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RFA Predictions - Week 3

Updated: Apr 2, 2020

Matthew Tkachuk & Brock Boeser

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 more highly touted forwards who ply their trade in the Pacific Division, Matthew Tkachuk and Brock Boeser. A high-octane pest, Tkachuk emerged this year as an indispensable part of the top-seeded Calgary Flames in the West, combining his well known on-ice antics with elite offensive production. With the Flames experiencing a cap crunch this summer, it will be interesting to see our projections on how they will negotiate this reality with the inevitable pay day that Tkachuk will cash-in on. Boeser on the other hand, better known as Prince Charming, is one of the most pure scorers in the game. At just 22 years of age, and with the Canucks having a comfortable amount of cap space to play with, Boeser may be able to cash in big and for a long time.

If you missed our first installment, you can check out what we had to say for Charlie McAvoy and Jordan Binnington here. You can also checkout last weeks installment on Mikko Rantanen and Patrik Laine here.

Matthew Tkachuk

Mac Henley – $8.5M/ 7 years

A major league pest. Tkachuk stepped in as a rookie for the Flames three years ago and became an instant firecracker for a team that, at the time, was kind of… bland. Tkachuk gave the team bite, getting opponents off their game with his on-ice antics. His distractions helped create space for stars Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan to excel, explaining their jumps in production since Tkachuk joined the team. But he took it to another level this year. Tkachuk exploded on the Flames’ second line and top powerplay unit, posting nearly a point-per-game for the Western Conference top seeded team, and while they bowed out in a shocking 5-game upset, little could be taken away from Tkachuk’s ascent to stardom.

He was able to post those final year numbers with offensive anchor Michael Frolik, and defensive centreman Mikael Backlund populating his line. Simply put, he’s the heartbeat of this team, and is on a fast track to take the captaincy reigns from Marc Giordano when he eventually decides to hang them up.

Luckily for us, there are a number of almost perfect comparables for Tkachuk, the catch being that some of them signed deals well below their market value.

All of these players averaged early a point per game in their contract year and signed for a reasonably high cap hit percentage. Tarasenko and Draisaitl signed for the full 8 years, while Gaudreau and Pastrnak signed for only 6 years after holding out beyond training camp. Now, I don’t think that Tkachuk will hold out, and given the fact that fellow Flames star Gaudreau is not too far away from a new negotiation, the Flames will be pushing for a long-term deal with Tkachuk.

Now, the Flames aren’t comfortable with their cap situation. With just under $15 million projected cap space, they have to sign Tkachuk, Sam Bennett, most of their fourth line, as well as their starting goalie Dave Rittich (as well as a back up). For these reasons, I do not think that the Flames will be able to buy the necessary UFA years to max out the term on a Tkachuk deal. For that reason, I think 7 years is where they will settle.

He’s become an absolutely integral part of a Calgary team with Stanley Cup aspirations, and I believe that they will do short of anything to keep him a Flame for a long time. But given the comparables for Tkachuk’s contract year and the pickle that is the Flames’ cap situation, a deal in and around $8.5 million for 7 years seems to be in the cards.

Paul Volpe – $7.5M/ 5 years

The Calgary Flames were finally living up to expectations as they finished 1st in the West with 107 points, which was good for second overall in the league. For years, Calgary on paper seemed like they could be one of the best teams in their very weak division, but always seemed to come up short. This past season was promising and even had people thinking they were the best chance Canada had for bringing the cup home. Then reality set in as they were defeated in the first round by the Colorado Avalanche only winning one game in the process. Why is this important? Well, it was certainly a step in the right direction for the Flames, but they need to improve, and locking up Tkachuk is vital to their success. The problem then becomes how do the Flames get better while they are still capable of winning with the salary cap where its at? Many teams are asking themselves the same question and will need to get creative in order to make it work. The Flames are in dire need of goaltending, that has been an issue for them since Mikka Kiprusoff who played his last season in 2012-13, yikes. Mike Smith is set to hit the open market and their backup who ultimately stole the show for a while, David Rittich, is an RFA. So, with just under $14.5M in projected cap space next season, they are going to have to find a way to get Rittich and Tkachuk locked up while also finding another serviceable goalie (that is not including free agents, other UFA’s and RFA’s as well… including Sam Bennett).

With that being said, a 5-year deal makes a lot of sense to me when discussing Tkachuk’s next contract. By signing a mid-range contract, it allows for the Flames to lock their young stud up for half a decade (I think people forget about how long that really is), while keeping the cap hit down because they are buying less UFA years. On the flip side, Tkachuk is good friends with Toronto Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews and may be thinking of getting a similar type deal as he had this past season. I know we may bring Matthews up a lot, and we certainly do not want these articles to be “how does this affect the Leafs?”, but the fact of the matter is that Matthews next deal is one that could start to become more prevalent for young RFA’s who want to maximize their earnings. The same can be said about Tkachuk, who may want to take a 5-year deal, so he enters UFA in his prime, and in doing so is helping the Flames out when it comes to their cap flexibility. Now that we have figured it may be a shorter deal than expected, let's talk about the money.

