RFA Predictions - Week 2
Updated: Apr 2, 2020
Mikko Rantanen & Patrik Laine
Considering that this offseason contains one of the richest restricted free agents (RFA) classes of all time, it is hard to predict what each player will receive. This is in part because there seems to be a shift towards young stars willing to take less years in order to become an unrestricted free agent (UFA) in their prime, and thereby optimizing their earnings. Although some may decide that their current team has a chance of winning the cup, or they feel “loyal” to the team who drafted them, there are still some who believe a shorter deal is what is best for them. So, we have decided to take 10 of the more interesting RFA’s and submit an offer we believe they may receive or even what they deserve to receive. For the most part, we have two different offers for each player, some very different but also some rather similar. Each week, we will post 2 RFA players and an honourable mention over the course of 5 weeks, with this being the second. We know that there are players that we may have left off this list, but there are so many intriguing RFA players that it was quite difficult to even pick the 15 that we will be discussing. We encourage your feedback, let us know if you think these offers are accurate, what you would suggest, and feel free to give us your offers on some other players we did not discuss. With that being said, let’s get started.
This week we will be discussing two wingers that have terrorized the Central Division over the past 2-3 years. Colorado’s superstar winger Mikko Rantanen and the curious case of Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine are up for new contracts come July 1st, and are due for a potentially massive pay day. While playing the same position in the same division, they have two very different cases. Rantanen is an up and coming power in the Western Conference for the Avalanche, who have piles of cap space to lock up their pending free agents, and then have plenty left over to make aggressive moves. Laine had a mystifying year, potting 30 goals for his lowest total since breaking into the NHL, but the caveat being that 18 of those goals came across 12 game in November, and that he scored 2 even strength goals in the last 55 games of the season. Furthermore, Winnipeg is staring down the barrel of Cap Hell, having a score of players due for new contracts and effectively no cap room to maneuver. With two similar players but different situations, the predictions should be interesting.
If you missed our first installment, you can check out what we had to say for Charlie McAvoy and Jordan Binnington here.
Paul Volpe – $10.75M/ 8 years
Arguably the best RFA player this offseason, Rantanen is due for a very nice second contract and Colorado certainly has the cap space to provide him with it. After coming off back to back 80+ point seasons where he set career highs in points (87), goals (31) and assists (56) in just 74 games played, Rantanen has certainly proven he is an upcoming star in this league. Being as young as he is and paired with superstar centreman Nathan MacKinnon, this deadly duo could very well become the best in the league as they are only 22 and 23 years-old, respectively. Although they had spent some time apart during the regular season, coach Jared Bednar often reverted back to the stacked first line. This could be in part that Rantanen and MacKinnon have real chemistry, but it could also be because of the team’s lack of forward depth. These two players will certainly terrorize the league for many years to come, as long as they get a long-term deal done. Regardless, it is no coincidence that Rantanen was able to produce over a point per game in his last two seasons. Although there may be a shift in the way young players approach their second contracts, making over $10M for 8 years seems pretty hard to turn down.
With that in mind, it would be extremely smart for Colorado to lock Mikko up to the max 8 years, just like they had with MacKinnon. Although it is very unlikely Colorado will get another sweetheart deal like they had with Nathan (in my opinion is now the single best contract in the league), to have their two biggest and youngest stars locked up for as long as possible is in Colorado’s best interest. Since it has been established that Colorado should push for the 8-year deal, the average annual value is always the most interesting part. With my prediction being somewhere in the $10.5-$10.75M range, there are a few reasons behind why this number was chosen. There are a few thresholds we can take a look at in order to justify this number, one contract being of a player who produced less than Mikko during his entry level contract (ELC) and one that is of equal production. This way we can set some sort of standard without getting too complicated.
Comparison 1 – Leon Draisaitl:
This is not to say that Rantanen is a better player than Draisaitl because it is a little too early to really judge these two talented players. Leon just came off an outstanding breakout season posting 105 points in 82 games played this past season. The fact that he can also play centre (one of the most important positions) adds more value because of his versatility. However, we will be looking strictly at the numbers because when it comes to wingers, that is often the starting point in negotiations. In the final year of his ELC, Leon put up 77 points, which is not bad at all. The year prior to that he only had 51, and I think that is why when he signed his 8-year deal for $8.5M (accounting for 11.33% CH), a lot of people thought that was a huge overpay, despite it not looking so bad now. We are going to disregard each player’s first year in the league because it is often a stepping stone and adjustment period. So, when looking at the final 2 years of their ELC’s, they each played almost the exact same number of games. In 154 games played, Leon produced 128 points, while Rantanen potted 171 points in 155 games. The other thing to keep in mind is although I am combining the two years, both players took a step forward in the last year of their ELC.
