RFA Predictions - Week 5
Updated: Apr 2, 2020
Mitch Marner and Brayden Point
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 doing things a little different to end our 5 week RFA segment (wow, time flies by). We also just wanted to say thank you for taking the time to read what we have to say on these outstanding players and following us throughout these last 5 weeks. Even though we are still a small little website, we still have many things to say and we hope you have enjoyed our rambling so far and continue to do so! For this installment we are going to take a look at arguably the two best RFA players in need of a new contract. To be completely honest, Mitch Marner and Brayden Point have been discussed ad nauseum so we decided to do a little less stats and a little bit of a different take. One of us will project a contract that we both agreed on what the player should make, then the following projection will be what we believe they will make. Mac and I will then reverse roles for the following player. This way it at least gives you readers a little bit of a different take on two of the most talked about players in this years RFA class. Hope you enjoy!
If you missed our earlier installments, you can check out what we had to say for Charlie McAvoy and Jordan Binnington here, Mikko Rantanen and Patrik Laine here, and Matthew Tkachuk and Brock Boeser here. You can also checkout last weeks installment on Sebastian Aho and Timo Meier here.
Paul Volpe – $10.5M/ 8 years (should make)
Ok let me make this short. Toronto Media has exasperated the idea of offer sheets being thrown at Marner and how the Toronto Maple Leafs do not have the cap space to keep him blah blah blah. We don’t want to talk about it either, to be quite frank, but we should because he is one of the best players in this year’s RFA class. With that being said, I will be looking at the magic number that Marner should make, not what he will get. News broke a few weeks ago that Marner turned down an offer in the $10-11M range over 8 years because he does not want a long-term deal. The only comparable his party is concerned with is teammate Auston Matthews, which makes 0 sense… Matthews is a) a centerman and b) a natural goal scorer (leads the league in even strength goals since entering the league) who can drive the play on his own (finished top 5 in scoring chances off the rush at 5-vs-5, stat thanks to Andrew Berkshire). Marner is a phenomenal player, that much is undisputed, but in a league that values and pays more for centres and goal scorers, in reality this comparison is nonsensical.
A contract north of $10M, in my opinion is an overpay, but if it has to be that way then it must be on a 7/8 years deal. It makes the most sense for the Leafs to spend $10.5M on their star playmaker in order to lock him up for the full 8 years. An AAV of $10.5 would account for 12.9% of the cap, which would make Marner tied for 20th as the highest paid player in the league and tied for 5th among wingers. The problem that then arises is that the wingers making more than Marner are proven stars with the likes of Alex Ovechkin (16.8%), Patrick Kane (15.2%), newly signed Artemi Panarin (14.3%), Jamie Benn (13%) and Claude Giroux (12.9%). A team can only pay so much for potential, and to make Marner the fifth highest paid winger in the league before truly proving anything is quite interesting to say the least.
Some of the better comparable contracts are Nikita Kucherov and Mark Stone, both of which signed their contracts last season but are set to kick in next year. Both decided to take identical deals worth $9.5M over 8 years, and although the argument can be made Kucherov is still being underpaid, both players had leverage as they were set to become UFA’s. They could have hit the open market and made much more. Marner does not have this luxury as he is technically the Leafs property, he cannot sign with any other team unless an offer sheet is actually made, accepted and not matched. If that is the case, it is most likely a win-win for the Leafs because they either match it and keep Marner for x amount of years, or if they let him go, odds are the Leafs would receive 4 first round picks as compensation. Another thing that I would like to add is that Kucherov just won the Hart trophy (MVP), the Ted Lindsay award (best player voted by NHLPA) and the Art Ross (leading scorer). Stone on the other hand was deemed one of the best two-way forwards in the league, finishing second in voting for the Frank Selke trophy (best defensive-forward). Once again, this is not to bash Marner because he is one of the best playmakers in the league and instantly makes any team better. If I am the Leafs, I am willing to slightly overpay to keep the hometown boy as they continue to push for the ultimate goal, the Stanley Cup. Marner would certainly be a key player in helping them get there.
