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Doerrie: Why the High Profile RFAs Probably Won’t Sign Until September

‘Tis the dogs days of summer ladies and gentlemen, and let’s face it, if someone even mentions Mitch Marner (or his dog), someone else will tweet about it.

This is something I find incredibly frustrating. Some random dude thinks he hears something, tweets it out, and then everyone jumps on it. In fact, an acquaintance of mine texted me to tell me Marner might sign in Switzerland. Okay, I’m sure that a guy who wants $10 million a year in his hometown, is absolutely going to sign in Europe for less than a quarter of that. Are you kidding? I can’t believe people fall for this stuff. It’s so illogical.

The reality is, Mitch Marner, along with the other high profile RFAs, probably won’t sign until the 2nd or 3rd week of September, at the earliest. Yet, I don’t see any news outlets in Boston, Colorado, Winnipeg, Calgary or Philadelphia falling over themselves every other day to tweet about McAvoy, Rantanen, Connor/Laine, Tkachuk or Provorov.

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The harsh reality of this is, unless a deal gets done the first week to ten days of July, then it probably isn’t getting done until the season is just around the corner.

This isn’t a rarity. The only reason this is getting so much attention is that we’re looking at an unprecedented crop of RFAs. Leaf fans, I get that you think Marner is elite, and he is. But he’s not the only elite player. This is an RFA crop that includes the names I mentioned earlier, and the likes of Brayden Point, Brock Boeser, Zach Werenski, Travis Konecny, and Kevin Fiala.

Here’s another harsh reality: wingers are the easiest to find, whereas elite defensemen and centres are much harder to come by.

The past year, we’ve seen a huge shift in how young RFA stars get paid. Agents and teams groaned at Leon Draisaitl’s contract originally, but I’m betting a ton of teams wish that their young core would take that 8-year term as Draisaitl, John Gibson, and Eichel did.

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The past year, likely due to Auston Matthews, we have seen RFAs take shorter term on their second contract so they can cash in as a UFA, again. John Tavares signed his second deal, which ended up being a steal, and that allowed him to sign a lucrative contract as a UFA. We are seeing RFAs go that route with the term, but now, RFAs want the big bucks on their second deal, too. Players like Matthews, Aho and Binnington all took shorter-term deals and will have a second chance to cash in while in their prime. It’s shrewd business by the players and their agents, as its been proven year after year that young players earn their money, and older players are becoming less significant.

I don’t know how Colorado got Sam Girard to sign the contract he did, but that’s some tidy business by Sakic.

Matthews set the new precedent with his extension in February. Aho followed suit. Unless a team overpays, it is likely that most of the players mentioned above sign between 4 and 6 years, too. For the first time, teams are being put in a bind because RFAs are demanding what they deserve. Teams are forced to pay their young stars more, on a shorter-term, as opposed to having them over-perform on a long-term extension. ‘

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Gone are the days of the old guys who “earned it for 10 years” and getting massive contracts as rewards. With the cap, that’s no longer possible. Similar to basketball, I think there will come a day where older guys sign for a “veteran minimum” because they will be past their prime, and the smart teams won’t allocate significant resources to them.

This leads us to the current contract standoffs.

Book it: Brayden Point will sign for way less than he’s worth, tax-free or not. People are going to get angry on Twitter about it, and agents will groan because teams will use that as a comparable. He’s the best RFA of a really talented crop, ergo, he should get the most. But, he won’t. I’d put money down that the day he signs, Marner’s agent comes out and says something within 24 hours.

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Aho is already signed, for what I think is a good contract. That leaves Marner and Rantanen, both wingers, and both less valuable to their team than Aho. Why? Aho is a centre, and also has significantly less support than either of them. The Canes couldn’t withstand the loss of Aho, whereas, the Leafs are far more equipped to go without Marner.

It’s a small margin, but it’s a margin nonetheless.

