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The Cost of Success in the NHL and the RFA Market

Matthew Barzal is one of two key RFA’s the Islanders will have to navigate this offseason.

Mathew Barzal New York Islanders

If I am being brutally honest, the NHL restricted free agent (RFA) list has always been interesting, but also somewhat of a complicated (for me) foray into the contractual side of professional hockey. Luckily, one of the better journalistic features on free agency was recently created by Sportsnet’s Sonny Sachdeva, found here. It’s an excellent article that is extremely detailed and informative – even if you need a quick brush up on your RFA knowledge.

Related: A Radical Proposal for Re-Organizing the NHL for a 2020-21 Season

At its simplest, the RFA market seems to pit the NHL haves against the have nots. More specifically, those teams that have cap space and those that do not. Further yet, teams that have drafted well and now have too many good young players need to ‘stick handle’ enough cap room to keep them together.

It is no surprise then that three of the four last standing teams in the recently completed NHL playoffs have some complicated RFA situations on their hands. The Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Islanders and Dallas Stars are all staring down situations where key young players in their organization could be given offer sheets. In order of urgency, a quick review of the situations for each team below.

Tampa Bay Lightning

The 2020 Stanley Cup Champions have three RFA’s all under the age of 24 – forward Anthony Cirelli, along with defenseman Mikhail Sergachev and Eric Cernak. With just shy of $3M cap space it may be impossible for the Lightning to keep all three of these good young players. No question General Manager Julien BriseBois has his work cut out for him this offseason.

There was (and is) a lot of talk about the Lightning will try to alleviate some of their cap pressure and the team already waived Tyler Johnson and there was talk about asking Steven Stamkos to waive his no-move clause. If an offer sheet is made by a team, the Lightning are in a tough spot to match anything.

New York Islanders

The Eastern Conference runner-up Islanders have two young RFA’s to contend with. Budding superstar Matthew Barzal and solid defender Ryan Pulock both need new deals. The Islanders have around $9 million in cap room, but the way Barzal has been trending he could fetch close to that, or more, on an AAV basis. Obviously, that would not leave much room for Pulock but GM Lou Lamierello is currently exploring ways to keep them both. 

If an offer sheet is made this offseason — most believe it’s possible but not likely — Barzal is the top target. What would likely happen is the team would match any offer and then have to trade Pulock as a result.

Dallas Stars

The Stanley Cup finalist Stars still have $4 million in salary cap space after signing 23-year-old Dennis Gurianov to a two-year $2.55 million AAV deal. Fortunately, Dallas has only one remaining RFA to lock up this season in another 23-year-old forward, Roope Hintz.

The caveat with Hintz however is that the Stars will need more than a big chunk of change to satisfy Miro Heiskanen who becomes an RFA after the 20/21 season. He is quickly turning into a star defenseman in the NHL.

Some interesting scenarios yet to unfold in the RFA market this offseason. The next logical question of course is: what NHL teams are in a position (financially and draft pick inventory wise) to provide offers for these solid young players? Stay tuned, as the NHLTT team will look at three teams in a position to scoop one of these players.

NEXT: Buffalo Sabres Lock Up Productive Swede Victor Olofsson (RFA)

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