Thanks to a frantic start to the NHL’s signing season, most of the big names are off the board, but don’t take that to mean the rest of the month is going to be slow when it comes to contract talk.
On Wednesday, the league officially announced the list of players who filed for arbitration, with two-thirds of the franchises boasting at least one player who was set for a hearing. Not every team is going to wait until the day of the hearing to work out a new deal with their respective player or players, however, and we’ve already seen two arbitration cases come off the board.
The first was Jesper Fast, who had filed for arbitration with the New York Rangers but avoided it early on by inking a three-year, $5.5-million deal. But the second was the most newsworthy, as after months of debate about what Alex Galchenyuk would land on a new deal this off-season, he came to terms with the Montreal Canadiens on a brand new three-year, $14.7-million deal. The contract was announced after Galchenyuk, like Fast, had filed for arbitration.
But Montreal’s signing of Galchenyuk makes them the only squad thus far to remove themselves from the arbitration schedule entirely, leaving 19 teams with players due for new deals. There are plenty of notable names among those, but here are 10 players whose contract negotiations will be most interesting to follow:
Tomas Tatar, Detroit Red Wings
According to the Detroit Free Press, Tatar has made his asking price clear, but the $5 million salary the Red Wings winger is asking for is rather steep, especially for a team up against the cap. Detroit has little more than $2.25 million to spend and that could make things awfully tricky when it comes to retaining Tatar.
It’s not as if Tatar isn’t worth the money, either. Over the past three seasons, during which Tatar was under contract for $2.75 million per year, he has registered 75 goals — far and away the most of any Red Wings — and 147 points. That puts him alongside the likes of Chris Kreider, Brandon Saad, Patrick Marleau and Andrew Ladd in terms of production. The latter two players were able to earn big money on the open market, but Kreider and Saad earn $4.625 million and $6 million, respectively. With that in mind, the $5 million ask might not be too far from reality, so the Red Wings will either need to make a move to free up space or get creative in managing the cap.
Mikael Granlund, Minnesota Wild
A breakout season has opened the door for Granlund to cash in, and he should be expected to do so whether he actually makes it to arbitration or not. This past season, Granlund was the premier scorer for the Wild, putting up 26 goals and a team-leading 69 points in 81 games as he made his move from middle of the lineup to a legitimate top-six center. And given his production, he could fall into the $5-million range per season, which shouldn’t be hard for the Wild to stomach financially.
But Minnesota may want to avoid arbitration and hammer out a long-term deal with Granlund, who seems to be improving every single season. If that’s the case, the contract could end up costing the Wild a bit more. Reason being is that anything longer than a few seasons would eat into Granlund’s prime-aged UFA eligibility, and it’s going to cost Minnesota to buy up those years. It wouldn’t be surprising if a five- or six-year deal comes in closer to $6-million annually.
Nino Niederreiter, Minnesota Wild
Look at Niederreiter’s production over the past four seasons. He has gone from 36 points as a sophomore to 37 points in his third campaign. Following that, he put up a 20-goal, 43-point season, and Niederreiter had the best year of his career this past season, notching 25 goals and 57 points. Now, with the chance to fight for what he’s worth, Niederreiter could be looking at a healthy payday.
In fact, it wouldn’t be altogether shocking were Niederreiter to see his average pay get a hike of roughly $2 million per season. He has posted an impressive 69 goals and 137 points over the duration of the three-year, $8-million deal he just completed in Minnesota, and players with comparable numbers — Tyler Toffoli and Gustav Nyquist among them — earn in the area of $4.6 million per season. On a short-term deal, that wouldn’t be a massive concern for the Wild. As noted above, Minnesota isn’t in an all-out cap crunch and has $15.8 million to spend this summer.
Viktor Arvidsson, Nashville Predators
Quite possibly the most difficult arbitration case because there could be two schools of thought here. One is that Arvidsson is coming off of a dream season, posting 30 goals and 61 points and coming to life as an outstanding first-line winger. The other is that Arvidsson has only had one season where he’s played that well. He hasn’t yet shown he can repeat the performance. The hope, of course, is that he can and there’s no reason to believe he won’t. Yet…
So, what do the Predators do? There’s no way to pull off a traditional bridge deal, really, unless Arvidsson is paid well over a two-year contract. And maybe that’s what Nashville does. Ideally, though, a three- or four-year deal at $4.5 million or so would be what works best. This could be a contract that comes down to the wire, however.
Making matters more difficult is that Nashville has to be wary of their cap space, as the Predators have $20.75 million to lock up Arvidsson, Ryan Johansen, Austin Watson, Pontus Aberg and Frederick Gaudreau.
Mika Zibanejad, New York Rangers
The Rangers already took care of some business ahead of arbitration by inking Jesper Fast to a three-year deal, and while nothing is a given, it seems like there’s more than enough wiggle room for New York to hammer out a deal with Zibanejad, too. The Blueshirts have $5.5 million in cap space and there’s no way Zibanejad can be realistically expecting to earn more than that on whatever deal he inks.
Zibanejad has performed well when healthy and was stellar this past season with 14 goals and 37 points in 56 games, a 54-point pace in an 82-game season. But when looking at comparable production from other players, the one name that sticks out is Marcus Johansson. The New Jersey Devils center went to arbitration often while a Washington Capital, but avoided it last summer by inking a three-year deal with a $4.583 million cap hit. Something in that range, or likely a bit lower, would probably get it done for Zibanejad in New York.