Rantanen’s numbers without MacKinnon are a bit concerning for me, so I’d be hesitant to hand out a big dollar figure to someone who hasn’t proven they can drive their own line. I would think that’s the likely holdup in Colorado. The Avs are rightly hesitant to pay their young winger after this season because his play wasn’t nearly the same level without MacKinnon. Rantanen would argue he produced and therefore, should be paid. There’s been enough written about Mitch Marner, and I will not pile on. All I’ll say is, I’d be pleasantly surprised if either were in training camp on time, especially Marner.

Here’s the thing: if the agents and teams are far apart on term AND dollar in the lead up to July/through July 10, there’s not a ton of talking to do. They don’t fully stop talking, but they aren’t calling each other every day trying to get something done. There isn’t the same pressure to get it done in the summer as there is in September. It’s not negligence, it’s just the reality.

Believe or not, Kyle Dubas doesn’t spend every waking moment talking to Marner’s agent. And Darren Ferris, well, he represents Taylor Hall, Sam Bennett, Brenden Perlini and others, so he doesn’t have time to call Dubas 27 times a day either.

As for Matthew Tkachuk and Brock Boeser, those probably get done the first two weeks of September. Again, both sides like their cities, there seems to be an appetite for a deal, so when everyone returns from summer hours (which definitely happens), a deal will probably come together.

I think the funniest part about this is that the fans and Twitter people spend way more time stressing and thinking about the contracts than the actual players do. They carry on with their summer training and if something comes together in August, so be it. Otherwise, come September, the agents will be hearing a lot more about getting a contract done, as will the teams, and that’s when negotiation picks up. Agents will threaten Europe, and trust me, the odds of their client going to play for less than a quarter of what they’re asking are so laughable. It would literally make no sense. You hold out for 10.5 million, instead of taking 9.7, by going to play for less than a million dollars in Europe…or for paychecks that may never come in Russia. Got it.

Sam Bennett, Josh Anderson and Andreas Athanasiou “threatened” to go, and to absolutely no one’s surprise, they never did. Until this actually happens, I would put less than zero stock in it. There is a difference between practising with a team and signing with them. Someone may practice overseas, but no one is playing.

The defensemen are a whole different animal, mainly because when you have the talent of a Werenski, McAvoy, or Provorov without a precedent like forwards have with Matthews, it’s a tougher negotiation.

Teams will be very hesitant to set a contract precedent on the backend because they see the conundrum it has caused with talented forwards. More than one of these guys probably signs a deal of 6 years or longer. Again, and even more so with these guys, contracts won’t come together until September when everyone is back in the office, there’s pressure from the coaches to get the player into camp, and the player wants to get paid.

If you take anything from this article, take this: a lot of agents and hockey men spend their summers in Cape Cod or Florida or wherever isn’t their office. They’re not constantly waiting by their phones, so there just isn’t as much communication. Anyone who tells you anything different is either lying or overworking their employees.

There is hardly anything of substance that goes on from July 15th – August 31st, unless you count the NCAA UFA deadline. The season is a massive grind and people need to reset. If a phone call on August 7th happens to have the magic potion to get a deal done quick, then it would happen. But that’s exceptionally rare. So, when everyone comes back to the office and gets into the full swing of things, contracts tend to get hammered out in a matter of a few days, sometimes hours.

Both sides realized what was truly important while not talking every day, and that’s why you see so many contracts signed in September.

I’ll say this, I think more than four of these RFAs miss the first day of training camp and I think at least two, miss regular-season games. I think ZERO of them go overseas unless they want to set a new precedent.

Considering Minnesota didn’t have a GM until this past week, it’s kinda tough to sign Fiala. I think Laine probably signs a short-term “prove it” contract. A bunch of these contracts will come together in a matter of 2-3 days in September, and all the fans’ worry will be for not.

The tougher contracts, well, there will be holdouts. It’s bad for the player, look how much it threw off Nylander last season, and realistically, the team wants the opening night lineup to be their best. No matter what, be careful of the “rumours” you hear throughout the summer. Odds are, they don’t have any tangible merit, and everything will be fine when the leaves change colour.

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