By Tom Hunter (@PuckDontLie)

By this point in the offseason – as fans approach the “get me real games now” stage – teams are beginning to make cuts in an attempt to get their rosters close to what they want for opening night. While most teams are trying to figure out where their players fit – there are some that are doing so while missing one of their best players.

In most seasons we may see one or two impact restricted free agents unsigned as training camp approaches. This year it seems there are far more big name players holding out as the rest of their teams prepare for the season.

Johnny Gaudreau and Jacob Trouba are the two biggest names, but there are a handful of high-impact players that are currently missing training camp thanks to a holdout.

We’re likely to see a number of the disputes resolved in the coming weeks – since it’s rare to see someone holdout into the season the way Ryan O’Reilly did a couple years ago. That said, it would seem like we might be heading towards offer sheet territory. 

Let’s try to do the work for the GMs and see what kind of contract each of the impact RFAs should be expecting.

Oct 21, 2014; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau (13) skates against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Tampa Bay Lightning won in overtime 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Johnny Gaudreau – Calgary Flames

Usually, you don’t see players demanding $8m/year coming out of their first pro contract but Johnny Hockey is in a unique position. Coming out of the NCAA, Gaudreau signed his entry level contract later than most star players. Sean Monahan was 20 when his ELC expired, Sam Bennett will be 21 – Johnny Gaudreau is 23-years old and already a point per game player in the NHL.

Coming off a tremendous season, Gaudreau is one of the best young players in the game and his agents know it. The question is, do the Calgary Flames?

You’d have to assume that Brad Treliving knows what he has in Gaudreau – but that doesn’t mean he wants to pay him like a superstar yet.

How much will he get?

Brad Marchand just signed a new contract worth 8 years and $49m. So let’s take that $6.125m AAV and work our way up. Gaudreau scored 30 goals last season and averages 0.99 points per game. He’s the catalyst of the team’s offense and one of the most electrifying players in the league with the puck on his stick. It’s hard to see Gaudreau settling for anything less than $7m a year.

Something in the neighbourhood of Vladimir Tarasenko’s $7.5m AAV, over five years would be where I would guess Gaudreau’s contract ends up.

 

Feb 12, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) skates against the St. Louis Blues during the first period at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Nikita Kucherov – Tampa Bay Lightning

Like Gaudreau, Kucherov is a 23-year old who put up 30 goals last season. Unlike Gaudreau, Kucherov doesn’t play for a team that can afford to give him a big contract.

Thanks to big extensions for Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman this summer, The Tampa Bay Lightning do not have much salary cap flexibility over the next few years. Many believe that Kucherov’s extension is being held up by Steve Yzerman’s inability to find a new home for Ben Bishop. With Andrei Vasilevskiy ready to be an NHL starter, Bishop and his almost $6m cap hit have become expendable.

With Bishop still on the books, the Lightning are about $5.8m under the salary cap ceiling – a total that likely isn’t enough to get Kucherov signed.

How much will he get?

If I were a betting man, I’d pin Kucherov in the $6.5m/4 year range. The issue in Tampa is cap flexibility for the future. Even with Ben Bishop coming off the books at the end of the season – if they can’t trade him before then – all of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin are RFAs next summer and each will be looking for a huge raise. It’s hard to envision a world in which the Lightning can afford all four players, even if they pay someone – Vegas – to take Ryan Callahan’s contract off their hands.

 

Winnipeg Jets defenceman Jacob Trouba (8) celebrates his goal against the Buffalo Sabres in NHL action at the MTS Centre, Dec. 31, 2013. SHAWN COATES PHOTO

Jacob Trouba – Winnipeg Jets

Earlier in the week, Trouba’s agent went public with a trade request with the hopes of speeding up the process of getting his client a new contract.

Trouba is a 22-year old right-handed defenseman that is the kind of player 30 NHL teams are looking for on the right contract. He’s the kind of player that GMs would envision slotting into their top-4 for the next decade. Trouba is good, very good – but he might not be as good as he thinks he is.

