RFA Predictions - Week 4
Updated: Apr 2, 2020
Sebastian Aho and Timo Meier
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 Mac has been crazy busy and apologizes for not being able to take part in this week, but sometimes things get in the way. However, he will be back next week to take on two of the biggest RFA’s in our final instalment of this exciting segment. With that being said, I will take a stab at two highly touted players in Sebastian Aho and Timo Meier, some of the more under the radar players that are huge for their teams respectively. With everything coming down to the wire, here is what I have to say about these two players and an honourable mention for this week.
If you missed our earlier instalments, you can check out what we had to say for Charlie McAvoy and Jordan Binnington here, Mikko Rantanen and Patrik Laine here. You can also checkout last weeks instalment on Matthew Tkachuk and Brock Boeser here.
Paul Volpe – $8.5M/ 5 years
An argument can be made that Sebastian Aho is top 3 in the list of RFA’s this offseason. Some have even been bold enough to claim that he is better than both Mikko Rantanen and Mitch Marner. After doing some research, these claims are not far off, Sebastian Aho is a dynamic 2-way centre that plays both ends of the ice extremely well. His defensive game has only improved every year throughout his ELC as he gains more and more confidence and responsibility. The soon to be 22-year old has been an offensive threat since joining the league in 2016 and has only gotten better every passing year, similar to his defensive game. Needless to say, Aho is only going to get better which is a scary thought considering how good he already is. Instead of going into details on his stats throughout his three-year ELC, this chart will be able to explain his dominance better than words could.
In almost every single category, Aho has improved as he gains more experience playing in the NHL. Last season he posted career highs in every category, hitting the 30-goal mark while posting over a point per game. His CF% was hovering around the “elite” level of 55% or higher in his first two seasons only to be surpassed last year. Of course, when a player gets more time on ice, they have a more opportunities to succeed, but it also allows for a better chance at failure. Aho has certainly relished in this situation and will continue to do so at an incredible rate. Aho has the ability to become an elite player in the league and is a driving force for the Carolina Hurricanes, something they have been desperately missing for so many years. So why wouldn’t they lock up their superstar to a max 8-year deal? Well this week a rumour has surfaced saying that Carolina offered Aho an 8-year deal at only $6M… that is a very disrespectful offer. The kicker is, it was also reported that the deal they had just offered was as high as Carolina was willing to go. So does this mean Aho will become the prime target of an offer sheet dethroning Mitch Marner? Hell, if I was any team in the league, I would be seriously looking at either trading for his rights or offer sheeting him in a heartbeat.
Honestly, what more can I say about Aho, the stats above speak for themselves. Aho is a stud and is worth every penny. However, since Carolina has always been considered a team that is not willing to spend as much as others, I can see them locking up their superstar to a mid-term deal in the 5-year range to keep costs down. Obviously, it would have to be higher than their initial $6M offer, but something in and around $8-9M could possibly get it done. That is why I have settled on a 5-year deal with an AAV of $8.5M. Personally, I think this is a huge mistake for the Hurricanes because this may be the best player they have had since Eric Staal in his prime (may be even better than him), but it could be a deal that just gets him to stay.
If you were to translate my projected contract into CH%, the AAV would account for 10.4% of the $81.5M cap next season. Vladimir Tarasenko inked an 8-year deal worth $7.5M per, at the time in which he signed, his contract ate up 10.27% of the cap. Tarasenko posted very similar numbers to Aho during his three ELC seasons but the only difference is, Aho is a centre. That means he is automatically worth more because of the importance of his position, and to be completely honest, I think Aho has far more upside than Tarasenko did. That is why Aho’s next contract should account for a higher CH%, simply because of his position and potential. It will come down to Carolina’s willingness to open their wallets and pay their young superstar the money that he deserves, otherwise he will be on the move. Then Carolina will be once again getting rid of their talent when they so desperately need it.
Paul Volpe – $6M/ 5 years
Meier is a guy that is often overlooked for a variety of reasons, especially within this years RFA class. He is a player who averaged just over 17 minutes a night last year on a very good San Jose team but probably does not even crack top 5 players you would first think of when asked to name the best players on that team. Playing alongside Logan Couture certainly has its benefits, but Meier has thrived in his last two seasons accumulating 36 points and nearly doubling it last season with 66 in just 78 games played. The craziest stat that I almost did not believe at first was his CF%, I always knew that Meier was a bit of an underrated player on a crazy good team, but last season he had a 56.46 CF%... although this stat only means shot differential and not actual goals, when you are on the ice for that many minutes a night and have that good of a shot differential, you are certainly doing something right. Meier is a driving force on San Jose surpassing the 20-goal mark in back to back years, and you want to know what makes him the most valuable to the Sharks? His age.
