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Deadline Looms for Restricted Free Agents

Deadline Looms for Restricted Free Agents
Martin Jones stance

Martin Jones was the only restricted free agent goaltender that the Los Angeles Kings had to worry about, but he has since been traded twice, and signed a new deal with San Jose.

Free agency can be a confusing process for everyone involved. Sometimes the players themselves don’t even fully grasp the details, and every sport has a different way of going about it.

There will be plenty of talk about unrestricted free agents with the NHL entry draft and July 1st contract deadline approaching. Restricted free agents often get left behind in the shuffle.

It’s not a sexy topic to cover, at least not as sexy as unrestricted free agency. The majority of the time a restricted free agent ends up signing back with the team that originally owned their rights, and RFAs are typically organizational players – not the 27+ year-old superstars that are on the market in unrestricted free agency.

Typically, a player that is under the age of 27 and has played fewer than seven years in the NHL is a restricted free agent. There are exceptions, but for simplicity, that is the normal scenario.

A restricted free agent is not allowed to sign with a new organization. The team that owns their rights has the option to send them what is called a ‘qualifying offer,’ which is one year in length, or choose to grant them unrestricted free agency.

If the player’s contract was worth $659,999.99 or less at the NHL level, the qualifying offer must be at least a 10% increase in value.

If their contract was $660,000.00 to $999,999.99 at the NHL level, it requires at least a 5% increase, but their total contract cannot exceed $1M.

If the player was already making $1M or more, their contract does not have to be increased, but it cannot go down in value.

Jonathan Bernier

Jonathan Bernier is one of the biggest names on this year’s list of restricted free agents, and the Toronto Maple Leafs have already elected to take him to arbitration.

The player then has three options to choose from:

1. Accept the qualifying offer,
2. Leave North America (if they can make more money overseas) and have their rights retained by the team, or
3. Negotiate a longer extension.

Some players have a fourth option, which is salary arbitration.

It is fairly uncommon for it to get to that point, but if a player has been around long enough (depending on when their signed their entry-level contract) they can elect to fight to have their salary increased. A third party will hear arguments from both sides, and will decide on a contract value for the player.

It’s a risky process, so both sides normally like solving the issue outside of arbitration – but the process does occur occasionally. Teams can still come to terms on a new contract with a player even after they have filed for arbitration.

If that is confusing at all, an article on Wikipedia actually breaks this all down in a very detailed and structured way. You can read it by clicking here.

This year, there are 32 goalies that have expired contracts and are in need of qualifying offers or extensions. Some interesting names appear on the list.

Anaheim_DucksIgor Bobkov – Anaheim Ducks
Age: 24 – Previous AAV: $550,000

 

The 6-foot-5 Russian prospect is an interesting case. Although he graduated from the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs in 2012, he has split most of his time between the AHL (49 games) and ECHL (63 games). With the recent overload of goaltenders in the Anaheim Ducks system, he barely saw any time in the AHL in 2014-2015. It may be in Bobkov’s best interests to seek a different organization, because he is unlikely to move up with the Ducks, even if they like what they see from him.

UPDATE: The Ducks did not qualify him, and he will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st.

UPDATE #2: He has signed with Admiral Vladivostok of the KHL.

Anaheim_DucksRyan Faragher – Anaheim Ducks
Age: 24 – Previous AAV: $650,000

 

Faragher is 24, but he just completed his first pro season after three seasons with St. Cloud State. He took a longer route to pro hockey, and put up solid numbers at the ECHL level (10-8-3, with a .902 save percentage in 24 games). He was called upon later in the season by Norfolk in the AHL, and filled in admirably. He’s also the last goaltender to ever play a game for the Norfolk Admirals, as they folded at the conclusion of the season. The Ducks have great depth at the position, but it looks like Faragher slots in nicely as a possible ECHL starter/AHL backup.

UPDATE: The Ducks did not qualify him, and he will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st.

UPDATE #2: Faragher attended Ducks developmental camp as a free agent. He still does not have a contract.

UPDATE #3: He has signed an AHL-only contract with the San Diego Gulls.

Arizona_CoyotesLouis Domingue – Arizona Coyotes
Age: 23 – Previous AAV: $618,333

 

The 23-year-old Quebec native was a bit of a surprise call up in 2014-2015. He performed well enough in limited NHL action (2.73 GAA and .911 SV% in 7 games) to earn another contract. He may not have the “wow factor” that a lot of other prospects come with, but he has proven that he is capable of holding his own at the NHL level – even with a poor Coyotes squad in front of him. That holds some value, and if anything, he leapfrogged Mark Visentin on their depth chart.