Mac Henley – $9.5M / 7 years (will make)
We’ve heard a lot with regards to the Marner negotiations. But have we actually? Think about it. There was all the stuff coming out of Dreger Café, such as the $13-14 million offer sheet that was looming, that Marner was asking for Auston Matthews money, and that he reportedly denied an $11 million deal for 8 years. There was another rumour that the Marner camp described that they will not be taking into account any comparable, which I frankly find hard to believe. But all of these are rumours and speculation, not actual facts.
What do we know? Marner is a restricted free agent, and is eligible to sign an offer sheet with any team in the league, and can sign at any time up until December 1st at 5pm, when he would miss the entire season. Those are the facts. Unquestionable, and undeniable. I will not be using speculative numbers or rumours to decide on my projection.
Now that we’ve ironed that out, Marner is not the best player in the league. Nor is he the best winger in the league. So, logically, he should not be paid as one. Now, one could conceivably make the argument that he has the potential to ascend as the top winger, and thus one would be paying for that potential. But with the dicey cap situation that the Leafs continue to find themselves in despite the clever cap maneuvering over the past week, paying for potential is a proposition that can likely not be met.
The two best wingers in the league, in my humble opinion, are Mark Stone and Nikita Kucherov, in no particular order. Kucherov has ascended to being one of the most consistent and top point producers in the world, posting an absurd and league-leading 128 points this past season. Stone, on the other hand, is arguably the best defensive player in the league, continuing to lead the league (by a WIDE margin) in takeaways, while posting over a point-per-game over his past couple of seasons, including 10 goals in Vegas’ 7 game first round series loss to the Sharks.
What do they make? Both, $9.5 million AAV. And yet, the media has continued to pump out numbers exceeding $10, even $11 million.
Now, why do I have Marner making the same amount, if I’ve now gone on record describing that he is not on the same level as the players that ARE making that cap hit? Well, first of all he is significantly younger than the previously mentioned players, therefore the Leafs would be locking up this superstar for the majority of his prime. Second, the Marner camp, like in any good negotiation, are capitalizing an electrifying 94-point contract season.
Furthermore, 9.5 million AAV is… actually manageable. With upwards of 16 million dollars (after placing Nathan Horton of LTIR), this is a number that the Leafs can manage on a long term deal.
Finally, 9.5 may seem small to some viewers, who describe that Marner is an elite, top-10 talent and should be paid as such. I personally believe that had Nylander not missed the start of the season, he would have continued along the same trajectory, and will right the ship this season. Yet he makes 2.5 million less than my projected deal. To me, that means that Marner’s 9.5 AAV is not a hometown discount, but is closer to fair market value. Furthermore, the Canadiens did the Leafs a huge favour (second only to the favour they did for Carolina). The Sebastian Aho offer sheet was for 5 years at under $8.5 million. This was for a 22 year old, two-way, point-per-game, franchise centreman. Marner is also 22 years old, relatively two-way, point-per-game, and franchise winger. But it is WELL KNOWN that centremen have tougher assignments, and thus are compensated with more money. This logic means that Marner at 9.5 AAV is an overpay. While that may be true, it is more likely that Aho signed for significantly less than his market value (as we will see with my Point projection). Therefore, 9.5 seems like a fair number for both Marner and the Leafs, where the player will not be leaving much on the table (given the crickets in the Marner-offer sheet camp), and a cap hit that is very doable for the Leafs. This is especially true considering the recent signing of newcomers Cody Ceci and Alex Kerfoot for a combined $8 million dollars, leaving Dubas with little room to exceed this number.
Why 7 years? Well with no offer sheets, the bargaining power that the Marner camp had prior to July 1st is basically out the window. The cards now remain in the Leafs’ hands, who would love to lock him up to max term. But it is the widespread belief that Marner doesn’t want a max contract, preferring one that would allow him the opportunity to his unrestricted free agency at a young enough age to capitalize on another monster contract. But with limited negotiating power, the Marner camp will have to cede to a long, but not max, term deal.