Clearly San Jose is in a “win-now” mentality, and they have every right to be with the roster they have. Their biggest problem however, is that they have way too many aging players on extremely long and expensive deals that will come back to bite them in the near future. Erik Karlsson, age 29 and coming off some serious injuries, just signed a new deal worth $11.5M for 8 more years. Brent Burns currently has 6 more years on his deal worth $8M… he is 34. Marc-Edward Vlasic, 32, has 7 more years on his contract at $7M. Last but not least, Logan Couture, Meier’s very own line mate, has a new 8-year deal just about to kick in this upcoming season for $8M per and he is also 30 years old. Now this is not to knock on San Jose because in the end, they are an extremely talented team and all of those players are key cogs in the very well-oiled machine. However, there will come a time not so far in the future where those cogs will rust and need to be replaced, but it is a very expensive process. If they win the cup before that happens then nobody will care because they finally achieved every teams goal. If they don’t… well then, they will be in serious trouble.
The reason I bring up all those contracts is to show how a) the team is already in a cap crunch with just over $14M in cap space to sign nearly half of their team (3 RFA’s and 6 UFA’s) and b) Meier brings youth and speed to a team who will definitely need it very soon. The problem then becomes, how do the Sharks get Meier locked up and how many UFA years can they afford to buy? Personally, I think Meier may get a shorter-term deal (similarly to Aho albeit for very different reasons) just so San Jose can keep him. As we have mentioned before in our previous segments, there seems to be a shift in the way RFA want to handle themselves financially. Auston Matthews took a 5-year deal instead of a max 8 like previous RFA’s would die for. Mitch Marner apparently (it was rumoured mind you), is not interested in a max deal and would prefer something shorter as well. We do not know what Meier is looking for, but it makes sense for both sides to take a 5-year deal, it keeps costs down for the Sharks which they like, and Meier will become a UFA in his prime. So, the magic number for me is $6M over 5 years accounting for 7.4% of the cap.
One of the contracts that stood out to me when looking for a comparable was Bo Horvat who signed a 6-year deal in 2017 worth $5.5M per year. At the time in which he signed, his contract had a 7.33% cap-hit percentage, which is quite close to my projection for Meier. The difference is, obviously I believe that Meier is the better player (thus the slightly higher CH%), but the Sharks are also buying one less UFA year. For those who do not know this, the belief is that the more UFA years a team buys, the more it will cost you per year. When teams are in a cap crunch, you will tend to see them lock young players up for a shorter amount of time so that they can keep their annual average down (see Matthews… again). In this case, since the Sharks are buying one less year than Vancouver had with Horvat, the fact that he is still making more money is both in part because the cap has gone up, and Meier is a better player. I say Meier is a better player because although the two players had very similar numbers throughout their ELC, Meier’s CF% blows Horvat’s out of the water by almost 10% each year. Although Horvat plays on a lowly team, when negotiating a new contract, it mostly comes down to individual performances and Meier has certainly done his job very well.
Honourable Mention - Travis Konecny
Paul Volpe – $5M/ 7 years
I really don’t want to project another Philadelphia Flyers contract. I am even more confused with this organization than I was last time when trying to project Provorov, which apparently the two parties are miles apart. They have recently signed another one of their young defenceman Travis Sanheim to a 2-year deal worth $3.25M per year, which in my own opinion is not a smart idea. Sure, he will be an RFA again at the end of the deal, but boy is he going to be expensive. Back to Konecny though, he is honestly one of my favourite players to watch and I have loved his game ever since he played for Team Canada at the juniors in 2015-16. I believe, like Kyle Connor, that Konecny is a very underrated player that deserves a lot more credit than he gets. He is a pest with scoring ability, which is honestly rather rare these days and can be extremely valuable on any team. He averages about 15 minutes a night throughout his entire NHL career and was still able to nearly hit the 50-point mark in back to back seasons. Although he is not a superstar like many of the RFA’s being discussed, he is a great all-around player who can make an impact wherever he is playing. For me, I can see Konecny getting $5M over 7 years, a deal that insures his money while the Flyers take a little bit of a risk in buying potential.
Contract Information from CapFriendly
Player Stats from Elite Prospects and Hockey Reference