Holy Crap! What is with all of these Restricted Free Agents missing their teams training camps because of contract disputes?!?! Torey Krug, Rielly Smith, Cody Eakin, Brendan Dillon, Ryan Ellis, Jaden Schwartz, and perhaps the biggest name in the group Ryan Johansen. All seven of these players are still negotiating new contracts with their clubs in September after becoming free agents in July. It has taken then 3 months and they still have not reached the number they want.
For all of you that dont know, the difference between a “Restricted Free Agent” (RFA) and an “Unrestricted Free Agent” (UFA) is that for a RFA they can sign with any team in the league, but if that team is not the same as the season before, the original team has the opportunity to match any salary offered or receive compensation for that player. Once a player hits the age of 27 (or 25 for players who starts their career at 18) they become an UFA and those players can sign with any team with their original team receiving nothing in return. If I were a general manager and I could not sign a RFA, what I would try to do is tell a team to offer a certain amount for my RFA and if the player accepts the “offer sheet” I simply match the offer and the negotiation is over. Im kidding of course, but could you imagine how much easier it would be to sign a player if other teams offer-sheeted them and all you had to do was match it? Anyways, back to the situations going on.
What is the reason for these lengthy negotiations? Are the general managers low-balling all 7 of the players? Are the players asking for too much off of one or two years of production? Are the players agents trying to get their own payday? Each of these situations have an amount of understanding to a certain degree but with that said what happened to the “team-first” mentality?
The only salary negotiations that seem to make sense right now is the Boston Bruins trying to sign Torey Krug and Rielly Smith. I dont know how much those two are asking for so I cannot say for certain that this situation is fair. However, it has been widely known that the Bruins have a small $800k of salary cap space available to retain both these players, so we all knew this would drag on for a while. The most simple way to figure this part out would be to have signed both players in the offseason (teams are allowed to exceed the salary cap by 10% as long as they are cap compliant before October) and then after seeing how much they are over the cap they trade away some “dead weight” to clear the space needed. Unfortunately, The Bruins are actually a good team in terms of signing players and the ones that are felt to be overpaid are not targets for other teams to trade for while they try to lower their cap hits as well.
The next situation is a little tougher to judge. The Dallas Stars are at an impasse in discussions with young forward Cody Eakin and defenseman Brenden Dillon. Despite the impasse the Stars do have $%+mil available to sign those two. In theory, that should be enough to sign them but where the problem lies is that both Eakin and Dillon may be asking for deals around 3-4 years (long enough to take them to their Unrestricted Free Agent years). If that is the case, it would be hard to improve the team enough in the coming years knowing that they will have to resign others and already being so close to the cap. The cap does seem to rise every season by various amounts depending on the success of the NHL over the past season, so that is too random to insure a long term contract would make sense in a few years.
The Jaden Schwartz situation is yet another tricky one. It probably falls under the same category as the Dillon and Eakin fiasco. The St Louis Blues have enough cap space to sign the under-sized winger but after the contract is signed they will be right on the cap ceiling. Which means that if injuries occur it will be impossible for the team to call people up from the minors without going over (see 2013-2014 Toronto Maple Leafs). The Blues already have a solid team and even without Schwarz they probably make the playoffs, but with him in the mix it definitely adds another offensive weapon to a team loaded with scorers. These are the situations where GM's show their worth. If the Blues can resign Schwartz and still have at least $1 mil in space they are well equipped to have a great team with depth going forward as well as having the ability to acquire pieces later on. If the Schwartz camp wins and the Blues give in, they will have trouble adjusting their teams players when injuries inevitably creep up. Lets see how good of a general manager Doug Armstrong really is.
This is where the situations just get stupid. Ryan Ellis, a former #11 overall pick, is negotiationg a new contract with his team the Nashville Predators. The pint-sized defender has slowly moved up the ranks in the Perdators systems before finally cracking the lineup regularly two seasons ago. Now he is demanding money. I dont know why this is taking so long, whether the sticking point is the term or the money is beyond me, but what I do know is that this should be over by now. Nashville like always has a boat-load of cap space, mostly because they are on a spending limit aka an internal budget. With that said the young Ellis has not done very much to show he is worth a lot of money and in terms of the years on the contract, just split the difference. If he wants four years and you want one, just give him two or three to prove he is worth the money. If he is worth it, great you have a defenseman on a good contract, if he turns out busting, then you only have him for a year or two and at a salary that allows you to trade him if you cant afford to keep him.
This last contract negotiation is the epitomy of a contract year. Ryan Johansen of the Columbus Blue Jackets for the first few years of his career had trouble living up to his potential. Last season (the last on his contract) he erupted to show his true potential. The young center posted 33 goals and 30 assists and helped push the Blue Jackets to the playoffs for only the second time in their history. All of those are solid points to bring up if you want to get a hefty raise, however, that was his only season even close to those totals and Columbus is rightfully scared that he could regress. The Blue Jackets have offered him contracts of two-, four-, and eight-years all with increasing dollar amounts. Johansen and his agent have declined all 3 which shows that he is more interested in the amount instead of the term. If thats the case it may force the Blue Jackets to offer him a large amount for one year. The largest price tag they offered is speculated to be 8-years at $46 mil, which comes out to a $6.25 mil cap hit per season. Over eight years that could proven to be a bargain, but thats the fear of a long term deal after one great season. In my opinion, if Johansen is that confident in his abilities, he should take the one or two year “bridge contract” and prove to the Blue Jackets he is worth a lot more. The kid is 24 years-old, what can he buy with $6-$7 mil that he couldnt at $2-$3 mil?
I grew up on the fact that you do everything to help the team. Now, in my head that includes salary. You are being paid thousands to millions of dollars to play a game. How can you demand $6-$10 million a year when there are more important jobs where their employees can barely survive off their salaries? With that said, there are a lot of things that lead into these ridiculous salaries and so it is hard to come up with a number that would limit the worlds greatest players' compensation. But like I said before, why do you need all this money? What can you buy at $8 mil that you couldnt afford at $2-$4 mil? You are already being compensated very well why not take a little less and allow your team to be able to afford improvements for your team? After all the whole reason you play the game is to win the Stanley Cup isnt it?
Anyways, it's is nice to know that we almost lost another full season of Hockey to a lockout that claimed the Owners were losing money and the players are greedy. Now a year and a half later after all the concessions that were given to the owners that both sides are still claiming these same problems. Enjoy the next 6 seasons of hockey because at this rate, there will be another lockout when the opt-out clause is available in 2020.