Mac Henley – $11M / 8 years (should make)
You want to know who ACTUALLY deserves Matthews’ money? Not Marner, because for starters, he isn’t a scoring centre. Brayden Point is (among being many other things, including a former third round pick... *face palm*… of course, it’s Tampa). Point had a breakout year two seasons ago, posting 32 goals and 66 points as a sophomore. For the former Canadian World Junior, this seemed to be a logical ceiling, a 30 and 30 guy who can play all situations. He blew that out of the water. He was a man possessed this season, cracking the 40-goal plateau en route to 92 points for the Presidents Trophy winning Lightning.
Saying that Point deserves Matthews level money is not a slight to Marner. It is simply a testament to how rare it is for a centre to score 40 goals within their first three years in the league. Since the lockout (2004-2005) here is a comprehensive list of every centre to pull off a 40-goal season while on their entry-level contract.
Brayden Point - 2018-19 (41 goals)
Connor McDavid – 2017-18 (41 goals)
Auston Matthews – 2016-17 (40 goals)
Steven Stamkos – 2010-11 (45 goals), 2009-2010 (51 goals)
Evgeni Malkin – 2007-08 (47 goals)
Eric Staal – 2005-06 (45 goals)
Six. Six total centres over the past 15 years did what Brayden Point just did. Considering that centres are the most important skating position (so as to not offend goalies) and goals are the most coveted asset in the league (besides maybe cap space), that makes the men who could pull this off at such a young age so expensive.
While his offensive feats are well documented, it is worth mentioning that he has consistently been among the best in puck possession and defensive support. Across his 3 year entry level deal, Point posted Corsi For percentages of 57, 51, and 57 again in order of years. This is to say that he has done nothing but dominate his opponents throughout his young career. Furthermore, when ranked against his peers, his overall metrics (with special emphasis on defense) are awe inspiring.
He ranked in the 98th percentile in exiting his own zone with possession, showing how important Point was to the breakout and defensive support to the Lightning’s system. Furthermore, across the board he rarely slips below the 70th percentile mark, proving how much of an all-around player he truly is. His stats, relative to his peer Matthews, show that he is worth upwards of 11 million dollars. In fact, I would be comfortable saying that, on a max term deal, that Point should be worth around 12 million. That will not be the case.
As stars dropped following July 1st, the market was set. Sebastian Aho settling for under $8.5 AAV limits Point’s asking price. Furthermore, the UNRESTRICTED Panarin fetched under $12 million himself, making it difficult to envision any restricted free agent negotiating higher than that.
Because it is Tampa Bay, he will likely settle for even less money, because Yzerman somehow got every player to buy into a hometown discount before he left (heck, they had an MVP on a $4.8 million cap hit). While $11 million will likely be higher than the Tampa offer, here is hoping that Point digs his heels in and gets closer to what he deserves, in full well knowing that it won’t get taxed in the great state of Florida.
Paul Volpe – $9M/ 5 years (will make)
Previously, I gave my projection on what Marner should make, and for Point I will say what he will most likely get (because we all know Tampa has the ability to convince their stars to take a lot less money). Tampa has one of the lowest state/provincial taxes in the league which the Lightning have used on several occasions to their advantage (*cough* Kucherov *cough*), which I mean why wouldn’t you? This will certainly play a role in the negotiations between Point’s camp and the Lightning front office. For a team who is as cap strapped as any other contender, they may receive the least amount of attention in the media. Even with the unfortunate news on Ryan Callahan’s back injury forcing him to quit playing, combined with trading away J.T. Miller at the draft to Vancouver (and receiving a first round pick in the process?!?), the Tampa Bay Lightning currently have just under $14M to play with once Callahan is placed on LTIR. However, they still have 4 RFA’s to lock up in the process, and that does not include any other free agents they may be looking at to help provide some depth after losing players such as Miller, Callahan, Anton Stralman and Dan Girardi. The RFA’s include Adam Erne, Danick Martel and Cédric Paquette who will most likely make between $3-5M combined, leaving them with about $9-11M to sign Point, which will most likely be enough.
