Training camp is on the horizon for much of the league, but more than a dozen team-controlled free agents could be skipping out on the first few days of workouts as they wait to put pen to paper on new deals.
So, where do things stand with the league’s remaining restricted free agents? Here’s a quick look at all 14 RFAs still without fresh pacts for the 2018-19 campaign:
WILLIAM NYLANDER, TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Consecutive 61-point seasons put Nylander in line to earn himself a significant payday, but neither side seems to be feeling the heat with camp mere weeks away. The good news, though, is neither Nylander nor the Maple Leafs seem all that concerned about the fact he doesn’t have a contract.
Getting Nylander under contract is crucial, to be sure, but Toronto has to play their cards right. He has the ability to be one of the biggest parts of the future going forward, a consistent 20-goal threat who only stands to improve further in the next few seasons. Nylander is reportedly seeking a long-term deal, but the Leafs’ best bet might be to bridge the 22-year-old with new contracts for Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner on the horizon, as well as another nine projected roster players entering free agency of one kind or another next season.
SAM REINHART, BUFFALO SABRES
Reinhart’s second half makes his new contract a conundrum for the Sabres. On one hand, he struggled mightily through the first half of the campaign, making it seem all but certain that he was headed for a bridge deal. He exploded over the second half of the season, though, and turned into one of Buffalo’s most effective offensive weapons. His 25 goals and 50 points were both career-bests, and he’s on his way to even bigger and better things should he continue to score at that rate.
But here’s the catch: do the Sabres sign him long-term at top dollar under the assumption his scoring will continue to improve? Or does Buffalo go with the short-term bridge deal and make Reinhart, 22, prove it wasn’t some lightning-in-a-bottle performance? Decisions, decisions. It’s among the toughest remaining RFA contracts to gauge.
DARNELL NURSE, EDMONTON OILERS
The closer we get to training camp, the more realistic a bridge deal seems for Nurse. It’s not that Nurse isn’t worth inking long-term, mind you. That’s an option that’s certainly worth exploring after he broke out last season with a six-goal, 26-point performance and an average ice time greater than 22 minutes per night. But Edmonton has been unable to really shuffle around the money to make a long-term deal make sense. The Oilers have less than $4 million in projected cap space right now, and while the deck could be shuffled somewhat to free up an extra million-and-change, Nurse, 23, is probably seeking somewhere in the $6-million range if he’s to ink anything from a six- to eight-year pact.
NOAH HANIFIN, CALGARY FLAMES
When it comes to Hanifin, the difficulty the Flames face is knowing what’s best for the 21-year-old blueliner. Has the fifth overall pick from the 2015 draft, who was acquired this summer, proven himself to be a top-pairing defenseman? Not yet. That said, he was stuck behind a number of talented young rearguards on a deep Carolina Hurricanes blueline. In Calgary, he might be able to move up the depth chart in a hurry and earn himself a consistent spot in the top-three behind Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie. In saying that, though, Hanifin and his camp may see the opportunity for a high-paying, long-term deal, particularly with the Flames several million dollars below the cap. The safer bet for Calgary, however, is going to be a short-term deal that allows Hanifin to truly prove his worth.
SHEA THEODORE, VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
Theodore showed promise during his time with the Anaheim Ducks, but he really broke out with the expansion Golden Knights. Not only did he show some of the same offensive flair he had previously displayed — his six-goal, 29-point performance in 61 games got the attention of the hockey world — but his ability to log big minutes stood out. His average ice time was up over 20 minutes, he drove play and he was an asset on the power play, too. Vegas should be doing what they can to get Theodore, 23, locked up long-term. He has potential to be a stud on their blueline well into the future. That said, if the Golden Knights are still in the mix for Erik Karlsson with eyes on an extension, a bridge deal for Theodore might be the only way to make the money work for the time being.