UPDATE: The Coyotes have sent him a qualifying offer. They will retain his NHL rights.

UPDATE #2: He has rejected the Coyotes qualifying offer and will be signing with a team in Europe.

UPDATE #3: In a surprise move, he has chosen to forego his plans to play in Europe and has signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Coyotes.

Arizona_CoyotesMike Lee – Arizona Coyotes
Age: 24 – Previous AAV: $908,333

 

Lee was briefly recalled by the NHL from Gwinnett of the ECHL, but he never saw any game action. His ice time was even limited at the ECHL and AHL level, playing in only 19 total games this past season. He only appeared in 6 total games the year before that. To say that his development has taken a hit would be an understatement. He’s a former 3rd round pick in 2009, but could be at the end of the line if the Coyotes choose not to bring him back.

UPDATE: The Coyotes did not qualify him, and he will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st.

Arizona_CoyotesMark Visentin – Arizona Coyotes
Age: 22 – Previous AAV: $870,000

 

At only 22 years of age, the Coyotes are unlikely to be finished with Visentin. After winning the job as Team Canada’s starting goaltender at the World Junior Championship, the team had high expectations. His development since turning pro has not been smooth, and injuries share a part of the blame. He hasn’t put up fantastic numbers when he has been healthy, but it’s hard to see the Coyotes letting their former first round pick walk for nothing.

UPDATE: The Coyotes did not qualify him, and he will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st.

UPDATE #2: He has signed a one-year, AHL-only contract with the Rockford IceHogs.

Boston_BruinsAdam Morrison – Boston Bruins
Age: 24 – Previous AAV: $700,000

 

The WHL grad was brilliant at times last season for South Carolina of the ECHL, posting a 1.88 goals against average and .928 save percentage with the team. He was a third round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers, but never signed and ended up with the Bruins organization. At 24 years old, he’s worth signing to a two-way deal – but he may continue to develop in the ECHL for at least one more season. With the recent signing of college standout Zane McIntyre, that is looking like an even bigger possibility.

UPDATE: The Bruins did not qualify him, and he will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st.

Buffalo_SabresNathan Lieuwen – Buffalo Sabres
Age: 23 – Previous AAV: $588,333

 

The Sabres are reportedly looking to sign Lieuwen to an AHL-only deal. He is coming back from a major concussion, which led to a large drop off in his game. Whether he can come back from it or not is a very big concern, but it looks like the Sabres are willing to give him a chance – at least at the AHL level. Hopefully the once-promising prospect doesn’t see his career derailed by a serious injury.

UPDATE: The Sabres have sent him a qualifying offer. They will retain his NHL rights.

UPDATE #2: Lieuwen accepted his qualifying offer of a one-year, two-way contract worth $605,000.

ChicagoBlackhawksMac Carruth – Chicago Blackhawks
Age: 23 – Previous AAV: $766,666

 

The Portland Winterhawks grad put together a pretty decent season for a 23 year-old. He has an above average frame at 6-foot-3, and learned to play into that size at the ECHL level this year. He finished the year strong, and even got into a playoff game for Rockford of the AHL – despite only playing three regular season games for the team. All signs point to Carruth returning with the organization.

UPDATE: The Blackhawks did not qualify him, and he will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st.

UPDATE #2: He has signed a one-year, AHL-only deal with the Rockford IceHogs.

Colorado_AvalancheSami Aittokallio – Colorado Avalanche
Age: 22 – Previous AAV: $900,000

 

Things looked promising for Aittokallio in 2013-2014 after he became the second-youngest Avs goalie to ever start a game (second to only Marc Denis). He ended up leaving that game with dehydration, and injuries limited him to only 20 AHL games this past season. His numbers have been a bit of a roller coaster ride, and there have been questions about whether Colorado wants him back. Those questions have led to rumours about the young Finn signing with Karpat for next season.

UPDATE: The Avalanche have sent him a qualifying offer. They will retain his NHL rights.

UPDATE #2: It has been confirmed that he has signed with Karpat for two years, but the Avs retain his NHL rights.

Colorado_AvalancheCalvin Pickard – Colorado Avalanche
Age: 23 – Previous AAV: $870,000

 

This is a situation to keep an eye on. Although Reto Berra is already signed through 2016-2017 to an NHL contract, Pickard greatly outperformed Berra when Semyon Varlamov was injured last season. Pickard won the hearts of Avalanche fans, and Berra did not make a great impression on his head coach Patrick Roy. Pickard will likely want a one-way contract, but the Avs should hope that they can talk him into a two-way deal – or else something may have to be done with Berra.

UPDATE: The Avalanche have sent him a qualifying offer. They will retain his NHL rights.

