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NHL Free Agency: Top RFAs Still on the Market

The RFA market has been interesting once again this summer. Here's a look at the top names still out there as the calendar creeps closer to August.
Matthew Tkachuk

Free agency is up and running, folks. And so far, it's been a doozy.

While the UFAs tend to grab most of the headlines when the market opens due to their ability to sign anywhere, the RFAs are just as interesting this season, with a particularly intriguing crop of them still waiting on shiny new deals as the calendar inches closer to August. 

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

So, let's take a look at the top RFAs still on the board right now and determine where they stand as the dog days are nearly upon us:

Matthew Tkachuk - Calgary Flames 

2021-22 Cap Hit: $7,000,000

According to Sportsnet's Eric Francis, a Tkachuk trade out of Calgary is all but inevitable at this point, with a deal potentially even suspected to take shape by the end of the week. 

What gut punch to a Flames fanbase that just experienced its first truly successful season in quite some time. 

There has to be more here. 

Losing Johnny Gaudreau of course plays a factor in Tkachuk's desire to find a new home elsewhere. But the Flames are still a very good team even without their high-scoring forward, boasting the likes of Elias Lindholm, Andrew Mangiapane (more on him later), Tyler Toffoli, Blake Coleman, Rasmus Andersson, Noah Hanafin, and a Vezina-nominee goaltender in Jackob Markstrom, among others. 

Will Calgary be as good as they were last season now that Gaudreau is gone? Probably not. At least, not the runaway division winner they were in 2021-22. But even without Johnny Hockey, the Flames remain a very solid team with a good blueline, a franchise starter in net, and a forward corps of which Tkachuk could now become the unquestioned leader. 

No, it must be something else. 

Perhaps watching Gaudreau leave roughly $16 million on the table and hightail it out of town anyway shattered Tkachuk's confidence in the Flames organization when it comes to attracting and retaining elite talent. Maybe he just doesn't like the Stampede. Who knows? 

Regardless, if a Tkachuk trade is indeed on its way, the return will be ridiculous, and the bidding war for his services will keep the offseason rumor mill afloat for months. 

Patrik Laine - Columbus Blue Jackets 

2021-22 Cap Hit: $7,500,000

Laine did not file for salary arbitration on Monday, suggesting that he and the Blue Jackets are getting close on an extension to keep the Finnish sniper in Columbus. 

And why would he want to go anywhere else, frankly?

The Blue Jackets just shocked the hockey world by signing arguably the best player to hit the free agent market in a decade last week, adding him to a budding young core that now materializes as one of the most intriguing and sneakily dangerous teams in the league. 

Laine, who is still just 24 and has 40-to-50-goal potential on his good days, is a key piece of that, and should thrive alongside Gaudreau as the organization's new fearsome one-two punch. 

The hold-up here is almost certainly term, as Laine's penchant for disappearing for months on end during the season makes anything over, say, three years a risk. But if you're the Blue Jackets, and you just injected life back into a fanbase that was approaching apathy after the 2019 run, keeping Laine in the building must be a priority. 

With only a little over $2 million in cap space, though, something (read: someone) must go first. 

Jason Robertson - Dallas Stars 

2021-22 Cap Hit: $795,000

Just sign him. It's not that complicated. Don't make it complicated. 

Jason Robertson is good. Very good. He's a homegrown star who works his butt off and does the one thing (score goals) that pretty much the entirety of the Stars' roster cannot. 

That's pretty much all there is to say, really. 

Robertson has done nothing but rack up fantastic numbers alongside minimal supporting talent since entering the NHL as a 20-year-old. He should be rewarded for that. Preferably, with a shiny new contract. 

Pierre-Luc Dubois - Winnipeg Jets

2021-22 Cap Hit: $5,000,000

Listen, I am very much in favor of player empowerment. We've seen just how ruthless teams can be when it comes to dispatching supposedly beloved team leaders when it suits their interests -- *cough* Vegas *cough* -- which therefore thrusts the entire concept of loyalty into question. 

Players don't owe teams anything and should always seek what's best for their career. 

That being said, what Dubois is doing right now is getting ridiculous. 

While attempting to force his way out of Columbus back in 2020, the young center essentially stopped trying whenever he hit the ice, showcasing a frankly embarrassing level of effort during a professional hockey game for which you are being paid millions of dollars to play while hurting the rest of his teammates who have no say over his contract status, as well. 

Roughly two years after his tantrum worked and he was shipped to Winnipeg, Dubois is now trying to force his way out once again -- this time to the Montreal Canadiens, who he lists as the sole team he wants to play for. Oh, and he still has two years left of team control before free agency, which puts the Jets in a bind if they were to hold on to him.

This, coming from a guy who's never scored 30 goals or hit 65 points in a single season. 

Dubois has talent, size, and skill. That's without question. Good for him. But if I'm the Habs, I worry about gutting my prospect capital to get Dubois only for him to change his mind in two years all over again. 

Jesper Bratt - New Jersey Devils 

2021-22 Cap Hit: $2,750,000

It's quiet around Jesper Bratt. 

Too quiet. 

The guy was popping up in trade rumors every week not too long ago, with that noise hitting a fever pitch at the draft in Montreal. Now, nothing. In the roughly two weeks since the draft weekend, reports of an imminent trade involving the Swedish sniper have fallen silent. The only news is Bratt officially filed for salary arbitration earlier this week. 

It makes sense, really. Teams are likely waiting for his contract status to be solved ahead of next season before they mortgage the farm for him -- be it an arbitration award or a hastily-slapped-together extension to facilitate a move. 

Either way, Bratt is arguably the best available trade chip on the market right now outside of Tkachuk and his status should be watched closely by any team interested in a 23-year-old, near-point-per-game winger. 

Which, frankly, should be most of them. 

Andrew Mangiapane - Calgary Flames 

2021-22 Cap Hit: $2,450,000

It's been a tough offseason in Calgary so far. Really tough. About as tough as an offseason could possibly get. 

Don't make it tougher. 

Mangiapane's unexpected emergence as a fearsome 35-goal guy last season after years of being a decent middle-six winger was such a joy to watch, giving an already explosive Flames roster another offensive weapon in its arsenal. 

With Gaudreau now gone and Tkachuk likely to follow, the Flames, if they don't intend to rebuild, should be nailing down as many deck chairs to the Titanic as possible ahead of next season. Mangiapane is a particularly comfy chair in his own right -- a nice chaise lounge who is only 26 years old and smack-dab in the middle of his prime. 

Start nailing, Calgary! 

It's not as if the Flames are hurting for cap space now. After Gaudreau's snub, GM Brad Treliving has over $18 million in extra funds to salvage the summer; a chunk of which should have gone to Mangiapane already. 

Noah Dobson - New York Islanders 

2021-22 Cap Hit: $894,167

There's a good chance that Dobson has already signed his extension with the Islanders and they never told us about it. Lou Lamoriello loves to keep his business private until, quite literally, the last day of the offseason, thereby forcing fans and media members (like me!) alike to spend the entire summer in suspense. 

There's no way Dobson doesn't get a shiny new contract before puck-drop. Not after the year he had. Racking up 13 goals and 51 points as a defenseman playing an Islanders system designed specifically to neutralize opposing offense in lieu of fostering any of their own, Dobson showed just how deadly he can be even when prevented from running wild. 

Given his lack of arbitration rights and limited sample size at the NHL level, a bridge deal seems likely for the 22-year-old, keeping the Isles' cap somewhat open for the immediate future. 

I wonder if there was a 115-point scorer they could have spent it on...

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