Why New Year’s Day is worth circling on the calendar for these five players

Players who signed one-year deals this off-season will be eligible to ink extensions on Jan. 1, and that could make the mid-season signing window intriguing for these five young players.
Publish date:

Contract talk has dominated the NHL landscape for the better part of the past two months, but with signing season slowing, arbitration in the books and only a few notable restricted free agents still without contracts for the season, focus will soon shift to training camp, position battles and which teams stand to make the most noise next season.

For several players, however, the quiet surrounding their contracts will only last so long. Of course, most talked about will be the big name pending unrestricted free agents, including Tyler Seguin, Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky. But even those who’ve signed in recent weeks will only get so much time to block out future signing speculation, as free agents who inked one-year deals this past summer will be eligible to go back to the drawing board and hammer out a new deal come Jan. 1.

For some, like veteran Joe Thornton, chances are the new round of extension eligibility doesn’t mean all that much. He’s a one-year-at-a-time type player at this point in his career. Meanwhile, players on the other side of the spectrum such as Mattias Janmark and Ryan Hartman are on the other side of the spectrum. They’re young players due nothing more than another round of RFA status come next July.

A select few players who signed one-year pacts this off-season, though, could be staring down a make-or-break signing period between January 1 and the trade deadline, while one player on the following list is simply intriguing due to his recent performance. So, with that in mind, here are five players signed to one-year deals whose contract situations — and potential for an extension — will be worth watching come New Year’s Day:

After a move into a top-four role on the Jets blueline and a successful season that culminated in the Western Conference final, the expectation around Winnipeg was that Trouba, 24, would be interested in inking a long-term deal that kept him with the franchise well into the future. That wasn’t quite the case, however, as the Jets and Trouba’s camp engaged in tough contract talks for the second time in the blueliner’s career, this time with an arbitrator handing out a one-year, $5.5-million contract.

But the one-year pact doesn’t give much certainty that Trouba will be around for the long haul. Would the Jets love to keep him in town? Most certainly, particularly as he continues to grow into an extremely effective two-way defenseman. If there’s no extension signed following Jan. 1 or even in the months leading up to free agency, Winnipeg might have to give some real thought to moving Trouba instead of letting another potential arbitration saga drag into another summer. That’s especially true with unrestricted free agency not all that far in the offing.

That the Senators weren’t able to get Stone locked in to anything other than a one-year pact is puzzling at best. With the relationship between Ottawa and superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson seemingly a bit rocky at the moment, with reports continuing to swirl about an eventual trade, the thought was the Senators would be prepared to hold onto Stone with both hands. Instead, the two sides agreed to a one-year, $7.35-million deal.

What differentiates Stone’s deal from that of Trouba’s, though, is the 26-year-old winger now becomes a UFA next summer. That makes the Jan. 1 extension window all the more important, because if Ottawa, who are projected to land in a lottery spot this coming season, can’t sign Stone to an extension, the conversation has to shift to whether or not he becomes trade bait heading into the deadline. Make no mistake, either: teams in the playoff hunt and looking to add a responsible scoring winger will be falling over themselves to land Stone, who has emerged as one of the best two-way forwards in the NHL over the past several seasons.

Unlike Trouba or Stone, the opening of Karlsson’s extension window isn’t most interesting because there’s potential for he and his club to head for a split. Rather, the interest in Karlsson’s contract talks come January comes from determining what the center will be worth long term after he became the biggest breakout star of the past season. After having scored 18 goals and 50 points in 183 games over the three seasons prior to landing in Vegas, Karlsson shocked the hockey world with a 43-goal, 78-point season, following it up with an additional seven goals and 15 points in 20 post-season games.

Inked to a one-year, $5.25-million contract this summer, Karlsson, 25, will again be an RFA come next summer, but the question leading up to his extension eligibility will be what he does for an encore. If it’s anything like last season, which is to say Karlsson has 20 goals and is a near point per game player by Jan. 1, it’s safe to say that he’ll be staring down a big-money extension, one that’s a far cry from the two-year, $2-million deal Karlsson settled for back in June 2016.

Hayes falls into the Stone camp of RFA contracts. In fact, among players who signed one-year deals this summer with the chance to become UFAs come July 2019, the only player who will earn more money is Stone, as Hayes’ pact for the coming campaign carries a tidy $5.175 million payout. He earned it, too, with a career-best 25-goal campaign in 2017-18, which came along with a 44-point output.

Why Hayes’ situation is worth watching is that while the Rangers may very well come to the 26-year-old with an offer of an extension, that’s nowhere near as certain as one might expect. New York is looking at a rebuild-on-the-fly scenario, bringing in young talent in an attempt to piece together a competitive squad without out-and-out tanking. Hayes could offer the Rangers a high-quality trade chip at the deadline. He has size and skill that some playoff-bound teams will fawn over. That said, if he has another productive campaign, it’s not out of the question that New York looks into bringing Hayes back and keeping him as part of the core of a growing team. What happens ahead of the deadline could be incredibly telling.

After the first season of his three-year, $7.5 million deal with the Islanders, a contract he signed back in September 2015, Nelson would have looked like a lock to be a part of the long-term future for the Islanders. He was fresh off of a 26-goal season in which he scored 40 points in 81 games. His goal total has slipped in each of the two subsequent seasons, however, with his point total — not to mention his minutes — dipping to a four-season low this past campaign. The result was essentially a show-me deal from New York: a one-year, $4.25-million pact for the 26-year-old RFA.

The next few months could vastly change Nelson’s circumstances, though. The Islanders aren’t quite in the same rebuilding stage as the Rangers, despite the loss of captain and star center John Tavares this summer. So, if Nelson returns to earlier form and is scoring at a 25-goal pace by mid-season, it wouldn’t be beyond reason that New York would look at extending him on another short-term deal. Then again, if the Islanders are out of the playoff hunt, Nelson is definitely a worthwhile deadline depth addition, one that a team who misses out on top targets might be willing to overpay to land.

Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.



Five Recent High-Dollar UFA Buys That Paid Off

It's not often big-ticket UFA buys end up keeping their teams in the black, value-wise. But these five from the 2010s were able to.


The Top 30 Unrestricted Free Agents of 2021

With the expansion draft in the rearview mirror, the UFA list isn't as bountiful as it was last week. Which big names are still out there?


Panthers, Bennett Agree to Four-Year Extension

The Florida Panthers have locked in Sam Bennett to a four-year, $17.6 million extension mere days before free agency