So now that Neal Pionk and Andrew Copp are under contract for the upcoming season, the financial picture for the Winnipeg Jets is a bit clearer. But still plenty of questions surround RFAs Patrick Laine and Kyle Connor.
But around the NHL there are many teams with the same focus – getting young, talented restricted free agents under contract.
Usually there are parameters for first contract to second contract. That is not the case with this group. From the two Jets to Mitch Marner, to Brayden Point, to Matthew Tkachuk, to Mikko Rantanen, the financial jump to the second contract is huge. Best example is Auston Mathews, who went from a $700,000 base salary this past season to $11.6 million AAV this coming season. And just to be clear – the performance of this group warrants a big raise in pay. How big is the question.
So, when might we see some of these deals get done? These negotiations will not be easy and with no pressure point until September, we shouldn’t expect anything anytime soon. As frustrating as that might be. Next pressure point is training camp, then preseason games, then a couple of preseason games left to get into game shape, then the start of the NHL season, then some point into the season.
And each case is different. There may be some RFAs that really like the situation they are in, know they will sign at least one more contract after this, so perhaps a hometown discount and staying put is the preference. But that player is not going to sign until training camp so as not to lower the bar for other players. The players association will keep a close watch on that.
Others understand that there is a teammate making X amount, and therefore the player shouldn’t expect more than that. Blake Wheeler will make $8.2 million next year, Mark Scheifele $6.1 million. Should Laine and Connor look at that as a guideline? Should the Wheeler number be the max? Point knows that Nikita Kucherov makes $9.5 million. Is that his bench mark? It gets more complicated for Rantanen with Nathan MacKinnon at $6.3 million, Tkachuk knowing Johnny Gaudreau is making $6.7 million and Sean Monahan making $6.3 million. In Toronto, Marner knows that John Tavares, with over 700 NHL games under his belt, is making $11 million, but he also knows that Matthews is above that so a precedent has been set. Marner played all 82 games and tallied 94 points, good enough for 11th in league scoring. Some feel he has to be the next to sign, then others will follow.
Then you get into term. Bridge, long-term to have your player under contract as long as possible, mid-term that gets the player to unrestricted free agency faster.
The offer sheet threat seems to have quieted down. Montreal’s offer sheet to Sebastian Aho basically ended what the Carolina Hurricanes thought was going to be a summer of negotiation.
And is there yet another obstacle in getting these players signed? This thought was always in the back of some minds. Will the players association really keep close tabs on this, be sure prices stay high, to reinforce a theory that draft, develop and salary cap are not a fit. A tweet from agent Allan Walsh might have confirmed that thought. Basically, that the salary cap is preventing NHL teams from resigning and retaining the players it needs.
Players' biggest issue with the current CBA is escrow, and that is all tied into sharing revenues and establishing a yearly salary cap. Will losing players at a young age because of cap restraints be appetite enough for owners to take a look at this?
Next on that front is September. The owners have until September 1 to open the current CBA (expectation is they won’t), players have until September 15 to open the current CBA (expectation is they will – but hopefully I am wrong).
So, as coaches prepare for the upcoming season, putting line combos together is difficult. There is a very good possibility that a number of these RFAs (Laine and Connor included) will NOT be signed by training camp. Should that happen, it will give some younger players the chance to get some valuable game time, at least in preseason. Laine signing in Finland is already out there.
It would be easier for Paul Maurice with all hands on deck. Clearing the way to focus on some defensive combinations. With Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot and Joe Morrow gone, all eyes will be on the Jets' D group. From a fan’s standpoint, that topic may take your mind off of Laine and Connor. Pionk and Josh Morrissey, Morrisey and Dustin Byfuglien, Nathan Beaulieu with Byfuglien because he plays a similar game to Chiarot. Where does Sammy Niku fit? Does veteran Dmitry Kulikov get an opportunity to play up in the lineup, perhaps with Byfuglien? Logan Stanley is coming off a very good second half with the Moose, how close will he be? There are many who believe a healthy Tucker Poolman can be an NHL regular. And there are others in the mix including Nelson Nogier and newcomer Anthony Bitetto. Players are always looking for that one opportunity.
The start of the schedule does not give the Jets a lot of room for “learn on the job”. A four-game swing through the Metro to start, then a stretch of 11 of 15 on the road in November. But it’s the NHL – no one said it will be, or should be easy.
In the mean-time enjoy the rest of summer, and as the song goes “See you in September”.