Rantanen has easily out produced Leon, meaning that he should make more than $8.5M over 8 years, that has been established.
Comparison 2 – Tyler Seguin:
It was tough to find a contract that compares nicely with my prediction on what Rantanen could possibly make this offseason. The thing is, Seguin had very similar numbers when he signed his third deal, which was an 8-year contract worth $9.85M (12.39% CH). Throughout his career with the Dallas Stars, he has been a consistent 70-point player, landing in that range 4 out of the 6 years with the team while hitting the 80 point mark the other 2 seasons. I believe that this is a great comparison because they are both right wingers who produced very similar numbers. However, since Rantanen is younger and putting up more points than Seguin earlier on in his career, Rantanen will make slightly more than Seguin because of it. His age plays a huge factor in this because with Seguin, he may still get better with age, but at 27-years old, you more or less know what kind of player he is. With Rantanen, he is only 22-years old and coming off a very impressive ELC, this kid has lots of room to grow and will most likely only get better. So, if we take Seguin’s 12.39% CH and bump it up to say 13% to take into account age and production, the number comes out to be $10.75M. Case closed.
Mac Henley - 10M / 5 years
Mikko Rantanen was a highly touted but under-the-radar prospect when he entered the league fulltime in 2016-2017. After being the 10th overall pick in the McDavid 2015 draft, he posted over a point-per-game in first season in the AHL, very impressive while adjusting to North American ice. He then posted 38 points in 75 NHL games, very respectable numbers for a rookie. Then the levee broke. In his previous two seasons to close out his ELC, he has operated at 1.10 PPG clip, producing as a top 10 player in the entire league. While some of this could be driven by playing alongside perennial MVP candidate Nathan Mackinnon, Rantanen is unquestionably a stud, with or without his centre. His production coming out of his entry-level deal doesn't lend itself to comparables, just because players have not reached the productive heights that Rantanen has this quickly. Nevertheless, here are a couple of production comparables.
The biggest sticking point with these guys are that they all averaged over a point per game in the two years leading up to their new contract. Now, there are two caveats with using Jaime Benn and Patrick Kane as comparables. The first is that both of these guys signed for the full 8 years, which is significantly different from my prediction that Rantanen will take a 5 year deal… more on that later. The other is that the two years highlighted for Kane and Benn were not out of their entry level deals. This is what makes Rantanen’s ascension so impressive. For this reason, I believe he will get comparable cap hit despite the team buying less years.
Now, why 5 years? To Colorado, locking up this bonafide superstar for the full 8 years would seem paramount, and with oodles of cap space, is totally doable. But is that what Rantanen wants? Maybe a couple of years ago, there would be no question about it. But the tides are turning. This is a young players’ league, and they recognize the bargaining power they have despite their rights being owned by their team until they turn 26. The big comparable for term is Auston Matthews. It was believed that Matthews would sign a similar deal to Tavares, around 11 million for max term. But he and his camp were able to negotiate a higher cap for significantly less years. What this allows for the player is for him to cash in a second time during his prime, as opposed to waiting until their late 20’s and potentially losing value on a second contract due to their battle with Father Time.
This is where the cap space that Colorado has may come back to bite them. Rantanen has justified a high cap hit at lesser years, and the team can manage that. If he and his camp choose to dig their heels in on term, they will absolutely be able to negotiate a high AAV for 5 or 6 years, allowing Rantanen to re-enter the free agent pool at age 27 or 28 as opposed to his aged 30 season on a hypothetical 8 year deal.
Paul Volpe - 7.85M / 5 years
This contract is as big of a wildcard as any. There are already rumours beginning to swirl that Laine is considering all options, including offer sheets. Whether this be true or not, it still does not help the fact that Laine is a very interesting case where a wide variety of offers could be argued. One thing to keep in mind is that Winnipeg has a lot of contracts they need to figure out this offseason, and although the second overall pick should be priority, will they come to an agreement? The Jets have 7 RFA’s and 6 UFA’s with just over $25M in projected cap space. Some of these players are bound to walk or get traded (including roster player currently under contract) but the list includes some big names such as Kyle Connor (who will be discussed shortly), Jacob Trouba, and Tyler Myers, who are all set to make a nice chunk of change. With that being said, how should the Jets go about signing some of their key pieces while staying under the cap? Laine could possibly sign a bridge deal, but I have decided that he should take a mid-term deal considering that a bridge could cost both the Jets and Laine a lot more later on.