Tkachuk is not an offensive juggernaut like many of the players on this list, but he does bring a lot to the table. In year 1 of his ELC he accumulated 48 points in 76 games only to surpass that number the following year with 49 points but in just 68 games. He closed out his ELC with a monstrous year on an outstanding regular season team with 77 points in 80 games, where he hit the 30-goal mark for the first time in his career. Not bad numbers for a player who is deemed as one of the biggest pests in the league. That is an element of his game that makes him so unique in comparison to the other RFA’s this offseason. Tkachuk is not afraid of anything, he is grinder and a huge annoyance to the players on the opposing team. He is a guy you want on your team but hate to play against. Being the all-around player he is while having the ability to produce while on such a second line as Mac mentioned above, he is a dying breed in the league as young players tend to be fast and skilled. A commodity such as Tkachuk is rare and extremely valuable, thus why he is one of the best RFA players this offseason. Looking at his numbers does not do him justice, which is saying a lot considering he was able to muster up almost a point per game last season, but this is a player you are willing to pay in order to keep him around.

It is hard to find comparable contracts considering some of his strengths are not easily recordable. I know that analytics are a gift sent from above which help analyze players, and don’t get me wrong I love those stats, but for this particular contract I am going to take a step back. Tkachuk deserves to get paid in the $7-8M range because of his tenacity and ability to score, two attributes that are hard to find in players these days, let alone someone who possesses both. I hate to say it, but he is an old-time hockey player and if done properly, is very valuable. This is not to say that a player like Jack Johnson, who plays “old-time hockey” and is a “true leader on the team” deserves a massive contract like he got (boy did analytics warn the Penguins that contract would be a grave mistake), it is the players like Tkachuk and Marchand who are valuable because they do it all, not just because they piss the other team off. Therefore, Tkachuk will receive a contract that I believe best represents his skill-set while also helping the Flames keep the AAV at a lower cost.

Brock Boeser

Mac Henley – $6.5M/ 7 years

Following his final year playing in college, Boeser took the league by storm, displaying his game breaking offensive talent in the final 9 games of the 2016-17 season. Then he was benched to start the next year? Okay, typical Canucks. But once he cracked the lineup, he proved that he should have started the season in the starting lineup, finishing second in Calder voting while posting nearly 30 goals and 55 points. He followed this up with a somewhat disappointing third season, posting almost identical stats to the year prior, except in more games and therefore signalling little improvement. Nevertheless, Boeser, aka Prince Charming, is as pure a goal scorer as they come, and at only 22 years of age, is a piece that the Canucks can build around. While being very unique, there is a recent case of a similar player that proved to be an absolute stud and offensive driver for their team.

Filip Forsberg, the return in the dreadful Martin Erat trade, has proven to be the heartbeat of a Nashville Predators team that has ascended to perennial Stanley Cup contender status. He finished the final year of his entry-level contract setting career highs across the board, posting 33 goals and 64 points while leading the Preds in scoring. At this point, the similarities are obvious.

While Forsberg outperformed Boeser in actual points, the stats even up (and in fact lean in favour of Boeser) with points per game. Now, some may say that the contract here isn’t a valid comparison, largely because Forsberg signed for less than market value. But with the limited negotiating power RFAs possess, they may not be able to get open market value, especially considering they’d only hit the restricted market if they held out beyond July 1st.

Now, why is Boeser making less against the cap then Forsberg, relative to their respective Cap Hit percentages? Well recent comparables go against Boeser’s case to push for $7 million coming out of his ELC, namely the likes of Larkin, Nylander, and Pastrnak. The three of those players all posted multiple 60-point season before entering their first negotiations, yet they all settled below $7 million AAV, and some settled for unreasonably team-friendly levels (re - Larkin making $6.1 million).

The Canucks, while having significant cap space, are also hamstrung by some very bad contracts, including the likes of Jay Beagle and Loui Eriksson. Jim Benning, the Canucks GM, will therefore likely be looking to lock Boeser up for max term at a reasonable cap hit. That being said, he did sign the Beagle and Eriksson contracts… so maybe… I’m wrong about that…. But let’s assume I am right and that Canucks management has some sense beyond the draft (which they are admittedly great at).

Boeser playing alongside superstar Elias Pertterssen will make Vancouver a force in the Western conference for as long as they are in BC. With Petterssen due for a likely double-digit cap hit following the end of his ELC, getting Boeser in now to a team-friendly contracts will go a long way to solidifying a lineup that will allow the Canucks to compete in among the rising Western Conference teams.

Paul Volpe – $8M/ 7 years

Boeser seemed as if he was going to be a phenom right out of the gate for a very long time, but even though he surpassed his point total in his second full year in the NHL, it almost seemed a bit disappointing. After burning the first year of his ELC by playing just 9 games, the following season was quite impressive as he finished second in votes for the Calder Trophy. That same year he ran into some injury problems, mainly a scary back injury that looked worse for wear, which may have cost him rookie of the year. Nonetheless, the following year he was poised to have another outstanding year with the young Vancouver team, finishing the year with 26 goals and 30 assists in just 56 games played.

