Valuing Unsigned RFAs in Fantasy Drafts

Updated: September 14, 2019 at 11:04 am by Brock Seguin


Training camps are underway and the 2019-20 NHL season has officially commenced, for some players. 

There are still eight unsigned RFA forwards that had 49 points or more last year and three RFA defensemen that averaged over 19:00 TOI/gm. Mitch Marner and Mikko Rantanen are both first or second-round Fantasy talents but come with inherent risk because we have no idea how long their stalemates are going to last. Brayden Point, Matthew Tkachuk, Brock Boeser, and Patrik Laine could all be selected in the first six rounds if they had contracts. 

It seems like all of these teams are waiting for one player to sign and set the market. With so many high-end RFAs, some of these “holdouts” will inevitably linger into the regular season.

William Nylander is the most recent case, but these RFA contract disputes have happened before. We’ve never seen 10-plus regulars without contracts, but there is a history to look at. I’m going to look at some of the past disputes, how long they lasted, and how players performed that season after signing a contract. After that, we’ll look at all the current unsigned RFA’s cases individually and try to project how long this could go on for and how to value each player on draft day. 

With the unsigned forwards being more high-profile than the defensemen, I focused on forward holdouts only. Some past D standoffs include Drew Doughty (2011), P.K. Subban (2013), Rasmus Ristolainen (2016), Jacob Trouba (2016), and Hampus Lindholm (2016). 


2013: Jamie Benn (missed 5 Regular Season games)

In a normal season, RFAs have until December 1st to sign or they will be forced to miss the entire season. In the lockout-shortened campaign of 2013, that rule was not in effect. Benn ended up signing a five-year deal with a $5.25M AAV on January 24th, 2013. He missed the first four games and then a fifth because of a VISA issue.

Benn went on to score 12 goals and 33 points in 41 games, making it his lowest point-per-game season since his rookie year. Last year was the only season worse since then.

2013: Ryan O’Reilly (missed 19 Regular Season games)

In the same off-season, O’Reilly was also looking for a big raise following a career-high 55 points in 2012. The Avalanche were a team on the come-up with a 20-year-old captain in Gabriel Landeskog, a 22-year-old Matt Duchene, and a 21-year-old Tyson Barrie, and didn’t want to blow big bucks on O’Reilly. 

After the NHL resumed play in mid-January, the standoff lasted over a month into the regular season before an ill-advised offer sheet came in from the Calgary Flames. Colorado ended up matching the two-year, $5.0M AAV contract on February 28th and he was in the lineup for the last two months of the season.  

O’Reilly finished the season with 20 points (6G / 14A) in 29 games, the best point-per-game total of his career to that point. O’Reilly’s price was set by the Flames and it helped him in his next negotiation in the summer of 2014. 

2014: Derek Stepan (signed before the Regular Season)

Stepan made the most of the lockout year, boosting his value by finishing tied for 21st in the NHL in points with 44 (18G / 26A). Looking for a new deal, Stepan missed the majority of the preseason, before finally signing a two-year bridge deal that carried a $3.075M AAV cap-hit one week before the regular season.

Stepan ended up scoring 17 goals with 40 assists (57 points) in 82 games. His point-per-game rate dropped from the year before, but it was the best 82-game season he had to date.

2015: Ryan Johansen (signed before the Regular Season)

Johansen had one of the messiest contract negotiations in recent memory. His first two seasons were sub-par, but he exploded for 33 goals and 30 assists in his contract year, leading to his agent (Kurt Overhardt) and the Blue Jackets being extremely far apart in contract talks. It led to team president John Davidson putting Overhardt on blast in the media. 

“It makes no sense. When you see numbers that are thrown at us, we shouldn’t even respond. That’s how bad it is. It’s embarrassing. And if the kid sits out, he sits out. I wonder if the agent’s going to pay him his money back that he’s going to lose by sitting out. With the numbers they come back with…are so one-sided it’s nonsensical. It’s extortion is what it is.” — John Davidson (To CBS Sports)

The two sides eventually came to terms on a three-year deal worth $4.0M AAV three days before the season. Johansen wasn’t able to get back to 30 goals but set a career-high with 71 points (26G / 45A) in 82 games. 

The relationship was never the same after the contentious negotiations, and Johansen ended up being traded to the Nashville Predators midway through the following season. Columbus may have been onto something though, as Johansen has never returned to 20 goals or 70 points since. Seth Jones, the return for Johansen, has evolved into Columbus’ No.1 defenseman. 

2017: Johnny Gaudreau (signed before the Regular Season) 

Gaudreau was in a situation nearly identical to the one Marner finds himself in now. He was coming off of a season in which he was tied for sixth in the NHL in points. Marner finished 11th last year. Sean Monahan had just signed a seven-year, $6.375M AAV extension. Auston Matthews just signed a five-year, $11.634M extension. Gaudreau had 17 more points than Monahan in the two previous seasons. Marner has 19 more points than Matthews in the last three years. 

The two situations are eerily similar. In Gaudreau’s case, he signed a six-year, $6.75M AVV deal two days before the start of the regular season. He ended having the worst season of his career, posting just 61 points (18G / 43A) in 72 games. It was a one-off though, as he’s since put together 84 and 99-point campaigns. 

