The Stars are wasting no time locking up one of their own – and one of the off-season's – most notable restricted free agent.
Thursday afternoon, Dallas announced they have locked up defenseman Esa Lindell for the next six seasons at an annual average value of $5.8 million. The $34.8-million pact comes after Lindell had a post-season run that featured some incredibly bright moments and some that were... well, yeah... but the Stars now have Lindell and John Klingberg, who has three years at $4.25 million remaining on his deal, tied up for the next few seasons. In fact, with Lindell now inked, most of Dallas' core is signed long term, which is good news for a club that was one goal away from advancing to the Western Conference final.
Lindell has quickly emerged as one of the brightest young rearguards in the Central Division, notching a career-high 32 points, but it's not his offense that made the Stars quick to get this deal done. Rather, it's Lindell's all-around play, his ability to carry and excel in a big-minute role and his effective puck movement and management. It's an important role, too, and one the Stars are happy for Lindell to play with Klingberg and standout rookie Miro Heiskanen carrying the offensive load on the backend.
And while much of the talk with the off-season approaching surrounds the talented unrestricted free agent class, which includes defensemen Erik Karlsson, Tyler Myers, Alex Edler and Jake Gardiner, the crop of restricted free agent blueliners is almost equally impressive. Especially when you factor in Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo, but more on them in the future.
Who are the big RFA fish who still need to contracts before the 2019-20 season kicks off? Let's take a look:
Jacob Trouba, Winnipeg Jets
Regardless of his contract situation, Trouba, 25, is one of the best options available this summer, and his future in Winnipeg remains unclear. Last summer, Trouba sought a $7-million in arbitration with the Jets and he'll likely target a similar deal this summer. With roughly $22 million in cap space to play with for next season, Winnipeg needs to worry about the futures of forwards Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor. Keeping one of Trouba or UFA-to-be Myers is a priority for the Jets, but if the decision comes down to one or the other, Trouba could fetch a significant return in a trade this summer and the cap space could be used to retain the veteran Myers.
Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets
Werenski's entry-level deal is set to expire in a few weeks, and after pairing up with Seth Jones to form one of the best defensive duos in the league, there's no question the Blue Jackets will make him a priority this summer. Werenski is one of the better two-way defensemen in the NHL, becoming one of just five defenders over the past decade to record at least half a point per game with a minimum of 100 games under their belt. Jones' 6-year, $32.4-million contract is one of the most economically-friendly deals in the NHL, and Werenski, 21, is likely going to fetch the same.
Ryan Murray, Columbus Blue Jackets
An upper-body injury took Murray out of action to finish the year – injuries have been a concern throughout his career – but he still finished with a career-high 29 points for a Blue Jackets squad that upset the top-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning in the opening round of the playoffs. Murray, 25, is capable of being a top-four defenseman if his body cooperates, and with Columbus potentially losing Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky and Matt Duchene this summer, the Blue Jackets could work on keeping Murray long term in an effort to keep one of the best young bluelines in the league together. But how much is he worth? Signing him to a $3.5-million pact seems very reasonable.
Cody Ceci, Ottawa Senators
Despite tying his career-high with 26 points this year, Ceci's season on a struggling Senators squad had some down moments. Ceci is reportedly looking towards a long-term deal, something Ottawa could entertain if the plan is to have him stick in the top four. Ceci, 25, can become an unrestricted free agent next summer if he inks a one-year pact, and if the two sides can't complete a deal – and he won't be looking for anything less than the $4.3 million he was awarded in arbitration last summer – Ceci could become trade bait for a rebuilding Senators franchise.
Joel Edmundson, St. Louis Blues
Edmundson has had himself a superb playoffs, recording seven points through 14 games after an 11-point regular season. Edmundson, 25, was a healthy scratch earlier in the post-season, but he's proving to be a valuable contributor at this point. It can only help his contract status, too, as Edmundson has settled in to a spot in the top four and is playing significant minutes alongside Alex Pietrangelo. Edmundson's one-year, $3-million deal is set to expire and one would imagine he will be looking for something in the $4.5 million- t0 $5 million-range on his next contract.
Other notables: Ben Hutton (Vancouver Canucks), Nikita Zadorov (Colorado Avalanche) Nathan Beaulieu (Winnipeg Jets), Jake McCabe (Buffalo Sabres), Connor Carrick (New Jersey Devils).
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