Part of the trade demand appears to be based on playing time and the fact that Trouba believes he is a top pairing defender right now. The fact is that he wants to get paid like one without having actually played the role yet – which might cause a big discrepancy in perceived value.

How much will he get?

You’d have to assume that Sami Vatanen’s contract from earlier this summer hurt a lot of the negotiating power Trouba may have had. Both are young right defenders, and while Trouba is three years younger, Vatanen is the better player right now. Any GM negotiating with Trouba’s agent would simply have to point to Anaheim and insist on not going above $4.875m/year.

Vatanen’s contract is great value so there’s a good chance Trouba gets a little more, but it’s hard to believe any team would go above the $5.5m AAV that was given to Tyson Barrie a couple months ago.

 

ristolainen1

Rasmus Ristolainen – Buffalo Sabres

Ristolainen is another big, young, right-handed defenseman that probably isn’t as good as he thinks he is. He is the best defender on the Buffalo Sabres by default. On a bad blueline, Ristolainen has the potential to grow into a guy worthy of top-pair minutes on a good team – but he’s not there yet.

Ristolainen showed good offensive production last season, but that was one year and GM Tim Murray is likely looking for him to take a bridge deal to prove that he can sustain that level of play.

Offensively, Tyson Barrie should be the comparable for his agent – unfortunately, Ristolainen isn’t as good defensively.

How much will he get?

One would assume Barrie’s $5.5m/year is what Ristolainen is asking for. I don’t think that Tim Murray is crazy enough to give it to him – at least not long term.

Unlike Trouba, it seems like a bridge deal is the most likely solution for Ristolainen. Prove he can repeat his offensive production while improving his defensive play to top-pair levels and the big contract will come in a year or two.

 

hampus-lindholm-e1403016984508

Hampus Lindholm – Anaheim Ducks

Hampus Lindholm is a very very good hockey player and the best defenseman on this list. The problem is that since he plays in Anaheim, he is criminally underrated among many hockey fans – and likely by his own front office.

At 22, Lindholm is already a top-pairing defender and has the potential to grow to be one of the best in the game. He and Vatanen have the potential to form on of the best pairings in hockey for a long time. Ducks fans had better hope their front office and head coach don’t ruin it.

How much will he get?

This one just seems way too easy – the blueprint is there. Earlier this summer Morgan Rielly signed a 5 year $25m contract. Those same figures make sense for Lindholm who is the same age and a very similar player – which leads me to question what exactly the hold up is in Anaheim.

 

rackell

Rickard Rakell – Anaheim Ducks

The Anaheim Ducks are one of the oldest teams in the NHL, which is why it’s hard to believe they’d play hardball with their best young forward.  Overshadowed by the big names on the Ducks, Rakell had a very good season last year and should only be relied upon more, as the core of the team ages.

With 20 goals and a pace for 50 points over 82 games, Rakell is a very good complimentary forward with some room to grow.

How much will he get?

It wouldn’t be a surprise if Rakell were looking for a contract similar to the $4.5m over six years that Nazem Kadri signed this summer. That said, the Ducks are likely looking to do with Rakell the same thing that Toronto did to Kadri – string him along on a series of one-year deals until he forces them to sign him to a long-term contract.

 

rieder

Tobias Rieder – Arizona Coyotes

After the Edmonton Oilers gave up on Tobias Rieder, the young German proved to be a very valuable middle-6 forward in Arizona last year. Rieder nearly doubled his previous career high in points last season and is a perfect compliment for guys like Duclair and Domi as the young Coyotes core develops.

He’s not likely to break the bank, but Rieder is the type of solid young player that teams can’t afford to lose as they try to build on a young and talented foundation.

How much will he get?

I would expect that Rieder is looking for a longer term contract to bring some sort of security to his career, but it’s likely that Arizona is looking for a one-year bridge. The Coyotes are closer to the cap than they’ve ever been thanks to the dead money from Pronger and Datsyuk’s contract, but when they expire next summer, the team will have a lot of flexibility.

Something in the neighbourhood of Ryan Strome’s new $2.5m contract is likely what we should expect for Rieder.

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