High-profile RFAs still waiting for deals
Pierre LeBrun from the Canadian Press has a good runthrough today of the factors involved in Nikolai Zherdev's threat to stay in Russia, but one of the more interesting bits in the article is how many big-name restricted free agents are still unsigned, three weeks away from training camps:
Zherdev is among a number of high-profile restricted free agents that remain without new deals, joining the likes of Joffrey Lupul in Edmonton, Ilja Bryzgalov in Anaheim, Kari Lehtonen in Atlanta, Patrice Bergeron in Boston, Ryan Miller in Buffalo, Tuomo Ruutu in Chicago, Marek Svatos in Colorado, Dan Hamhuis in Nashville, Brian Gionta in New Jersey, Rick DiPietro on Long Island and Simon Gagne in Philadelphia.In at least one case — Gionta — the reason he hasn't inked a contract is that doing so would put the Devils over the allowable cap limit. (Teams are permitted to, prior to the season, go over the $44-million cap by 10 per cent to a maximum of $48-million. With nearly $47-million already dedicated to contracts, New Jersey can't sign Gionta, Paul Martin or David Hale to deals worth more than a total of $1-million without shedding some payroll).
In other cases, however, teams have already blown much of their budget on other signings, and while not pushed up against the cap, are unwilling to budge on their alotted figures. Colorado, in particular, has little room underneath the cap ($3.5-million) due to two $2.28-million bonuses they're paying to two players — one of whom is not even on the roster (Rob Blake). Given Svatos's breakout 32-goal season last year, he could command much of the team's remaining budget and eliminate any breathing room GM Francois Giguere has.
There's a similar situation in Buffalo, where Miller's breakout year could see him signing for around $3-million. With only $4.4-million available to spend and Dmitri Kalinin yet to sign, GM Darcy Regier will also have some tough decisions.
Even in Chicago, where management has become known for its tight-fisted ways, they have less than $4-million available to spend with Ruutu left to sign.
The list goes on and on.
The curious thing is, despite the fact the NHL's salary cap went up $5-million this season, more teams than last year will be pushed right up against the limit. The end result, I imagine, is going to see a few of these RFAs in a pinch to re-sign with their clubs.
In the new NHL, it would seem, signing a contract early is a good way to ensure you're accounted for early. Otherwise, you could be fighting for whatever's left over — which isn't a good proposition for anyone but the elite calibre players.
Don't be surprised if there are more than a few holdouts on the way.