As the summer winds on with no end in sight for contract negotiations between several major restricted free agents – the Mitch Marners and Patrik Laines and Mikko Rantanens of the world – and their respective clubs, we now know for certain the timeline on which we can expect another handful of notable names to either work something out with their teams or have deals decided for them.
After 40 RFAs filed for arbitration late last week, the NHLPA officially announced hearing dates for those seeking new pacts with their clubs on Wednesday, and in nine days, the first set of RFAs are slated to head to Toronto to plead their cases. So, which are the most intriguing dates on the arbitration calendar? Here’s a look at several important hearings:
When the hearings were initially announced, the opening day, July 20, was supposed to be the busiest on the calendar, tied with the last day with six players slated to have their cases heard. Of course, as is often the case, a trio of the RFAs avoided the entire ordeal by inking new pacts as Malcolm Subban signed a one-year deal with the Vegas Golden Knights, Alex Iafallo and the Los Angeles Kings agreed to a two-year contract and Jason Dickinson has signed a two-year deal with the Dallas Stars. Thus, you can cross those three off the docket.
However, there are still four intriguing cases scheduled for Day 1 of hearings and only nine days before those hearings are set to begin. Included on the list are Joel Armia and Brock McGinn, both of whom have interesting cases as young, bottom-six players with offensive upside. But the big name on the list is Jordan Binnington, the Stanley Cup-winning Blues keeper who has yet to agree to a new deal with St. Louis.
Binnington, 26, was in the running for the Hart, Vezina and Calder Trophies last season, and the Blues netminder was a season-saver for St. Louis. That said, he’s only appeared in 33 career NHL games, so you can see why there is some hesitance to ink him to a big-money deal and be done with it. It’s tough to know what exactly Binnington’s worth is when his NHL career is made up of such a small sample. Some have suggested a deal akin to Matt Murray’s three-year contract that pays $3.75-million per season would be best. Others have posited a long-term deal with a heftier pay hike is the right fit.
If this goes to arbitration, it’s anyone’s guess what Binnington receives.
Let’s get this out of the way: there has been nothing, absolutely nothing, to suggest Jacob Trouba isn’t interested in inking a long-term contract with the New York Rangers. He seems to be thrilled about his new landing spot, New York could use a defenseman of his caliber as a cornerstone for the rebuild and the Rangers have the cap space to give him a significant raise.
That said, Trouba has a history of some sticky negotiations, be it because he didn’t want to remain in Winnipeg or he simply didn’t like any of the Jets’ offers during his time with the organization. Coming out of his entry-level deal, he sat out into the following November. After that two-year contract was up, he went to arbitration. And now he’s eligible again with only two weeks to go before his hearing.
Trouba has a case for a nice pay hike, too. He scored eight goals and a career-high 50 points last season, skated big minutes and he is one of the highest-scoring RFAs – and the highest scoring defender of the bunch – yet to sign a new deal. He was awarded $5.5 million last season, and it’s not beyond reason that he could get $7 million this summer.
Sam Bennett didn’t exactly explode offensively last season. After two consecutive 26-point seasons, he posted 27 points in 71 games last season while skating in the Flames’ bottom six. By per-game rates, however, it was the second most productive season of Bennett’s young career in every scoring category. But what really vaults Bennett into the “most intriguing” arbitration category is that every dollar matters right now in Calgary, particularly with the Flames $9.5 million under the spending limit with up-and-comer Matthew Tkachuk unsigned.
Because of that, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if Calgary tried to play some hardball with Bennett. Frankly, he hasn’t really done much in the way of showing on his two-year, $3.9-million show-me deal with the Flames. His scoring has basically stagnated. That doesn’t mean Bennett won’t be looking for a raise, though, which might put the two sides at an impasse.
Keep an eye on Bennett’s hearing, because it might be one of the few that actually makes it to arbitration given Calgary’s cap concerns and his own contract desires.
Two hearings and both will be equally as interesting if they get this far.
One of the pair is David Rittich, the Flames puck-stopper who is tabbed for starting duty this season after taking the reins from Mike Smith at points last season. Yes, he’ll have competition in Cam Talbot, but Rittich is expected to build off of a campaign in which he posted a .911 save percentage across 45 games. He earned a meager $800,000 last season and he’s due a raise, no doubt. But what is his asking price and how does it fit for cap-crunching Calgary?
Completing the two-hearing day – again, if it gets that far – will be the Rangers’ Pavel Buchnevich, who is going to have himself a good case for a sizeable raise coming out of his entry-level deal. After a stellar sophomore season in which he scored 14 goals and 43 points in 74 games, Buchnevich followed it up with a 21-goal, 38-point performance in 61 games. Given his shortened season, last season was actually more productive than the season prior, and his goal-scoring upside is something worth considering. He was only making $925,000 last season, but he tied with the likes of Max Pacioretty, Phil Kessel and Logan Couture in goals per game. It’ll be an interesting deal.
Butcher had an awesome rookie campaign. He scored five goals and 44 points in 81 games, finished ninth in Calder Trophy voting and looked like a future power play quarterback for the Devils. But that was before he took a slight step back last season. Skating in 78 games, he managed four goals and 30 points despite logging bigger minutes on the New Jersey blueline. So, now what?
Though he’s only 159 games into his big-league career, Butcher looks like he has the offensive upside that was promised. It doesn’t seem as though he’s going to be a consistent top-pairing defenseman, however. Not yet, at least. He feels like the perfect candidate for a show-me deal, and it might be what works for both sides. On one hand, the Devils get him relatively cheap and short term. On the other, the much-improved New Jersey offense could lead Butcher to a bigger breakout and the tutelage of someone such as P.K. Subban could help the youngster develop his game further.
There’s plenty of time to work out a pact, but if the two sides can’t agree to a price, they can work out the show-me deal through arbitration.
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