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NHL Free Agency: Top Five RFA Defenseman Still Available

Let's take a look at the five top RFA defensemen still on the market this late into August.
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The free agent market has been open for over a month now, folks. And there are still a number of good young players who remain unsigned.

While the UFAs tend to grab most of the headlines when the market opens due to their ability to sign anywhere, the RFA crop is just as interesting this season, with an intriguing number of defensemen in particular still searching for deals with their respective teams as the dog days tick on by.

Who will stay and who will go? That's the question.

So, let's take a look at the best RFA defenders still on the market after arbitration hearings have wrapped up.

1. Rasmus Sandin - Toronto Maple Leafs 
Age: 22
2021-22 Stat Line: 51 GP, 5 goals, 11 assists, 16 points, 16:57 TOI

Given how he plays in the center of the hockey world, it's somewhat surprising that Rasmus Sandin's stalled contract negotiation has slid under the radar to this point. It's doubtful the situation will stay under wraps if Sandin remains unsigned heading into training camp. But, for now, the 22-year-old is staging something of a holdout late into the summer months that hasn't gained the media traction his camp might have wanted.

Here's the thing: On the surface, Sandin has made a decent little argument for himself to earn a slight bump in pay -- slight being the operative word. He's a former first-round pick, has produced well in his (albeit limited) usage thus far, and is clearly locked in as a key piece of the Leafs' future.

On the flip side, Sandin has just 88 games of NHL experience under his belt to this point, has barely ever played higher than the Leafs' third pair, got caved in during the very brief time he did, and has battled injuries for two out of his three seasons in the big leagues.

No matter his potential, Leafs management has every reason to be cautious with Sandin's future, and that includes not breaking the bank to keep him while his rights still remain with the club.

From all reports, Sandin is unhappy with the lack of readily available playing time he's facing ahead of next season. The logjam on the Leafs' left side is due to the club re-signing Mark Giordano to arguably the best contract in the league. And if Sandin's camp truly expected the Leafs to choose keeping a lineup spot vacant for their unproven client over signing a former Norris winner for $800,000 per year, then they're not operating rationally.

Sandin will get a deal done one way or another. The CBA is structured to ensure it. But things might get hairy before both sides find common ground. 

2. Sean Durzi - Los Angeles Kings 
Age: 23
2021-22 Stat Line: 64 GP, 3 goals, 24 assists, 27 points, 19:35 TOI

There are a few ways to read into why Durzi doesn't have a new contract yet -- the most plausible of which being that the Kings only have $1.5 million in cap space right now and Durzi, along with the next member of this list, will almost certainly cost more. 

I mean, the guy scored at roughly a half-point-per-game pace while averaging nearly 20 minutes in nightly ice time for a playoff team with a deep blueline to begin with. How can you argue he doesn't deserve, at the very least, that $1.5 million on his own, with Durzi being capable of commanding even more than that based on his usage rate, production, and make-up as a puck-moving right-shot D. 

Players of that ilk are increasingly difficult to find. The Kings should probably make it a priority to get him signed ahead of training camp, or risk messing with what looks like a winning formula heading into next season. 

3. Michael Anderson - Los Angeles Kings 
Age: 23
2021-22 Stat Line: 57 GP, 2 goals, 6 assists, 8 points, 20:06 TOI

Much of what was said about Durzi applies to Anderson, as well. 

The Kings' other hot-shot young defender is also 23, logged over 20 minutes per night last season, and while he scored at a far lower clip than Durzi, has still shown the signs of being a capable top-four option in the future. 

The Kings need to clear cap space -- either by sending some of their waiver-exempt youngsters down after training camp or shipping a body or two out. These two players are too important to toy with. And with training camp approaching, they should probably get on it ASAP. 

4. Nicolas Hague - Vegas Golden Knights 
Age: 23
2021-22 Stat Line: 52 GP, 4 goals, 10 assists, 14 points, 18:39 TOI

Ok, it's not a complete shock as to why Hague isn't signed yet. 

Deciphering Vegas' cap situation these days requires a Ph.D. in quantum physics and an adept knowledge of tax fraud. The club is constantly toying with whichever CBA loophole grants them the most financial relief, and with Robin Lehner set to miss the entire 2022-23 season, their LTIR pool is about to balloon to a truly stunning total. 

The Golden Knights simply cannot sign Hague right now even if they wanted to. Not until they place Lehner and Shea Weber's ghost contract on LTIR and open up roughly $12 million in wiggle room for themselves. And when they do, Hague needs to be a priority. The youngster is an important player, coming off a season in which he logged nearly 19 minutes per night as a 23-year-old. 

Once Vegas sorts through their books, Hague isn't going anywhere. 

5. Erik Brannstrom - Ottawa Senators 
Age: 22
2021-22 Stat Line: 53 GP, 0 goals, 14 assists, 14 points, 19:45 TOI

The Senators have done just about all they can to ruin Brannstrom's development since acquiring him from Vegas three years ago, yo-yo-ing him between the NHL and AHL, strapping him to subpar partners, and just generally using him in a way that suggests the organization doesn't view him as a core piece. 

It's a shame, really. 

Brannstrom is a wickedly talented player who, prior to coming to Ottawa, showed incredible vision, offensive instincts, and mobility on the back-end. For a Senators team that desperately needs to upgrade its blueline in order to compete in the Atlantic this season, Brannstrom seems like precisely the type of player they should keep in the building. 

And yet, here is on, without a contract on August 24th. 

Something will likely get done. And if it doesn't, the next team Brannstrom lands on will be getting a very useful player once they strip away all the bad habits the Senators embedded into him. 

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