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Why those Big Six RFAs wait

August 28, 2011

Luke Schenn waits.

It’s now August 28th, and training camps commence in a just a few weeks’ team. Across the NHL there are players, good players, that remain unsigned. The only unifying characteristic is that they are all restricted free agents. And that they are all considered integral in some way to the future of their franchises. They were all drafted between 2006 and 2008, and consequently, are hitting their second pro contracts at the same time. None were arbitration eligible, under the CBA. None have received offer sheets, either. They are stuck. If they remain unsigned after Labor Day, questions of sitting out camp and even the preseason and beginning of the year will ratchet up. But is that all they have in common?

So, what gives? Let’s have a look at the list.

Brad Marchand. Bruins pest and all-around clutch scorer Marchand’s contract has hit a rut and “nothing is imminent” according to agent Wade Arnott. As I’ve noted earlier, there may be a large enough rift in money and term between Chiarelli and Marchand and Arnott that things can’t be ironed out quickly. I suspect the delay is a function of the Cup (and Marchand has yet to have his date with it) too. My bet is he remains a Bruin, but the contract doesn’t look forthcoming.

Luke Schenn. What kind of spasms the Toronto market is in regarding Schenn I don’t know. But he is a key piece of the Leafs’ defense. Perhaps he was rushed along in his development, shouldn’t have started when he did. But he is an NHLer now. Brian Burke’s magic will happen, and Schenn wants to remain with the team. Like Marchand, it seems a matter of time.

Drew Doughty. GM Lombardi and Doughty and his agent are at a standstill. The biggest RFA after Stamkos, Doughty is great prey for an offer sheet, but no one would dare cross the Kings. His upside is tremendous, his role with the team enormous. He could wind up with a gargantuan contract.

Kyle Turris. Little is being said of the Coyotes center, who showed flashes of brilliance in Phoenix’s miserable defeat at the hands of the Red Wings this past spring. Surely, resigning him under tight cap restrictions isn’t easy, and given his production and progress, it’s hard to know where Turris will go in terms of point production. His most recent season saw him go 11-14-25 across 65 games. He tore the AHL apart at 24-39-63 the year prior. But where will he go next? And is Phoenix’s ownership status a problem? The Yotes need him, even so.

Zach Bogosian. He’s eager to play in Winnipeg, and there won’t be any of the squabbles with coaching staff, as they’re gone and the new regime is in. He’s another player that was perhaps rushed too soon and hasn’t achieved as was expected of him. Winnipeg has dithered in all of its moves since its conception in June. It needs to get this deal signed and sealed sooner rather than later should they want to hold on to any legitimacy.

Josh Bailey. The 9th overall pick from 2008 is still there, surely on Wang and Snow’s radar as the biggest item to get under contract. He and the Islanders’ forward core look to explode this season should they remain healthy. He’s a big part of the team’s youth and future. He’s had middling seasons to date, but he’s important and keeping the crew together must be important to management. Like Phoenix’s ownership, whether the August 1 referendum that failed is affecting the Bailey contract, we don’t know.

And they wait. Upon assessing each players’ situation to the best of my knowledge, it also is clear that the body of work for each player isn’t completely consistent or a reliable indicator of what’s to come, with the possible exceptions of Doughty and Schenn. In terms of the forwards, they’ve had one or two really solid seasons out of three, and have done AHL time. So, it’s rather difficult to pinpoint a good second contract based upon their work, and their lack of comparables. The comparables they have are to each other, and none of them are signed. That creates a natural dilemma–there’s nothing to peg performance to.

Then you have the fact the CBA has in some respects failed them. Actually, not the CBA itself, but its execution. Offer sheets advanced by other teams are rare, and the Hjalmarsson and Penner sheets are some of the more noteworthy, though each had different endings, but both created bad blood. Thing is, the offer sheet is made to act as a valve, and to add a competitive dynamic, and to help players. It’s meant to be used. But that “GM code of conduct” that we keep hearing about prevents any GM in his right mind from putting one forward. Surely, a lot of teams would covet some of these RFAs and be able to offer a healthy paycheck to them. But none will. Because their hands are tied by this code. And hence, it’s August 28th.

Throw in the problems of CBA expiration next year, and you have a bunch of quality RFAs sitting.

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