By Pierre LeBrun
Uploaded by: Martin Arnold
LeBrun: As 2020 RFA list dwindles, how did this summer’s drama change the market?
By Pierre LeBrun 2h ago
Alex DeBrincat was the latest to scratch his name off the 2020 RFA list and it’s got me wondering: With Samuel Girard, Thomas Chabot and Clayton Keller also signing extensions before entering the final year of their entry-level contracts, are we seeing a counter-reaction to what just transpired this past offseason?
The great RFA stand-off of 2019 produced no shortage of fireworks; Kyle Connor last Saturday wrapping up quite the month of September signings along with Patrik Laine, Mikko Rantanen, Matthew Tkachuk, Mitch Marner, Brayden Point, Brock Boeser, Travis Konecny, Charlie McAvoy, Ivan Provorov and Zach Werenski.
Drama all around.
A unique class of RFAs helped reshape the marketplace for players coming out of entry-level, preceded by contracts from Auston Matthews, Timo Meier and Sebastian Aho which also had an impact.
And so what to make of DeBrincat, Chabot, Keller and Girard already agreeing to deals this early?
Is this about avoiding the kind of drama that just played out for the high-end 2019 guys? Or is it because the 2019 class helped reshape the marketplace that it’s given teams and agents fresh comparables which should help accelerate the next batch of deals?
“Well I think it’s probably a combination of those factors,” Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman told The Athletic from Prague on Thursday. “First off, this was a bit unchartered waters what happened in the past couple of months, you had all these players who had really strong entry-level contracts ending. I’m not sure that phenomenon had ever happened before. That there were so many of them. And there was some uncertainty as to what was the value.”
Once some of those contracts started to get done over the past month, it certainly gave Bowman and DeBrincat’s agent Jeff Jackson hard evidence of where the market was being set.
The Laine, Boeser, Tkachuk and Point deals all had an impact on DeBrincat ending up with three years and a $6.4-million AAV. And again, keep in mind that those players signed their deals after their third year; the Hawks were attempting to get DeBrincat done before that.
The number never goes down for a team if you wait, in my mind.
It’s why the Coyotes thought signing Keller to an eight-year max deal worth $7.15 million AAV back on Sept. 4 made sense a year before his entry-level deal expired.
“I think every one situation is different and motivation might be different, but for us we just felt strongly about our player and knew we’d have to sign him and want to sign him long term,” Coyotes GM John Chayka told The Athletic on Thursday. “We started negotiations obviously earlier and we went into them realizing that if there was a deal to be had that made sense for both sides, that we’d want to do it, we didn’t have to wait and see how he played for another season.”
If Keller has a dramatically better season this year, the number goes up. If DeBrincat pots another 41 goals this season but was still unsigned, I guarantee you the number next summer would’ve been higher than $6.4 million AAV.
But for DeBrincat, there’s peace of mind and security in getting it done now. Plus with a Year 3, $9-million salary, excellent protection moving forward to the next negotiation.
And, both sides avoid the drama that just played out for so many RFAs around the league.
“Every player is different and every player has a different mentality and a different comfort level with pressure, stress, and they have a different thought on how they fit within the team,” Jackson, DeBrincat’s agent, told The Athletic. “It always depends on the player, it’s never uniform. So you have unique circumstances. …
“But it comes down to their comfort level,” added the agent. “I know Alex DeBrincat is one extremely confident person but quietly confident, you would never know it. He just performs. But the contract does give him peace of mind and it gives the team stability.”
It allows a talented young player like DeBrincat to now focus solely on hockey this season and not worry about the contract.
“There’s nothing wrong with trying to get ahead of it,” Bowman said.
So, who’s next?
Players on the last year of their entry-level contract:
Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders
Pierre-Luc Dubois, Columbus Blue Jackets
Nico Hischier, New Jersey Devils
Mikhail Sergachev, Tampa Bay Lightning
Jake DeBrusk, Boston Bruins
Dylan Strome, Chicago Blackhawks
Anthony Cirelli, Tampa Bay Lightning
Vince Dunn, St. Louis Blues
Victor Mete, Montreal Canadiens
There are others but I feel those are the most notable. Barzal is the big whale. My understanding is that the Islanders and Barzal’s camp led by agent J.P. Barry have already had dialogue to the extent of wanting to get together to get the process going at some point in the fall. Where it goes from there, well, that’s going to be fascinating. Barzal’s numbers through two seasons basically has him sandwiched between Matthews and Marner through the same stage of their careers.
So if I were to play negotiator here, I would presume that Barry will begin the talks pointing to those two Toronto contracts while if I’m Isles GM Lou Lamoriello I would counter with Rantanen’s deal as a good place to be.
On a five- or six-year deal, does Barzal end up at $9.5 million AAV or $10 million? How about $10.5 million or $11 million?
The Blue Jackets, I believe, have already let it be known to Dubois’ camp led by agent Pat Brisson that they’d be interested in getting negotiations going in earnest. And while there haven’t been any talks yet, or any set, Brisson is receptive to hearing from the Jackets starting this fall and not wait until after the season. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Columbus throw a pretty big number at Brisson early in the process once it gets going.
Sergachev, as I’ve written recently, will be an interesting one to watch. He could go right to the wire. I think the game plan for agent Mark Gandler is to let the season play out and then wait until then to get talks started. The “Tampa way” might get tested on this one.
It’s believed the Habs had a preliminary chat already with Mete’s agent Darren Ferris on the eve of camp. I don’t think there’s any hurry there and Ferris’ normal game plan as we saw with Marner is to let the final year of the entry-level contract play out.
There haven’t been any real talks yet between the Blackhawks and Strome’s camp led by agent Mark Guy but I think you’ll see Bowman turn his attention there at some point during the season now that DeBrincat is signed.
Dunn had 12 goals last season for the Cup champion Blues. Pretty impressive for a second-year blueliner. At this point, however, no sign that the Blues have talked to his camp about extending early.
“We are not a group that looks to jump the process,” said Blues GM Doug Armstrong said via text message Thursday. “Our group is built around vets so no need to put pressure on young players.”
Not to mention there’s that little matter of captain Alex Pietrangelo and his pending UFA status ahead of July 1. That is obviously priority No. 1. Pending UFA forward Brayden Schenn is another key negotiation which is already underway.
DeBrusk will have to wait as well, it appears. His agent Rick Valette says he hasn’t yet spoken with the Bruins about an extension for young Jake. The priority for the Bruins, presumably, is figuring out pending UFA blueliner Torey Krug.