UPDATE #2: He has signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Avalanche.

Detroit_Red_WingsJared Coreau – Detroit Red Wings
Age: 23 – Previous AAV: $925,000

 

The 6-foot-4 Coreau was mainly a backup for Thomas McCollum in Grand Rapids of the AHL last season. He played quite well in the 25 games that he got into, winning 16 of them, while riding a .927 save percentage. He has definitely proven that the he is worth a look as an AHL regular. With the Jimmy Howard/Petr Mrazek situation coming to a head with the big club, that opportunity may be on his doorstep. Expect him to sign.

UPDATE: The Red Wings have sent him a qualifying offer. They will retain his NHL rights.

UPDATE #2: He has agreed on a one-year contract with the Detroit Red Wings.

Edmonton_OilersTyler Bunz – Edmonton Oilers
Age: 23 – Previous AAV: $683,333

 

He hasn’t played that much since graduating from the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers, but made his way onto the Edmonton Oilers roster for quick stint in 2014-2015. He made his NHL debut in relief of Ben Scrivens, but it turned out to be disastrous – allowing three goals in one period. He spent most of the year in the ECHL, and it looks like he’ll stay there to develop once/if he is signed by the Oilers.

UPDATE: The Oilers did not qualify him, and he will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st.

Florida_PanthersMichael Houser – Florida Panthers
Age: 22 – Previous AAV: $585,000

 

The former London Knights standout played behind Dan Ellis in San Antonio this past season, and turned in a solid year of development. He dominated the ECHL the year before, and he has continued to progress at an expected rate. With Ellis moving on as an unrestricted free agent, expect Houser to be signed and step into a starter’s role in Portland next year – the new home of the Panthers’ AHL franchise.

UPDATE: The Panthers did not qualify him, and he will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st.

Los_Angeles_KingsMartin Jones – Los Angeles Kings
Age: 25 – Previous AAV: $550,000

 

No goaltender earned less money at the NHL level last season than the Kings’ Martin Jones. Even though this past season was a bit disappointing, a raise is well overdue, and there have already been rumours that the two sides are close on an extension. The Kings would like to lock him up for a while, but a two-year contract that would take him to unrestricted free agency is a more likely outcome.

UPDATE: He has been traded to the Boston Bruins, who will negotiate a new contract with him.

UPDATE #2: He has been traded once again, this time to the San Jose Sharks. The Bruins qualified him before they traded him away.

UPDATE #3: The Sharks have signed Jones to a three-year contract worth a total of $9M.

Minnesota_WildJohan Gustafsson – Minnesota Wild
Age: 23 – Previous AAV: $900,000

 

The former 6th round pick of the Wild will be playing with Frolunda in 2015-2016. His contract has already been finalized and announced by the team. He still has a high ceiling, and the Wild will retain his rights, but it looks like his time in North America is finished for now.

SIGNED with Frolunda of the Swedish Elite League.

Nashville_PredatorsMagnus Hellberg – Nashville Predators
Age: 24 – Previous AAV: $925,000

 

The Predators signing of fourth-round pick Juuse Saros likely signaled the end of Hellberg’s time with the organization. The 6-foot-5 Swede is an AHL all-star, and will probably want another shot with a different AHL team or head back to Europe, rather than be sent down to the ECHL again. There simply is not any room for him, with Pekka Rinne and Carter Hutton at the NHL level, and Saros and Marek Mazanec, both already under contract, at the AHL level.

UPDATE: The Predators sent him a qualifying offer. They will retain his rights if he leaves for Europe.

UPDATE #2: He has been traded to the New York Rangers, and will now negotiate a new contract with them.

UPDATE #3: He has agreed on a one-year contract with the New York Rangers.

New_Jersey_DevilsMaxime Clermont – New Jersey Devils
Age: 23 – Previous AAV: $605,000

 

It has been a bit of a struggle for Clermont to keep his head above water since turning pro. The 23 year-old spent most of the year backing up Leafs’ prospect Garret Sparks in Orlando at the ECHL level. He’s a smaller goaltender, and put up moderate success in the 21 games that he played in. He played 6 games for Albany and had a 5-1 record, which is a positive sign. Luckily for him, the Devils don’t really have anything else in the cupboard, so he may get another shot.

UPDATE: The Devils did not qualify him, and he will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st.

New_Jersey_DevilsScott Wedgewood – New Jersey Devils
Age: 22 – Previous AAV: $908,333

 

Wedgewood is only 22 and is extremely athletic, but he has been on a slow track of improvement. What likely ensures his signing with New Jersey is the team’s lack of depth at the position. Keith Kinkaid looks like he will be sticking at the NHL level as Cory Schneider’s backup, so the Devils need to fill out some goaltending depth throughout the rest of their organization – and that begins with signing Wedgewood.