I believe Point should make closer to the $10M range, but again, it’s the Tampa Bay Lightning, they lock their star players up on ridiculously good contracts. Due to the extremely low state taxes, the lifestyle of living in the sunshine state, combined with the fact they are still a powerhouse team, there are incentives for Point to take less in order to stay with the team. With that being said, I think the Point deal could end up being in the high $8M to mid $9M range on a 5-year deal. With both Auston Matthews and Sebastian Aho receiving 5-year deal, it seems as if that is the magic number, taking the player into unrestricted free agency in their prime while the team still gets their guy for half a decade, win-win. Considering those are two of the better, most recent comparable contracts, let’s play off them.
I already gave the stats on Matthews above so I will not go over them again, but his $11.634M contract is one that is slightly high, but he is their star number one centre and most likely future captain. Brayden Point is not Auston Matthews good, but he is a star centre who just posted a 92-point campaign in 79 games this past season, that is still extremely good. When we switch gears to Sebastian Aho, he put up similar numbers (you can see these stats in last week’s installment here) while also playing one of the most difficult positions but with a less talented cast. Everybody knows that the offer sheet handed out by Marc Bergevin was never going to go through, that Carolina would 1000% match, the thing is Montreal just negotiated a very good deal for Carolina. Aho probably deserves more than he got, but I would also say that Point is slightly better than Aho. Again, maybe that is because Point plays on a stacked team but regardless they are very comparable with a 9-point difference. Had either of these players hit free agency, they would easily make north of $10M without a question. However, they are still restricted free agents and lose a little bit of leverage because of it. As a result, I see Point receiving a very similar deal as Aho, probably slightly more based off having better point production (pun definitely intended), coming in at $9M over 5-years.
Honourable Mention - Zach Werenski
Paul Volpe – $7.5M/ 6-years
Defecemen always seem harder to gauge because you have to look at their play on both sides of the ice. With forwards, a lot of it comes down to point production and their ability to drive the play. Players like Alexander Ovechkin and Phil Kessel have never been known for their defensive abilities, but teams would throw money at either or if it meant getting them on their team. What I am trying to say is that there is normally a big gap between the levels of defencemen, where we are now beginning to see guys such as Tyler Myers making $6M. No disrespect to Tyler Myers but that is quite a bit of money for a guy who is not very good defensively. Zack Werenski is certainly better and much younger than Myers, so he will certainly make more than $6M. Teammate Seth Jones received a nice $5.4M deal over 6-years while posting numbers that seem almost weak in comparison to Werenski.
Although Werenski had a down year last season, he beats Jones in almost every one of those categories when comparing both of their careers throughout their ELC’s. So, if Jones, who is a phenomenal defenceman and on probably a steal of a contract, made north of $5M, I think it is safe to say Werenski will make more. I think it is safe to say that as long Werenski continues to progress, he could become one of the best defencemen in the league. For that I say that he will receive a very nice deal at $7.5M over 6-years. Oh, and I forgot to mention, Columbus most definitely has the cap space to pay him the money he deserves.
Mac Henley – $6M / 4 years
Not the greatest comparable, but I see the Timo Meier contract as a route that Werenski’s camp may take in these negotiations. While the dollar value under most circumstances is not up to snuff, the kicker here is the term. Agreeing to a 4 year deal would mean that Werenski hits the open market (unrestricted Free Agency) at the youngest possible age, thus allowing him to best capitalize on monetizing his prime years. In the meantime, that requires a pay cut. Now, for a team like Columbus, who has piles of cap space but limited draft capital, it would seemingly make sense to lock up their own guys for as long as possible. But by limiting the term, the Blue Jackets have allowed themselves the room to continue swinging for the fences, a prospect that GM Jarmo Kekalainen has proven he would do. Furthermore, given the up and down seasons that Werenski has had since breaking into the league, this would afford the Blue Jackets some comfort in the event that Werenski does not reach his full potential, thereby avoiding an anchor of a contract. Ultimately, I believe a pact of this nature suits both the player and the team, allowing both parties to keep their future opportunities open while affording the team to push for further playoff success in the short term.
Contract Information from CapFriendly
Player Stats from Elite Prospects and Hockey Reference