NHL camps open­ing with long list of free agents

The Prince George Citizen - - Sports - Stephen WHYNO

P.K. Sub­ban doesn’t want to give ad­vice to all the un­signed young play­ers around the NHL. He just vividly re­mem­bers his own ex­pe­ri­ence as a re­stricted free agent.

Be­fore he signed a short, so-called “bridge” con­tract, he took some moth­erly ad­vice.

“My mom picked up the phone and called me and said: ‘P.K., lis­ten, you’re young still. You have lots of time. If you’re ready to go and play, go play,”’ Sub­ban re­called. “And I went and played and won the Norris Tro­phy.”

Al­most a dozen prom­i­nent re­stricted free agents re­main un­signed on the eve of train­ing camps around the league, and sev­eral sit­u­a­tions threaten to linger into the sea­son, like Sub­ban in 2013 and Toronto’s Wil­liam Ny­lan­der a year ago.

Maple Leafs team­mate Mitch Marner, Tampa Bay’s Bray­den Point, Philadel­phia’s Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny, Colorado’s Mikko Ran­ta­nen, Bos­ton’s Char­lie McAvoy and Bran­don Carlo, and Win­nipeg’s Pa­trik Laine and Kyle Con­nor could all be con­spic­u­ously ab­sent when camps open this week.

“Ev­ery­body’s wait­ing on some­body to make a move,” Toronto cen­tre Aus­ton Matthews said. “I’m sur­prised there’s lots of guys. It’s not just (Marner). You’ve got a lot of re­ally good play­ers that aren’t signed yet. I guess ev­ery­body’s just kind of play­ing the wait­ing game.”

Domi­noes could start to fall after Colum­bus signed re­stricted free agent de­fence­man Zach Weren­ski to a $15 mil­lion, three-year deal and New Jer­sey gave for­ward Pavel Zacha $6.75 mil­lion over three years . The salary cap is a con­cern: Toronto will have to use long-term in­jury al­lowance to get Marner un­der con­tract, Tampa Bay has less than $9 mil­lion in cap space for Point, Bos­ton is roughly $7 mil­lion un­der with McAvoy and Carlo un­signed, and Win­nipeg has $15 mil­lion for both Laine and Con­nor.

“Ev­ery­body’s got room to do what they need to do,” NHL Com­mis­sioner Gary Bettman said. “You’re not look­ing at sit­u­a­tions where the re­stricted free agents haven’t been made sub­stan­tial of­fers. It’s they and their agents want more. I re­spect that.”

NHLPA ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Don Fehr said he would like all those play­ers to have the con­tracts they want but ac­knowl­edged, “That’s not prob­a­bly the world we live in.” The on­go­ing con­tract stale­mates have sparked plenty of ques­tions about the lack of rights for re­stricted free agents and the trend to­ward younger play­ers want­ing to cash in on their sec­ond con­tracts.

“The team has you in a cer­tain sit­u­a­tion where you have no rights, so you don’t have much of a say,” Bos­ton de­fence­man Torey Krug said. “That’s how it’s set up. Those guys will make their big bucks later on or what­ever. It’s just how it works.”

Krug said, “If you just look at the star power, it’s po­ten­tially dam­ag­ing to some teams” if they can’t get their re­stricted free agents signed in time for the start of the sea­son. Ny­lan­der missed the first two months last sea­son when con­tract talks were at an im­passe. Things could also drag out with Marner and oth­ers.

“Ev­ery player just wants a deal that they think that they de­serve,” Ny­lan­der said. “There’s al­ways go­ing back and forth, and some­times there’s no talk­ing at all . ... It’s al­ways a tough process. In the end it’ll work out for both sides.”

It didn’t work out be­tween Ed­mon­ton and re­stricted free agent for­ward Jesse Pulju­järvi, who took his ta­lents back to Fin­land for the sea­son. Zacha was in talks to play in the KHL be­fore sign­ing with the Devils on Tues­day.

The over­seas route is far more com­mon for Euro­pean play­ers but is of­ten con­sid­ered a last re­sort. If Laine plays any­where but Win­nipeg or Con­nor stays home, it af­fects ev­ery­thing for the Jets.

“Ev­ery­one wants them back,” for­ward Niko­laj Eh­lers said. “If we don’t have those two guys for the whole sea­son, which I don’t think is go­ing to hap­pen, then it does change our team a lit­tle bit be­cause then we’ve lost a lot of play­ers. As of right now, I ob­vi­ously see them com­ing back, hope­fully com­ing to camp, but com­ing back to our team and then it’s look­ing good.”

The Bru­ins without McAvoy and Carlo and the Fly­ers without Provorov and Konecny are in a sim­i­lar spot. Bos­ton could be without half of its top four on de­fence.

“It doesn’t bother us,” goal­tender Tuukka Rask said. “I think it’s more for the gen­eral man­agers and coaches that you don’t know what’s go­ing to hap­pen.”

Based on his own ex­pe­ri­ence, Krug said, he thinks it can be a dis­trac­tion not to have key play­ers in camp. He also be­lieves what play­ers are do­ing in their down­time mat­ters.

“Are they still train­ing, or are they sit­ting there pout­ing and won­der­ing, ‘When am I go­ing to sign and when do I ac­tu­ally have to get se­ri­ous and ramp things up?”’ he said.

“It’s a dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stance for all play­ers. (But) once you show up, the con­tract’s over with and you just start play­ing.”

When­ever that hap­pens to be.


Toronto Maple Leafs cen­ter Mitch Marner cel­e­brates his goal against the New York Is­lan­ders dur­ing a game in Toronto in 2018. Marner is one of sev­eral high-pro­file un­signed free agents in the NHL as teams be­gin their train­ing camps.




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