Although NHL free agency is not nearly as bombastic and league-altering as it is in the NBA and MLB, there is still plenty of drama to go around to appease the fans.
Two summers ago, John Tavares signed a massive, seven-year deal to return home to the Toronto Maple Leaves and transform them into an instant Stanley Cup contender. This past summer, Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky spurned the Columbus Blue Jackets for the New York Rangers and Florida Panthers, respectively. Historically, there have been plenty of other moves to shake up the league, including some of the best players of all time in Wayne Gretzky, Jaromir Jagr and Mark Messier hitting the market.
In the summer of 2019, however, the drama has been far from ordinary on the free agency front. After the first wave of craziness on July 1-2 with the initial signings, things slowed down significantly across the league from players and general managers.
During that time, one thing remained stagnant, however – the restricted free agent market.
Restricted free agency has been around in the NHL for a number of years now, but this situation was unprecedented. Players enter restricted free agency when they are under 27 years old or have not played a total of seven years in the league. Basically, it is a rule put in place to keep young stars on their respective drafted teams unless massive compensation is being given the other way.
Through August, many of the league’s stars that filled this category, including Mitch Marner of Toronto and Brayden Point of Tampa Bay, remained unsigned. The only major piece that had moved up until that point was Sebastian Aho, who signed an offer sheet early into free agency with Montreal but subsequently went back to Carolina.
The situation is admittedly becoming more clear as training camp winds down and teams are beginning to be set, as Marner went back to Toronto for six years and Point returned for three years.
However, there are still many players remaining on the market as restricted free agents with the season just single-digit days away.
Patrik Laine and Mikko Rantanen, two dominant wingers from Finald, remain without a contract in Winnipeg and Colorado, respectively. Winnipeg has yet to sort out Kyle Connor’s future, too. Dallas has Julius Honka on the market, as is Jesse Puljujarvi in Edmonton. Matthew Tkachuk, a part of Calgary’s elite trio with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, is also holding out.
Although it draws the dismay and chagrin of general managers and traditional hockey pundits alike, the restricted free agent standoffs are good for the players and the game. NHL stars are traditionally paid significantly less than the NBA, MLB and NFL. It will never match up due to revenue generation, but the pay still deserves to go up for the services provided for billionaire owners.
It is certainly a shame that players such as Laine, Rantanen, Tkachuk and more will likely have to start the season overseas, but in the end, it was a much-needed conflict. With the Collective Bargaining Agreement ending in the next half-decade, it is a worthy struggle to have in order to reach an amicable solution for the players and owners moving forward.
Kevin Kopf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter @KevinKopfHWH.