Ryan Johansen. (Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
There's little progress to report on contract talks involving several restricted free agents, including Ryan Johansen, Darcy Kuemper, Nino Niederreiter, Jaden Schwartz, Devante Smith-Pelly, Torey Krug and Reilly Smith. is there a chance any of them isn't back on the ice by season's start?
The start of NHL training camp, on Sept. 18, is less than two weeks away, but there's little progress to report on contract talks involving several restricted free agents. Among the unsigned notables are Columbus' Ryan Johansen, Minnesota's Darcy Kuemper and Nino Niederreiter, St. Louis' Jaden Schwartz, Anaheim's Devante Smith-Pelly and Boston's Torey Krug and Reilly Smith.
ESPN's Pierre LeBrun cites two sources who claim there's been no dialogue between the Johansen camp and the Blue Jackets for some time. The two sides are reportedly $3 million apart per season on a two-year deal.
Johansen could receive an offer sheet from a rival club, but Blue Jackets management insisted earlier this summer they would match any offer. The Columbus Dispatch's Aaron Portzline claims trading Johansen isn't a consideration.
Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher tells the Minneapolis Star-Tribune's Michael Russo talks are ongoing with Kuemper and Niederreiter, but he gave no indication they're closer to a deal. Fletcher reportedly remains unconcerned, largely because he's got depth in goal and at forward to offset potential absences by Kuemper and Niederreiter if they're still unsigned when training camp opens.
Fletcher feels he must carefully handle re-signing Niederreiter, as it could affect his efforts to re-sign potential RFA forwards Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula and Charlie Coyle. A healthy Josh Harding (recovering from multiple sclerosis) and Niklas Backstrom (abdominal surgery) hampers Kuemper’s limited leverage.
Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports a wide gulf exists between the Blues and forward Jaden Schwartz, though contract talks apparently remain cordial. Rutherford observes the Blues have about $2.7 million in cap space, which GM Doug Armstrong considers sufficient to re-sign Schwartz without having to shed some salary via trade.
A lack of cap space is hampering the Bruins' efforts to re-sign Krug and Smith. Currently above the salary cap by just more than $800,000, the Bruins will get cap relief by placing concussed center Marc Savard ($4 million) on long-term injured reserve. Still, that won't provide the Bruins with sufficient room to re-sign the duo and still leave cap space for other moves later in the season.
The Boston Herald's Steve Conroy speculates the Bruins could make a salary-dumping deal to make room for Krug and Smith. He suggests center Chris Kelly ($3-million cap hit) and defenseman Adam McQuaid ($1.6 million) as possible trade candidates. Both, however, are coming off recent injuries. Kelly also has a modified no-trade clause, where he lists eight clubs to which he would accept as trade destinations.
Sports Illustrated’s Allan Muir reports there's nothing but silence thus far regarding Smith-Pelly's negotiations with the Ducks. He considers it good news, suggesting the young winger could be re-signed in time for training camp.
Muir also notes restricted free agents like Johansen and Kuemper (coming off entry-level deals with no arbitration rights) have limited leverage other than staging a not signing. He believes such a strategy has little effectiveness, pointing out teams often “muddle through” without critical players. Muir cites how the Tampa Bay Lightning still made the playoffs last season despite the lengthy absence of superstar Steven Stamkos to a broken leg.
Long contract disputes are rarities in the NHL's salary-cap world, largely because if an RFA hasn't re-signed by Dec. 1 he's ineligible to play in the NHL for the remainder of the season. A pair of noteworthy recent disputes between teams and superstars is Los Angeles' and Drew Doughty and Montreal and P.K. Subban. They ended with Doughty re-signing before the start of the 2011-12 regular season, while Subban's ended two weeks into the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign.
The longest contract standoff in recent years involved Kyle Turris, who held out until late-November in 2011 before signing a two-year deal with the Phoenix Coyotes. Several weeks later, the Coyotes dealt him to the Ottawa Senators.
One of the current unsigned RFAs could stage a lengthy standoff, but it won't do them much good, especially if their team plays well in their absence. Expect most, if not all, of these players to be under contract before the season begins in October.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly 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 The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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