UPDATE: He has signed a two-year, two-way contract with the Devils worth $587,500.

New_York_IslandersKevin Poulin – New York Islanders
Age: 25 – Previous AAV: $650,000

 

Poulin posted a 2.87 GAA and .912% save percentage on a very bad Bridgeport Sound Tigers team, but only appeared in one NHL game this season. After playing 28 NHL games the year before, the team has soured on seeing him as a long-term option, and they shifted him into somewhat of an organizational role. They could cut him loose, but it would still be a bit of an odd time to give up on the guy.

UPDATE: The Islanders have sent him a qualifying offer. They will retain his rights.

UPDATE #2: He has agreed on a one-year, two-way contract with the New York Islanders.

New_York_IslandersKent Simpson – New York Islanders
Age: 23 – Previous AAV: $916,666

 

After being taken in the second round back in 2010 by the Chicago Blackhawks, Simpson switched over to the Islanders organization last season. He didn’t play much, and subsequently didn’t take many strides with his development. When he did play, he was average, so it’s difficult to predict what the Islanders organization has planned for his future.

UPDATE: The Islanders did not qualify him, and he will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st.

UPDATE #2: He has signed a one-year, AHL-only contract with the Stockton Heat.

Pittsburgh_PenguinsEric Hartzell – Pittsburgh Penguins
Age: 26 – Previous AAV: $550,000

 

The Quinnipiac University grad isn’t done quite yet. He’s another older prospect on the brink of unrestricted free agency, at 26 years old. He had mixed results with Wilkes-Barre in the AHL, but the Wheeling Nailers counted on him big time in the ECHL. His standout performance in the playoffs should see him get at least one more shot with the Penguins organization.

UPDATE: The Penguins did not qualify him, and he will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st.

SanJoseSharks

J.P. Anderson – San Jose Sharks
Age: 23 – Previous AAV: $555,000

 

Anderson is only 23, but he hasn’t seen a lot of game action since leaving the OHL. He has been a backup at the ECHL level for a few years, and his development has been stunted as a result. If he’s frustrated and wants more playing time or money, he could bolt overseas. It’s also possible that he ends up with a different organization if the Sharks are forced to pick between him and Aaron Dell.

UPDATE: The Sharks did not qualify him, and he will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st.

SanJoseSharksAaron Dell – San Jose Sharks
Age: 26 – Previous AAV: $550,000

 

Although he’s a bit older at 26, Dell is still an intriguing prospect. He’s another guy that took a longer route to professional hockey. He won a championship in the (now defunct) Central Hockey League in 2013, played exceptionally well in the ECHL in 2014, then continued that trend in 2015 – which included a sparkling .927 save percentage in 26 games for the Worcester Sharks. He’s proven he is good enough to stick around in North America, but will his future be with San Jose?

UPDATE: The Sharks have sent him a qualifying offer. They will retain his rights.

UPDATE #2: He has agreed on a one-year contract with the San Jose Sharks.

SanJoseSharksTroy Grosenick – San Jose Sharks
Age: 25 – Previous AAV: $625,000

 

After picking up a shutout in his first NHL game, Grosenick quickly made a name for himself. He has only just finished his second pro season after graduating from Union College, but the results have been up and down. He’s inconsistent, which isn’t uncommon to see from a goalie that is coming out of college and is very raw – so the Sharks should be looking to lock him up and continue development.

UPDATE: He has signed with the Sharks for two years, $1.2M. It is a two-way contract for year one, and a one way for year two.

StLouis_BluesJake Allen – St. Louis Blues
Age: 24 – Previous AAV: $800,000

 

The St. Louis Blues need to figure out what their long term plan is in goal, but judging by how they have been grooming Jake Allen along, the assumption is that they will be looking to sign him to a longer extension. It’s hard to envision a scenario in which the Blues don’t have Allen as their starting goaltender for the better part of the next decade, but stranger things have happened. There have been no reports if an extension is even being discussed yet.

UPDATE: No official word yet, but the Blues are expected to qualify all of their RFAs – according to NHL.com beat writer Lou Korac.

UPDATE #2: The Blues have signed Allen to a two-year, $4.7 million contract.

Toronto_Maple_LeafsJonathan Bernier – Toronto Maple Leafs
Age: 26 – Previous AAV: $2,900,000

 

Jonathan Bernier is a high priority for the Toronto Maple Leafs heading into the 2015 offseason. On a team that should see a number of important changes to the roster, Bernier is one name that should remain. The Leafs have already elected to go to salary arbitration, and could actually push for a two-year contract, but they have to accept whatever the arbitrator awards him. Bernier could become unrestricted as early as 2016 as a 27-year-old if an extension does not get signed.