The Jets need to save money, that much is clear, but Laine also did not have the greatest season which has certainly cost him a lot of money. By taking a 5-year deal, it is a bit of a risk for both sides while keeping the cap hit lower due to the Jets only buying one UFA year. Similar to another fellow Canadian team who is headed towards a similar cap crunch, Auston Matthews, their young star, took a 5-year deal in order to keep the cap down in order for Toronto to sign their other RFA’s. Of course, this also works in Matthews favour as he will be set to become a UFA in his prime, but it allows the Leafs to have a little more breathing room for 5 more seasons. The Jets should consider doing something similar with Laine so that they too can keep the cap down while insuring 5 more years of contending.
This deal also makes a lot of sense for Laine because he is arguably one of the best goal scorers in the league. He has an unreal shot that can fool the best of goalies while providing the Jets with an offensive juggernaut on the powerplay. However, it was seen this past year that if he is not scoring goals, he begins to look like a third line winger at best. Laine is not very good defensively and does not exactly rack up the most assists, he is a pure goal scorer. Teams would die for the opportunity to have a player like Laine, but when he is not scoring goals, the other aspects of his game that he lacks has a severe effect on his efficiency on the ice. Every player goes through cold streaks, but when Laine is off, my goodness is it bad. Then he will break out and score in bushels, so is all well?
The worry then becomes whether he is worth that 8-year deal in the double-digit figures. It was extremely hard to find comparable players to Laine, but there are two players that may work strictly for comparing against Laine. Patrick Kane and Phil Kessel. Although these players share some similarities with Laine, they are also very different, so hear me out.
Kane posted 70+ points in each year of his ELC before he was awarded a 5-year extension worth $6.3M per year. Kane is a superstar, meaning he is more than just a goal scorer and he has proven that time and time again. The thing is, Laine posted 64 points in year 1 on his ELC, 70 points in year 2 and then there was quite a drop off in year 3 as he only potted 50 points. Although Laine is still very young, inconsistencies are either unfair because of his age or are in part because of his age as he may be still adjusting. Needless to say, Laine is not Kane. At the time in which Kane signed his deal, it ate up 11.09% of the cap hit. So, if we were to compare what Laine should make in regard to a lesser cap hit percentage on the same term as Kane, probably looking somewhere between 9.5% and 10%.
If we now bring Kessel into the mix, he signed a 5-year extension worth $5.4M per year, which comes out to account for 9.51% of the cap hit at the time in which he signed that deal. Kessel and Laine have a lot more in common with each other than Kane and is exactly why I decided that this may be one of the better contracts to compare. Both love scoring and have one of the most dangerous shots in the NHL but they have also both received similar criticisms where they are poor defensively and lack that second effort on the backcheck. Whether these criticisms are accurate and/or fair, it has been said about both these players numerous times throughout their careers. Personally, I believe Phil to be the better player of the two, but it is also too early to really say since Laine has only played three seasons in the NHL. So, if we then say that Laine is deserving of 9.5% of the cap hit on a 5-year deal, it comes out to be an AAV of $7.85M.
Mac Henley - 10M / 2 years (OFFER SHEET)
Hot Take Alert. Patrik Laine will be offer sheeted, he will sign the offer sheet, and Winnipeg will not have the cap space to match, meaning that they will accept the compensation and Laine will join a new team.
For this to happen, the offer sheeting team would have to give a pretty high number to force Winnipeg’s hand. But the danger in this is that you may be committing significant money and term to a player that is coming off a very down, and inconsistent year. Furthermore, the cap hit would have to be under $10,568,589 to avoid having to sacrifice 4 first round picks in compensation, thereby requiring the offering team to remain under that number (and above 8,454,572) in order to sacrifice only two first round picks, the second round pick in 2020, and their third round pick in 2020. The following shows teams that do meet this requirement (on the left) and teams that don’t (on the right).
Now, there is the obvious issue of cap space. So while teams like Toronto or Boston can technically pull off an offer sheet, they do not have the necessary space to facilitate adding Laine on such a deal. The following are teams that have at least 15 million in projected cap room, the extra 5 from the projection to account for potential RFA and UFA negotiations.
