Four unresolved NHL off-season storylines to watch ahead of camps

Sportsnet

The dog days of summer are quickly coming to an end and the return of the NHL is on the horizon.

Next week we'll see some rookie camps opening and the week after we'll see NHL training camps start up. Position battles and player hype is upon us, but there are still plenty of unresolved off-season storylines to watch that could carry on into the new season.

Here are some things to keep an eye on in the last few days of the hockey off-season.

 

LOTS OF BIG RFAs STILL WITHOUT A CONTRACT

The Ottawa Senators made a substantial signing on Friday, inking 23-year-old Drake Batherson to a six-year deal with a $4.975 million AAV. Coming off a 17-goal season, the Sens are banking on Batherson with this long-term deal and it'll be a relief they have one young and important piece in place for a while.

But their most important RFA is still without a deal.

Brady Tkachuk could be a future captain on this team if he's there for the long haul, but it's possible a bridge contract could be up first. Tkachuk, who turns 22 later this month, also had 17 goals last season and has true star upside. Anything less than a long-term deal here and Sens fans might already start becoming concerned about if he'll stay when UFA years hit.

What would the price of a long-term commitment be for Tkachuk? Carolina's Andrei Svechnikov, taken two spots ahead of Tkachuk in the 2018 draft, signed a max eight-year extension this summer at an AAV of $7.75 million. That's a good starting point for Tkachuk, too.

But the market isn't 100 per cent clear yet because Ottawa is far from the only team dealing with an unsigned RFA of great significance.

The Vancouver Canucks have two franchise cornerstones still without a contract in Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson. Vancouver has roughly $10.6 million in projected cap space, per CapFriendly, and though they could still create a bit more room, this lack of wiggle room might make it more likely that one or both of these players ends up with a bridge contract.

In terms of market precedent for Hughes, Dallas re-signed Miro Heiskanen to an eight-year extension with a $8.45 million AAV this summer. Heiskanen was the third-overall selection in the 2017 draft and though he didn't perform at quite the same level in his third season as he did in his first two, Heiskanen was still productive and is one of the better young defenders in the game today. Cale Makar, the fourth-overall pick in 2017, signed a six-year extension with Colorado that bought up two UFA seasons and came with a $9 million AAV. But Makar was a Norris Trophy finalist last season.

Making things more interesting is that Hughes was the seventh-overall pick in the 2018 draft and the first player chosen that season, Rasmus Dahlin, is another RFA defenceman without a contract. Though draft capital is of lesser concern than actual on-ice play — where Hughes has had greater NHL achievements — that dynamic will surely be an influencing factor for both players.

With Pettersson, the Canucks have the top producing forward from the 2017 draft so far. The top pick that year, Nico Hischier, is about to enter the second season of a seven-year pact he signed with the Devils that pays $7.25 million per season. On a long-term deal, Pettersson would figure to come at a higher price point than either Hischier or Svechnikov.

Another notable unsigned RFA is Minnesota's Kirill Kaprizov, who took the league by storm in 2021 and won the Calder Trophy with 27 goals and 51 points in 55 games as a 24-year-old. A late arriver to the NHL after he played out his KHL contract with CSKA Moscow, Kaprizov is in a different position than the younger RFAs because he is only three years away from being UFA eligible. And that makes these negotiations a bit more tricky.

According to The Athletic's Michael Russo, the two sides had very different ideas of what an extension would look like early on in negotiations. While the Wild, understandably, were pushing for a seven- or eight-year deal around a $9 million AAV, Kaprizov's camp was more inclined to go three years and walk right to UFA eligibility. That's about the worst outcome for the team, though.

#hockey, #nhl

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