P.K. Subban still has a contract to work out with the Canadiens before the shortened NHL season begins. (Getty Images)
With the new NHL collective bargaining agreement soon to be ratified, several NHL teams will be scrambling to re-sign their key restricted free agents before the start of the shortened season.
Topping the list is Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban, perhaps the only NHL player during the lockout who, thanks to his television appearances, raised his visibility level without playing a meaningful game.
The personable Subban may have a future in television, but his current career is as the Canadiens best defenseman and Habs fans hope the club wastes little time getting the popular 23-year-old under contract.
Subban is coming off his entry-level contract and prior to the lockout he and GM Marc Bergevin were reportedly close to a three-year, $12 million deal.
The Canadiens payroll for 2013-14 is currently a little more than $60.16 million invested in 16 players and Subban's raise could push them over the $64.3 million cap for next season.
It's believed, however, Bergevin will use amnesty buyouts in the off-season to remove center Scott Gomez ($7.357 million cap hit for next season) and right winger Rene Bourque ($3.33 million per season) from the payroll to free up space for other players.
• I read in the Montreal Gazette that Tomas Kaberle was being seriously considered for a buyout as well. Whether you choose to include him is your choice.
• Another notable RFA is Dallas Stars left winger Jamie Benn, who spent two months playing for Germany's Hamburg Freezers during the lockout. Benn, 23, is also coming off an entry level contract and is in line for a significant raise.
• Benn and Stars management kept his contract negotiations low-key throughout last summer. It's believed the Stars hoped to re-sign him to a short-term, affordable “bridge” contract, taking him up to his UFA eligibility date before inking him to a more lucrative, long-term deal.
However, the Edmonton Oilers’ signings last summer of right winger Jordan Eberle and left winger Taylor Hall to expensive ($6 million per season), long-term contracts could drive up Benn's asking price, as his agent could argue he's comparable to those two.
Given Benn’s value to the rebuilding Stars as a potential franchise player, it'll be interesting to see what arrangement the two sides eventually reach.
• The Colorado Avalanche, meanwhile, will have to reach an agreement soon with promising center Ryan O'Reilly, who is also coming off an entry level deal and is considered by some observers to be a future Selke trophy candidate.
With a payroll of slightly more than $54 million, cap space won't be an issue in re-signing O'Reilly, but the Avs have eschewed big-money contracts in recent years. The fact he was still unsigned when the lockout began had one Denver pundit concerned over O’Reilly’s long-term future with the club.
• Three other notable RFA defensemen are Michael Del Zotto of the NY Rangers, Dmitry Kulikov of the Florida Panthers and Cody Franson of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Kulikov's and Franson's contract talks aren't expected to be difficult, but that might not be the case between Del Zotto and the Rangers. Back in September, GM Glen Sather appeared to take a hardline stance toward the 22-year-old's contract talks, expressing the hope Del Zotto would “come to his senses.”
Though these teams are expected to move quickly toward re-signing those players, it's possible one or more could see their talks bog down. Much will depend upon how the new CBA affects payrolls going forward, and of course the willingness of those players to quickly return to action.
The threat of an offer sheet also exists, though given the brief time frame until the start of the shortened season next week that might not be feasible for rival clubs.
Holding out is an option for those players, but given how rarely that tactic was employed during the previous CBA by other RFAs, that's unlikely to occur among this group.
• As for unrestricted free agents, the pickings are thin, but a few quality veterans remain who could prove helpful for clubs seeking short-term depth for a shortened season.
Notable centers include Jason Arnott, Daymond Langkow and Dominic Moore, while available wingers include Petr Sykora, Brian Rolston, Mike Knuble, Jason Blake and Andrei Kostitsyn. Rumors even have Alexei Kovalev in the mix.
Blueliners such as Kurtis Foster, Brett Clark, Jim Vandermeer and Chris Campoli are still obtainable, while Ty Conklin and Dan Ellis are the best of the remaining goalies.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and Kukla's Korner.
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