JOSH MORRISSEY, WINNIPEG JETS
Skating in Winnipeg last week, Morrissey, 23, said he expects to have a deal done by the time training camp rolls around. That’s the good news for the Jets. The bad news is that there’s no word on the parameters of such a deal, and Winnipeg might have some of the biggest cap concerns of any team moving forward. Not only will Morrissey’s defense partner Jacob Trouba, who signed a one-year deal through arbitration this summer, be up for a new deal again next season, the Jets will also need to spend next summer to retain captain Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor and a few other free agents. It’s going to be incredibly expensive. With Trouba’s future up in the air, though, Morrissey falls into must-sign territory. He stands to be a fixture of the top-three and the kind of do-anything defenseman that Winnipeg will want to keep in the lineup for years to come.
NICK RITCHIE, ANAHEIM DUCKS
Ritchie is the lone Anaheim roster player who remains a free agent, but it’s no wonder the Ducks have taken a while to sign the 22-year-old. Selected 10th overall in 2014, Ritchie hasn’t quite met expectations. He regressed somewhat last season, posting 10 goals and 27 points in 76 games, and he continued to skate bottom-six minutes. Anaheim undoubtedly wants to see more, and that would point to a bridge deal being the next step for both sides.
MILES WOOD, NEW JERSEY DEVILS
How was Wood for a surprising breakout scorer? Sure, he didn’t put up William Karlsson-esque numbers, but Wood’s 19-goal, 32-point performance was impressive given he averaged less than 13 minutes per night. The 22-year-old speedster worked for his chances, too. He fired a whole lot more rubber last season — 65 more shots, 105 more attempts — in 170 additional minutes. A show-me deal would be best.
MICHAEL McCARRON, MONTREAL CANADIENS
Maybe it’s a year or two too soon to say bust, but McCarron certainly hasn’t lived up to expectations. Selected 25th overall in 2013, he has only 62 NHL games under his belt and a mere two goals and six points in those outings. He’s been passed on the depth chart by younger players, and the 23-year-old might not get anything beyond a one-year pact.
JORDAN SCHMALTZ, ST. LOUIS BLUES
Schmaltz probably falls into the McCarron camp. Drafted 25th overall in 2012, the 24-year-old defenseman hasn’t been able to consistently crack the Blues’ lineup and his average ice time — and remember, he’s a blueliner — was less than 11 minutes across 13 outings. This season is going to be Schmaltz’s best chance to earn a spot in St. Louis, but it seems unlikely he’s given much more than one or two more seasons to prove he can make it with the Blues.
ERIC COMRIE, WINNIPEG JETS
The Jets aren’t in need of a succession plan in goal. They have their guy in Connor Hellebuyck, and they made as much clear when signing him to a long-term extension this summer. When it comes to 23-year-old Comrie, though, Winnipeg has a chance to have a tandem of quality young netminders. He’s still without a deal, but inking him to a two-year pact that goes one-way next season would give him the chance to prove he can be the full-time second-stringer by 2019-20.
MATT PUEMPEL, DETROIT RED WINGS
From the Ottawa Senators to New York Rangers over the past two seasons, the 2011 first-round pick — he was taken 24th overall by the Sens — hasn’t been able to catch on. He has the offensive ability, but his entire game hasn’t come together. The Red Wings can use a depth scoring option, but the 25-year-old is bound for something short-term.
J.C. LIPON, WINNIPEG JETS
Lipon has spent some time in the minors. The better part of five season, to be exact, and the 25-year-old hasn’t seen the NHL since 2015-16. The unfortunate reality is that a short-term, two-way deal is most likely for Lipon, who has taken on an alternate captaincy on the Jets’ AHL club over the past two seasons. He might not be much longer for the North American game, though.
MAREK LANGHAMER, ARIZONA COYOTES
His status may be that of an NHL RFA, but Langhamer jetted back to Europe. He’ll be suiting up in the Czech League next season. Maybe he’ll be back down the road.