2018: Andreas Athanasiou (missed 6 Regular Season games)

Athanasiou’s contract dispute was a little bit different than the rest. The Canadian winger had turned down offers throughout the summer and was looking for a bigger role in the offense more than anything.

The negotiations dragged out into the regular season before they agreed to a one-year, $1.3875M AAV contract on October 23rd, 2017. Athanasiou missed six games but got the role he was looking for. He ended up averaging nearly two more minutes per game but his SH% plummeted and he finished the season with fewer goals than the year before.

2019: William Nylander (missed 28 Regular Season games) 

If you live in Canada you couldn’t avoid this contract dispute last season. Nylander took over our television screens and social media for months before finally signing a deal on the last possible day. Nylander got a six-year extension worth $6.962M AAV on December 1st, 2018 and went on to have a miserable season. Nylander was often reserved to a third-line role, playing less (15:31 ATOI) than he did even in his rookie season. He finished the season with 27 points (7G / 20A) in 54 games and did very little in the same role in the playoffs. Missing training camp and sitting out for two full months obviously hurt Nylander, and he was the first to admit it. 

“I just wish I would have been here from the beginning. I think that was one of the things that I regret. Obviously, I wanted to come back and be the player I know I can be, but I wasn’t able to do that. I couldn’t keep that consistency up throughout the year.” — William Nylander on his 2019 season. (To Toronto Sun) 

It sounds like Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas learned from the situation though, and that has to help Marner’s case for getting back on the ice. 

“Frankly speaking, I think the blame for the situation has to go to me. I don’t think it set William up to have a good season and I accept that.” — Kyle Dubas(To Toronto Sun) 


We can use these seven players as a case study for players who have missed parts of training camp or regular-season games. On average, a player’s points-per-game drops slightly (-0.081) which works out to be about seven points over a full 82-game season. Every situation is different though. Three of the seven players improved after signing while four saw a decrease in production.

Player

Benn

O’Reilly

Stepan Johansen Gaudreau Athanasiou Nylander

Pts/Gm Year Before

0.887

0.679

0.917

0.768

0.987

0.453

0.744

Pts/Gm after Holdout

0.805

0.690

0.695

0.866

0.847

0.465

0.500

Difference (+/-)

-0.082

0.011

-0.222

0.098

-0.140

0.012

-0.244


How did we go from seven forward “holdouts” in seven years to eight in one summer? Earlier in the summer, Timo Meier signed a four-year contract worth $24.0M ($6.0M AAV). However, the structure of the contract is what paved the way for these RFA standoffs. The fourth-year is worth $10.0M and that means he is eligible for a one-year, $10.0M qualifying offer once the deal is up. The deal essentially maximizes his RFA years, allowing him to cash in as he walks toward free agency. 

Current Negotiations

Mikko Rantanen (COL)

Projected Contract: 8-years, $9.932M AAV

Rantanen seems like he is going to miss some games. Rantanen remains in Finland while his agent (Michael Luit) and Joe Sakic try to work out a new deal. However, recent reports suggest that a contract is not “imminent.” 

Rantanen is going a little later than Marner with an ADP of 20.0. If he had a contract, I have Rantanen ranked inside the top-10, but it sounds like his holdout will go into the regular season. Similar to Marner, if we are a week out from the regular season and he still doesn’t have a new deal, there’s no sense in taking the risk when Blake Wheeler and Vladimir Tarasenko are available in the third-round right now. 

Brayden Point (TBL)

Projected Contract: 5-years, $8.096M AAV

Point and the Lightning appear to be far apart in negotiations. Pierre LeBrun reported on Friday that there has been “very little progress” and they are not “remotely close.”

That doesn’t sound like a player who is going to be in the lineup vs. the Panthers on October 3rd.

Point is an extremely interesting player coming into 2020 because there are many factors at play. He is poised for regression after shooting 21.5 percent, scoring 20 fo his 41 goals on the power-play and an 11.1 on-ice SH%. Pile that on top of a contract holdout and it’s very difficult to peg a spot to draft him. His current ADP is 47.8 and I think that’s a good spot for him. With a contract, I have him ranked as the No.28 overall player, so two rounds later with no contract seems reasonable. It’s a little easier to pass on Point than it is Marner or Rantanen. He is a strict centre and there is far, far more depth at that position than right-wing.

Brock Boeser (VAN) 

Projected Contract: 7-years, $6.878M AAV

The Canucks cap situation is tough, especially with Loui Eriksson and Brandon Sutter set to make a combined $10.375M AAV over the next two years and they’re projected to be fourth-line players in 2020. 

Matthew Sekeres of TSN 1040 in Vancouver reported that the Canucks offered Boeser a six-year deal worth $42M ($7.0M AAV) and it was turned down. Reports are that Boeser is looking for a shorter-term deal (4-years) around the same AAV. 

Before training camp started, GM Jim Benning told reporters that they’re just trying to find some “common ground.” 