The problem with Boeser is that he has shown some glimpses of elite potential but has run into several cold streaks and injuries along the way. I would not go as far as to say that Boeser is an inconsistent player because that seems unfair for a variety of different reasons. For one thing he is on a young rebuilding team who are still a few years away from being contenders, so the fact that has was able to produce almost a point per game during his ELC is quite impressive. The other thing is that he is only 22 years old, young players need time to fully adjust to the big leagues, so it seems a little unfair to call any rookie inconsistent that early on in their careers. However, what I would be worried most about if I were Vancouver is his past with injuries, missing almost 20 games in back to back seasons. Normally this kind of thing may scare teams away from offering good players long-term deals, but for Boeser, I think it is worth the risk.

Even when playing alongside players like Jake Virtanen and Elias Pettersson, Boeser’s CF % hovered around 50%. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it is stands for corsi for percent, which is shot differential at even strength. 40% is extremely bad while the elite players tend to be 55% or higher, so 50% is quite average. Again, this can be due to the fact that Vancouver is not very good, but when you are a very good player on a line with other very good players, you would expect a better outcome. This is why I have decided that Boeser will get an $8M contract over 7 years, with an exceptional shot paired with his ability to create plays, it is pretty clear that Boeser is an offensive threat. The reason he is not going to get double digit numbers is because of his injuries and not fully excelling with better line mates this past season. Vancouver currently has the money to lock him up long term and they may be able to use his injuries as leverage to keep the cost down. Although they may be taking a risk on signing him to a long-term deal, it makes sense to take that gamble because Boeser clearly has the ability to be one of the most lethal forwards in the NHL. An $8M contract accounts for only 9.6% of the cap if it ends up being the projected $82M.

For comparison sake, when Taylor Hall signed his 7-year deal back in 2012, his $6M AAV ate up exactly 10% of the cap hit. Boeser and Hall are very similar because they both had back to back 50-point seasons in their final 2 ELC seasons, playing nearly the same amount of games. Hall would of course end up becoming a Hart Trophy winner and his contract now looks like a steal with just a year remaining. This probably what Vancouver is hoping for, to lock up their young gun in hopes that he can breakout as one of their top forwards (which he already is). Another comparison on the lower end would be Hall’s former team mate, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins who signed an identical 7-year deal as Hall one season later. Since the cap had gone up between the time the two signed, Nugent-Hopkins CH% is 9.3% as oppose to 10%. This is why I see Boeser falling somewhere in between these two players in regard to CH%, and it makes sense to have it be $8M (9.6 CH%) over 7 years.

Honourable Mention - Ivan Provorov

Mac Henley – $5M/ 6 years

Provorov has had an up and down career to-date, excelling in his rookie and sophomore seasons but following that up with a very underwhelming contract year, relative to his standards. Still, the Flyers view this player as a future anchor on their blueline, and will be modestly eager to capitalize on his lower value to lock him up long term. His ELC play reminded me of Morgan Rielly, who had a turbulent first couple of years, eventually settling on a $5 million, 5 year deal. That contract is now a steal, as Rielly has emerged as a star player on the Leafs’ blueline, and continues to progress towards being an undisputable number 1 defenceman. This line of progression would be ideal for Provorov, but as they cannot be certain of this trajectory, it limits his negotiating power. The Flyers will absolutely take this opportunity to lock up their young stud, and at a reasonable cap hit to boot.

Paul Volpe - I seriously do not know?

After a superb rookie season followed by an even better showing in his second year in the NHL, Provorov had a rough contract season that will ultimately cost him quite a bit of money. The other major wildcard in projecting this contract is that Chuck Fletcher, the Flyers new GM, is one of the weirdest, most unpredictable characters I have ever followed. Ex-GM Ron Hextall had successfully built the core of a young promising team (including Nolan Patrick, Carter Hart, Ivan Provorov, and Travis Konecny to name a few), but ultimately his patient approach is what got him canned. I actually wrote on the Flyers a while back and talked about some of their talented young players – check it out here. Flyers president Paul Holmgren decided to hire Chuck Fletcher who has already proven to be the exact opposite of Hextall. You may be asking yourself, where is he going with all this? Well, let me tell you.

Just this past week, Fletcher had traded for defencemen Matt Niskanen (WHILE RETAINING ON GUDAS) and Justin Braun while signing forward Kevin Hayes to a ludicrous contract. That is $14.34M tied up in those three players… not the best way to make use of their cap space. So, before all this happened, I would have said Provorov would get a nice long-term deal in the $6M range but now, I honestly have no idea.

If I had to take a stab at it and put myself as the GM as opposed to trying to think like Fletcher, a good deal for both the Flyers and Provorov would be a long-term deal in that range. However, due to the Flyers busy week, I am now leaning towards a 5-year deal in around $4.5-5M. Now, that is not necessarily a bad deal because it is still half a decade of a young and promising blueliner, but my gut is saying it would be wise for the Flyers to lock this kid up for as long as possible because boy, is he going to be good.

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