kailer Yamamoto, Edmonton Oilers

Team salary cap situation: Currently more than $2 million over the salary cap

2020-21 stats: 52 games, 8 goals, 13 assists

Offer sheet risk: It should be high. If there is another offer sheet possibility sitting out there, this should be the situation for it. Yamamoto is a very good young player and currently on a team whose salary cap situation would make matching an even modest offer difficult. If Jesperi Kotkaniemi is worth $6.1 million and a first- and third-round pick, Yamamoto is certainly worth something in the $4.1 million range. The compensation for that is a second-round pick. Well worth it if you can get him to sign it.

What sort of contract are we looking at? Almost certainly a shorter term deal. Yamamoto is a good player and shown flashes of being a quality top-six option but the track record at this point is so small that it would be difficult to commit anything longer term. It also would not make much sense for Yamamoto to commit to that when there is a good chance he could bet on himself, prove his value even more, and turn that into a more significant pay day in the future.

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    Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

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    BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

    The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

    Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

    Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

    Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

    The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

    Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

    Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

    These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

    In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

    “Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

    Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

    “He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

    Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

    “I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

    Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

    “I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

    Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

    “I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

    Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

    The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

    One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

    “It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

    Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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    SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

    Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

    “Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

    The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

    Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

    Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

    Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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    The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

    The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

    General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

    The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

    Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

    Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

    “I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

    Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

    “Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

    After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.