Okay, right off the bat, we can eliminate a couple teams who do not have the picks to necessitate a $10 million, 2-year offer: Buffalo, Colorado, Columbus, the Rangers, and San Jose. Now, there are a couple of teams we know will be tighter up against the cap then their projected cap room shows, such as Winnipeg (also they can’t offer sheet themselves), the Islanders, and Florida (if they plan to pursue Bobrovsky and Panarin). That leaves us with some Central division rivals in Chicago, St. Louis, and Minnesota, and some members of the Metro in New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Carolina. Vancouver is a very interesting candidate as well, and we can all but entirely write off Ottawa as a contender.
Many of the potential teams with the cap space and the available picks could be very desirable locations for Laine to play, especially given the fact that he isn’t married to Winnipeg. On the opposite spectrum, we can eliminate some more teams such as Vancouver (after the fortnite back-and-forth), New Jersey, Minnesota, and Carolina for living preferences.
Philadelphia, Chicago, and St. Louis are who remain, and serve as my prime candidates for this move. All are very well constructed teams with a chance at competing (some a better chance than others), and possess management groups that appear to be hell bent on winning this upcoming year. The group in Philadelphia have gone on record describing that they would be willing to do something crazy, and this would certainly fit the bill. I consider them the front runner to pull this off. Chicago is very interesting given that they were in cap-hell not all that long ago, but have maneuvered their way out of it and are itching to prove doubters wrong that their mini-dynasty is not over. And could you imagine a world where St. Louis, winners of the 2019 Stanley Cup, pull this off? They have a well documented history with offer sheets (see: Brenden Shanahan, Ryan Kesler, David Backes), and will have the thirst to win.
I’m sure you guys are saying something along the lines of “well Laine would have to sign the contract as well”, and I think he would. Times got tough in Winnipeg this year, and he seemed to fall slightly out of favour with regards to minutes. The contract would also be preferential, as a bridge deal would allow Laine to reassert himself as a premier scorer in the league, without sacrificing the money that comes with a bridge deal, as long as it is signed above 8 million or so.
Finally, Winnipeg would have to accept the compensation. First, they would have their hands tied by the contract, as I do not think they are prepared for a Laine contract of higher than 8 million. Furthermore, to open up the necessary room to match such an offer, Winnipeg would have to likely trade some of their core players, and would they be willing to do that for an inconsistent and disgruntled scorer? Potentially, but maybe not as well, as they might be able to flip the assets recouped in compensation for the offer sheet.
I think there is the makings of one of the biggest offer sheets in history to occur this summer. While analysts clamour about the suitors for Brayden Point and Mitch Marner, Laine has seemed to fly under the radar as a candidate for this. Between his limited ties to the city and team, motivated suitors, and a tight money situation in Winnipeg, this might turn out being the coldest take of the summer.
Honourable Mention - Kyle Connor
Paul Volpe – $6.5M/ 6 years
This may seem like a rather boring and safe projection, but it is one that is very realistic. Kyle Connor had 57 points in his second year in the NHL, followed by a 66 point campaign last season. As mentioned above, Winnipeg is entering a cap crunch with several UFA and RFA players set for big raises, including Connor. If the Jets decide to lock up Myers/Trouba (assuming they can only afford to keep one) to longer term deals and still having to deal with Laine (who we know is a wildcard at this point), some players will be forced to take shorter deals. Connor seems to be the likely candidate for a shorter-term deal so that the Jets can keep his AAV down while still locking him up for half a decade. Connor is a top 6 player who may bounce around between the first and second line while entertaining the first powerplay unit. He is a great player but is one that may fall victim to the cap crunch, or maybe he prefers a mid-term deal since he may be beginning to see a shift in player ideology where they can maximize their earnings. No real way of telling, but I see the Jets having to offer shorter-term deals to both Laine and Connor.
Mac Henley - $7.5M / 8 years
Kyle Connor has emerged as a top line left winger over the course of the past two years, potting 30 goals in each respectively. With the Laine contract situation in a state of flux, I don’t expect Winnipeg to take their time with Connor, forcing the issue on an 8 year deal to lock up their young star.
With regards to cap hit, there are a number of good comparables over the past couple of years that will serve him well. Toronto’s William Nylander signed for 6 years at a cap hit of 6.9 million, while producing almost exactly the same as Connor over their respective entry level deals. Furthermore, a look at players that have recieved a 7 million AAV this past summer, namely James Van Riemsdyk and Evander Kane, highlight that Connor will almost certainly earn more than them. Given that Winnipeg would be buying more UFA years from Connor, I believe he will come out ahead of Nylander in AAV, settling around 7.5 million for maximum term.
Contract Info from capfriendly.com
Player Info from hockey-refence.com, hockeydb.com, and eliteprospects.com