Brian Dumoulin, Pittsburgh Penguins
Dumoulin is an interesting case. Brought to Pittsburgh as part of the Jordan Staal trade back in 2012, he didn’t really crack the Penguins’ lineup until the 2015-16 campaign, but he rose through the lineup thanks to injuries and a thinned out blueline and has become a staple of the top four over the course of the past season. In the playoffs, Dumoulin averaged 22 minutes of ice time and chipped in six points en route to a championship, and it was the second-straight campaign he helped the Penguins hoist the Stanley Cup.
So, after two straight years earning $800,000, Dumoulin is looking to get paid. But what is he worth? There’s no way he jumps up in the $4 million range with the Olli Maattas and Justin Schultzes of the Penguins’ roster, but something in the $2.5 million-plus area sounds about right. Dumoulin is likely to stay a member of the top four despite the off-season signing of Matt Hunwick.
Conor Sheary, Pittsburgh Penguins
In much the same way the Predators are facing a tough situation with Arvidsson, the Penguins need to figure out how to approach a new deal for Sheary. The 25-year-old is coming off of his first full season in the NHL, and it was an impressive one. He potted 23 goals and 53 points while skating nearly 16 minutes per night. The pressing question, though, is if Sheary can do it while playing away from Sidney Crosby.
This past season, Sheary spent nearly all of his even strength ice time skating alongside Crosby, and having No. 87 as a setup man is sure to turn any player into a regular point producer. There’s something to be said for gelling with Crosby, to be sure, but it makes handing a significant salary to Sheary worrisome if he can’t find the same scoring touch when he’s not on the same line as the Penguins’ captain. Short-term is probably the way to go.
Colton Parayko, St. Louis Blues
It’s unlikely that any other restricted free agent is going to get paid in quite the same way as Parayko. The towering Blues defender has, in two shorts seasons, risen from a relative unknown to one of the best and brightest young defenders in the league and St. Louis GM Doug Armstrong seems to have indicated that it’s going to be costly to get Parayko under contract. Rightfully so, however.
Parayko has put up 13 goals and 68 points over the past two seasons on his entry-level deal, and he’s already primed to take top-pairing minutes on the Blues blueline. While he doesn’t have the experience of an Alex Pietrangelo, nor the pure offensive ability, Parayko is as steady as young defensemen come at both ends of the ice, and his asking price could put him in the same range as Pietrangelo, especially if signing a long-term deal.
St. Louis can manage a bridge-deal, though, but it’d have to be something in the two-year range in order to maintain the rights to Parayko. And signing him to a deal of that length likely won’t do much to bring down his price.
Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay Lightning
Some will look at what Lightning GM Steve Yzerman did last season to lock up Nikita Kucherov and believe Johnson is destined for a team-friendly contract to remain in Tampa Bay. But arbitration adds a wrinkle to things that Yzerman and the Lightning didn’t have to deal with when it came to Kucherov. Tampa Bay had all the cards with the Russian winger, and that was a big reason the Lightning were able to lock up Kucherov, inarguably their best player this past season, to a three-year deal worth $4.77 million per season.
That said, Johnson may not be in line for the $6-million deal it was once believed he would get. After Johnson’s breakout 72-point season in 2014-15, he has come back down to earth, managing a combined 33 goals and 83 points across his past two campaigns. Those are still good totals, but enough to earn $6 million per year? Not likely. A better estimate would be something in the $5-million range, as he’s put up totals similar to that of Nazem Kadri, who earns $4.5 million annually.
Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning
Palat falls into the exact same category as Johnson, although what he brings to the Lightning is different from what either Kucherov or Johnson offer. Defensively, Palat is the best of the Lightning’s former ‘Triplets’ trio, and it makes him an incredibly valuable player for Tampa Bay to have in their lineup. It’s not as if he completely sacrifices offense in the name of defensive responsibility, either. Palat has actually outscored Johnson over the past two seasons, netting 33 goals and 92 points.
Don’t take that to mean he’s set to out-earn Johnson, though. In all likelihood, Johnson and Palat will sign contracts that mirror each other, which is to say he’ll probably be locked up for about $5 million per season.
Find a complete list of salary arbitration filings below. All hearings will be held in Toronto, beginning July 20:
Arizona Coyotes: Jordan Martinook
Boston Bruins: Ryan Spooner
Buffalo Sabres: Nathan Beaulieu, Johan Larsson, Robin Lehner
Calgary Flames: Micheal Ferland
Colorado Avalanche: Matt Nieto
Detroit Red Wings: Tomas Tatar
Edmonton Oilers: Joey LaLeggia
Los Angeles Kings: Kevin Gravel
Minnesota Wild: Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter
Montreal Canadiens: Alex Galchenyuk (settled — three years, $14.7 million)
Nashville Predators: Viktor Arvidsson, Marek Mazanec, Austin Watson
New York Islanders: Calvin de Haan
New York Rangers: Mika Zibanejad, Jesper Fast (settled — three-years, $5.5 million)
Ottawa Senators: Ryan Dzingel, Jean-Gabriel Pageau
Pittsburgh Penguins: Brian Dumoulin, Conor Sheary
St. Louis Blues: Colton Parayko
Tampa Bay Lightning: Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat
Vancouver Canucks: Reid Boucher, Michael Chaput
Vegas Golden Knights: Nate Schmidt
Winnipeg Jets: Connor Hellebuyck
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