UPDATE: He has agreed on a two-year, $8.3M contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Vancouver_CanucksJoacim Eriksson – Vancouver Canucks
Age: 25 – Previous AAV: $925,000

 

The young Swede was relegated to the bench for Utica’s long playoff run, and that may have irked him. There have been reports of him threatening to go overseas, but with the Lack/Markstrom situation finally getting resolved, a starter’s job in Utica in 2015-2016 may be enough to convince him to stay. If he inks a new deal, expect the full righty to share the AHL load with the recently signed Joe Cannata.

UPDATE: He has signed a contract with Dinamo Riga of the KHL.

Vancouver_CanucksJacob Markstrom – Vancouver Canucks
Age: 25 – Previous AAV: $1,200,000

 

Despite rumours that the Canucks have wanted to trade Markstrom since the moment he was acquired in the Roberto Luongo trade, there is still a chance that he ends up on the NHL roster next season and Eddie Lack is the one that is shipped out. Even though he led the AHL Utica Comets to the Calder Cup final, he has been increasingly frustrated about being buried in the minors. This is one of the hardest contract situations to predict this offseason, but pushing for a one-way NHL contract will likely be the biggest point of contention for Markstrom.

UPDATE: Vancouver has sent him a qualifying offer. They will retain his NHL rights.

UPDATE #2: He has signed a two year contract extension worth $1.55M with the Vancouver Canucks.

Washington_CapitalsBrandon Anderson – Washington Capitals
Age: 22 – Previous AAV: $541,666

 

The 22 year-old Langley, BC native kicked around the ECHL for the most part of last season. He missed the start of the season because of hip surgery, alongside teammate Edward Pasquale. He played well upon returning, including one AHL game with the Hershey Bears. There’s a chance that the former Lethbridge Hurricane could go elsewhere to see more playing time because of the depth in Washington’s system.

UPDATE: The Capitals did not qualify him, and he will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st.

Washington_CapitalsBraden Holtby – Washington Capitals
Age: 25 – Previous AAV: $1,850,000

 

This has already been covered here on InGoal, but Holtby remains one of the most important contract issues that the team needs to resolve. Since the article was published, there has not been an update on how contract negotiations are coming along. That could be a bad sign, or it could be nothing at all. Both sides want to get a deal done, but the longer it takes, the more complicated it can become.

UPDATE: It wasn’t officially announced, but the Capitals are expected to qualify him while in the midst of negotiating a long term extension – according to Alex Prewitt of the Washington Post.

UPDATE #2: He has filed for salary arbitration.

UPDATE #3: He has agreed on a five-year, $30.5M contract with the Washington Capitals.

Washington_CapitalsEdward Pasquale – Washington Capitals
Age: 24 – Previous AAV: $550,000

 

After moving from the Winnipeg Jets organization to the Washington Capitals, Pasquale was set to return from hip surgery and continue his climb to the NHL. He was originally slated to begin playing in February, but it quickly turned into a lost season. He suffered a setback and required a second hip surgery in late-October that knocked him out for the entire season. He was dominant in his last season with the St. John’s IceCaps, but the Washington organization still hasn’t even seen what they have. His hip injuries are a definite concern, and the lost year of development hurts, but he should be back.

UPDATE: The Capitals did not qualify him, and he will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st.

UPDATE #2: He has signed a one-year, AHL-only deal with the St. John’s IceCaps.

Winnipeg_JetsJussi Olkinuora – Winnipeg Jets
Age: 24 – Previous AAV: $925,000

 

In 2015, the Helsinki native had his best season since leaving the University of Denver. He led the ECHL’s Ontario Reign to the second round of the playoffs after posting solid numbers across the board as their starter in the regular season. At only 24 years old, there is no reason to not expect him to be back and to continue developing.

UPDATE: The Jets did not qualify him, and he will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st.

UPDATE #2: He has signed a one-year, AHL-only deal with the Manitoba Moose.

 

This article will continue to be updated as more information about each goaltender becomes public. All qualifying offers become null on July 15, so expect most of them to be signed before that date.

About The Author

Greg Balloch

Greg Balloch is a Vancouver-based writer for InGoal Magazine, broadcaster for Sportsnet 650, and goaltending coach. His career began in Hamilton, Ontario with the Junior 'A' Hamilton Red Wings, before moving to Vancouver to cover the Canucks on the radio and work with the Surrey Eagles of the BCHL. A lifelong goaltender, he has been teaching the position for over a decade.