Last week, I looked at the Avs' pending UFAs (namely, Shane O'Brien and Jay McClement). Today, I take on a slightly larger task, as I examine the upcoming RFAs for the Avalanche. There are 9 and I don't believe all are a lock to return with the Avs next year. Read on, and see how this breaks down.
Any player without a contract who won't be at least 27 or have 7 NHL seasons accrued on July 1st is considered a restricted free agent. NHL GMs - Dale Tallon included - have until Monday, June 25th to make a qualifying offer to that player (ranging between 100 and 110% of last year's salary). Players receiving a QO can still theoretically sign with another NHL club, but the original team has the right to match and will receive a bunch of draft picks if they decide not to match. As a general rule, though, NHL clubs rarely try to sign other teams' RFAs. Players who don't receive a QO become unrestricted free agents.
First, here are the 9 RFAs the Avalanche have (technically, Zach Cohen, Jonas Holos, Trevor Cann and Jake Newton are RFAs as well, but clubs usually don't tender minor leaguers and I don't expect any exceptions for these four). As AD has pointed out, the Avs aren't really in big danger of being poached here. It's really more a matter of which players they want to keep...and at what price.
Matt Duchene. Duchene has 4 more years before he becomes a free agent. There is no doubt that he will be back with the Avs next year, the only question is how much. At this point in his career, he has somewhat similar career numbers to James Neal, John Tavares and Bobby Ryan, although he is a shade behind in part due to the injury trouble last year. Each of those players are making between $5 million and $5.5 million that also cover a couple of UFA years. Based on those numbers, you'd probably place Duchene more like the $4.5 million range...if he and the Avs were willing to go long-term. The Avalanche don't usually do long-term deals and Duchene might feel he'd be better of signing a shorter deal and then hope for a couple of big seasons before cashing in. I think these would be very interesting negotiations. (side note: Duchene's agent is Pat Brisson. Brisson is also Tavares' agent)
Ryan O'Reilly. Radar is a tough to monetize because his offensive numbers in his first two years were fairly poor. In his first three years, the closest player I could find statistically to O'Reilly was Andrew Cogliano, a good player with nowhere near the intangibles that O'Reilly has shown. Cogliano is currently making $2.4 million in a deal that will eat up one of his UFA-eligible years. I think O'Reilly cashes in nicely on his 55-point season and could be looking at the $3-$3.5 million range.
Erik Johnson. The 3rd no-brainer-he'll-be-back player is Erik Johnson (another Brisson client). I've used Tyler Myers before as a barometer for EJ, but Myer's $5.5 million cap hit is, well, a bit fucking ridiculous. This is another negotiation that might be very interesting, perhaps even difficult. Johnson clearly has talent, but has under-performed a bit on the ice. I'm guessing $3-$3.5, probably on a shorter deal. Johnson is also eligible for arbitration (Duchene and O'Reilly are a year away from that) and might be the best candidate to do so.
Peter Mueller. Mueller now has 250 NHL games under his belt, and is pretty much a 1/2 a point per game person. That's not terrible, but it also means the player we saw last year (16 points in 32 games) is closer to the real Peter Mueller than the 20 points in 15 games Mueller before he was Blakeinated. David Jones just got $4 million a year for being a .5 ppg player. But he's UFA eligible. Mueller will probably have to stick with something near his $2.5 QO...unless the Avs decide his concussion worries are not worth the risk.
Steve Downie. Downie is two years away from becoming a UFA. I'm guessing he signs a 2-year deal to get him to unrestricted status, at something around the $2-$2.5 million range. Another arbitration possibility...
Ryan Wilson. Could the Avalanche have signed Matt Hunwick just to limit Ryan Wilson's bargaining power a bit? Maybe not on purpose, but the number of defensemen under contract does give the Avs a bit of leverage over Wilson, who has 2 more years before hitting unrestricted free agency. 2 years, $1.75 each? Sound right?
Jamie McGinn. McGinn appears to be a player on the upside of his development, and, without a ton of leverage, is probably looking for (and at) a shorter deal here. I'm thinking he signs for a couple years at $1.5 million or so.
Mark Olver. Olver might be a numbers casualty, but I suspect he will be back on another modest deal. But it wouldn't be a huge shock to me if he wasn't qualified.
Kevin Porter. I don't think he'll be qualified, and I don't think he'll be back. Just too many other players already under contract.
So, the predictions are in. The question is less a matter of "who" but more a matter of "how much". I know there's talk of Parise and Suter among the visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads, but it may just be that these moves are the ones that will shape the Avs over the next couple of years. For better or for worse.