The RFA market has been rather quiet this week, but things are about to heat up. With the deadline drawing near, here are five of the top candidates that could hit arbitration this summer.
Jacob Trouba and Jordan Binnington|Scott Rovak/NHLI via Getty Images
It’s been an extremely quiet time on the RFA front. Mitch Marner, Brayden Point, Mikko Rantanen and Patrik Laine, among others, have yet to sign, with Sebastian Aho and Timo Meier being the only top options inking deals in the first four days of free agency.
With signings being rather rare since the initial contract explosion on Monday, fans are still eager to see what’s next. With the July 5 player-elected arbitration deadline getting closer, we may finally start to see action heat up again.
On Friday, we’ll know who will attempt to take their teams to arbitration. Of course, players can sign deals beforehand – only four of last year’s 44 filings actually went to arbitration – but having a deadline in place can add some clarity to a contract situation. Those that do end up going to arbitration will have hearings in late July and early August, with most deals getting finalized before the case is heard. Players can’t receive less than 85 percent of their previous salary, and in a world where RFAs have very little bargaining power, this is a way of getting exactly what they want.
Jacob Trouba is the most notable option this summer. The Winnipeg Jets couldn’t come to terms with Trouba and sent him to the New York Rangers prior to the NHL draft. Trouba had a fantastic season in Winnipeg, with his 50 points getting paired with great possession numbers and as a top-pairing right-handed blueliner. The Rangers have around $8 million in space still available and Trouba will take up a big portion of that. But you have to feel like the Rangers will try their best to avoid the hearing and sign him long term, making him a focal part of the team’s rebuild going forward.
With the deadline drawing near, here are five of the top candidates that could hit arbitration this summer:
Jordan Binnington, G, 25 (St. Louis – 2018-19 cap hit: $650,000)
Binnington’s contract situation has been covered at length, This time last year, Binnington was just about to sign a two-way deal worth the league minimum of $650,000. Heck, Binnington wasn’t even the clear guy in the AHL with San Antonio. Eleven months later, Binnington is a Stanley Cup champion after launching the Blues on an unprecedented rise to a playoff spot despite starting 2019 in last place. But at 26, Binnington only has one solid year to his credit. If Binnington indeed goes to arbitration, you can bet your life savings that the Blues will use that against him, noting that there’s no guarantee he’ll be good in the long run. That’s why both sides should look toward a short-term contract at $4-5 million before it gets to arbitration and use it to gauge just how good he truly can be before paying him the big bucks.
Joel Edmundson, D, 26 (St. Louis – 2018-19 cap hit: $3 million)
Edmundson is an interesting case. In some situations, he was playing top-line minutes on the left side, and his physical, stay-at-home style makes him an attractive option with a skilled defender like Alex Pietrangelo at his side. But a rough playoff run resulted in Edmundson being a healthy scratch on multiple occasions en route to the Blues’ first Stanley Cup. The Blues are strong on the left side and could use him as a trade piece in the future, but Edmundson is a good shutdown option, and the team is looking at the real possibility of giving him a $4.5-million deal this summer.
David Rittich, G, 26 (Calgary – 2018-19 cap hit: $800,000)
Calgary’s goaltending situation was uncertain for much of the year, but Rittich emerged as someone that should contend for 50 to 55 starts this season. All signs point toward the Flames making him the long-term guy, but if he goes to arbitration and signs the one-year arbitration award, Rittich would become a UFA next summer with the power to sign anywhere. The Flames will want to avoid that and will look to sign him in the $3-4-million range before arbitration hits.
Joel Armia, RW, 26 (Montreal – 2018-19 cap hit: $1.85 million)
Armia was a key part of a salary dump by Winnipeg last summer, and he adjusted well to life in Quebec. Armia set a career-high of 13 goals, and his 0.4 points-per-game was the best mark of his career. At 26, Armia isn’t likely to see a huge improvement in his game, but he’s a good utility winger. He can play a strong third-line role with Jesperi Kotkaniemi and, if healthy, hit the 20-goal mark this season, something Armia was on pace to do had he not suffered a knee injury early in the season. Given his injury, the Canadiens should be able to get him for $2 million on his next deal.
Ryan Donato, C/RW, 23 (Minnesota – 2018-19 cap hit: $900,000)
Donato had an offensive explosion in Minnesota, posting 16 points in 22 games to finish off the season after a rough outing in Boston. But here’s the thing: he never found his mojo with the Bruins and was sent down to the AHL before eventually getting traded to the Wild. Given his so-so rookie season, what is his true value heading into arbitration? Despite his scoring prowess prior to the NHL – his 60 goals over three years ranking second among NCAA players during his stint in college – his time with Providence could hurt his contract negotiations. Still, getting him at $2-3 million would provide good value for Minnesota.
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