Boeser’s ADP sits at 71.8, which is exactly where I have him ranked. However, it would be very difficult for me to draft Boeser before a player like Meier, who has the same goal-scoring upside and is being drafted nine spots later. You can also make a case for drafting Evgeni Dadonov and Viktor Arvidsson before Boeser. They both have first-line roles on their team and are ready to go from Day-1. 

Matthew Tkachuk (CGY)

Projected Contract: 6-years, $7.936M AAV

The Flames have a shade over $7.0M in cap-space with Tkachuk and Andrew Mangiapane both without contracts. GM Brad Treliving wouldn’t commit to making any moves to make cap-space and also told reporters that he isn’t waiting for other RFA dominoes to drop before signing Tkachuk.  

Tkachuk is coming off of a 77-point (34G / 43A) season but there should be some concern on the Flames’ side that he’s already hit his ceiling. Tkachuk can negotiate as a near point-per-game player but the truth is that he shot 16.4 percent and had a 10.2 on-ice SH%. Stuck in a role behind Gaudreau limits his ice-time (17:36 ATOI) and that is going to make it difficult to increase his shot volume (207) in 2020. Without increased volume, Tkachuk will likely fall below 30 goals. 

With regression likely coming his way, Tkachuk’s 59.5 ADP might be a bit too high. He’s going ahead of Jonathan Huberdeau and Meier, who I have ranked 32 and 13 spots ahead of him. Filip Forsberg is basically a lock for 30-30 with upside and he’s another player worth consideration over the unsigned Flames winger. 

Patrik Laine (WPG)

Projected Contract: 7-years, $7.074M AAV

Laine picked a bad year to have the worst season of his career, scoring 30 goals with 20 assists (50 points) in 82 games in 2019. Laine is a cautionary tale that it’s hard to rely on a player who is shooting at 18 percent, even if he has an elite shot like Laine. His SH% dropped to 12.2 percent last season and he scored 14 fewer goals. 

A report from David Pagnotta suggests that there’s “nothing really close” on the Laine front. He told TSN 1290 that the reports of a short-term, $5-6M AAV contract were inaccurate. But the belief is that Laine is searching for a “bridge deal.” 

The longer the negotiations drag into the season, the more expensive his cap-hit for this season will get. Timing is more crucial for the Jets than any other team with unsigned RFA’s because they also need to sign Kyle Connor. The Jets have $14.56M in cap space (per PuckPedia.com), so they would both need to sign before the season starts if their cap-hits land around the projected $7M. 

Laine is being picked at the start of the fourth-round (ADP: 42.1), which suggests many are expecting a big bounce back. While that could be the case, he would need to elevate his SH% back above 16 percent to return to 40 goals at his current shot volume (245). A bump in ice-time could help increase that volume but Connor-Mark ScheifeleBlake Wheeler seems to be locked in as their first-line, making a bump in ATOI unlikely. 

Even without a contract, he is being drafted ahead of Jake Guentzel, who scored 40 goals a season ago and plays exclusively with Sidney Crosby. Guentzel is also due for some regression (17.6 SH%) but he too has 35-goal upside in 2020 and will be in the lineup on October 3rd. 

Kyle Connor (WPG)

Projected Contract: 6-years, $6.815M AAV

Winnipeg might want to get Connor signed as quickly as possible. Firstly because of the cap situation, I just laid out. Secondly, because there are reportedly three teams exploring an offer sheet for him. 

Elliotte Friedman reported that the Connor camp is looking for a long-term contract. Connor has scored 30-plus goals in back-to-back seasons while shooting 15.5 percent. For him, it makes sense to want to cash in on those seasons, given the likelihood of his SH% dropping (like Laine’s did in 2019). 

From a fantasy perspective, he’s the one unsigned RFA, that doesn’t come with inherent risk as his current ADP. At 105.5, Connor has tremendous value. He plays almost exclusively with Scheifele and Wheeler and that allows him the opportunity to maintain his 30-goal, 60-point pace. 

Travis Konecny (PHI)

Projected Contract: 2-years, $3.317M AAV

After signing Ivan Provorov, the Flyers have $7.3M in cap-space (per PuckPedia.com) and that gives them plenty of room to signed Konecny. Even without the cap crunch that the other teams are facing, it doesn’t sound like the Flyers and Konecny are close. 

Despite averaging just 15:16 last year and a shade under 15:00 in 2018, Konecny is tied for 33rd in the NHL in even-strength goal-scoring (43) over the last two seasons. 

He is currently being drafted around the 14th round, so there’s no reason not to take a chance on him in the late rounds. An increase in ice-time is all Konecny needs to become a 30-goal scorer in 2020. 

Signed

Mitch Marner (TOR)

Hours after posting this, the Maple Leafs and Marner agreed to a six-year contract with a $10.893M AAV cap-hit. 

Marner’s current ADP is 15.2, which is right in-line with where he should be going. He’s the fourth right-winger off of the board, behind Nikita Kucherov, Patrick Kane and David Pastrnak. If Rantanen gets signed before the season, I would bump him back above Marner, but Marner is a great second-round pick now that we know he’ll be there on October 2nd. 



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