The NHL’s free-agent period begins on July 1, 2019, and a number of notable young stars are slated to become restricted free agents this summer. Some could even be hard to keep as they could receive competitive offer sheets from rival clubs.
Between now and July 1, Sporting News will examine the NHL’s top RFA players. This week, we look at the Metropolitan Division.
Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes
In just three years, the 21-year-old center blossomed into the Hurricanes’ franchise player. Netting a career-high 30 goals and 83 points, Aho was their leading scorer for the second-straight year. He was also led the Canes in points during their run to the 2019 Eastern Conference Final.
Coming off his entry-level contract, Aho should receive a lucrative new deal. Following the Hurricanes’ playoff elimination last month, ESPN.com’s Emily Kaplan and Chris Peters speculated he could get around $7 million per season. On May 21, Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News & Observer reported both sides would prefer agreeing on a long-term deal sooner rather than later.
For clubs in need of a young offensive center, Aho would be an enticing offer-sheet target. However, it’s doubtful anyone will make the attempt. Cap Friendly indicates the Hurricanes have over $54 million invested in 14 players, so assuming the salary cap reaches the projected $83 million, they’ll have more than enough room to match any offer.
MORE: Point, Marner and the top restricted free agents in the Atlantic Division
Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets
A Calder Trophy Finalist in 2017, Werenski established himself as a skilled puck-moving blueliner, as he and Seth Jones form the Jackets’ top defense pairing. In 2018-19, the 21-year-old exceeded the 40-point plateau (44) for the second time in his three NHL seasons.
As an invaluable part of the Blue Jackets’ core, Werenski is expected to receive a significant raise on his next contract. How much could depend on several factors. On June 3, The Score’s Josh Wegman explained that the cost of potentially re-signing unrestricted free agent center Matt Duchene could affect how much Werenski gets, and the same can be said depending on how much Boston’s Charlie McAvoy and Philadelphia’s Ivan Provorov get on their new deals.
Wegman also suggested Werenski could ink an eight-year, $66-million deal with an annual average value of $8.25 million, and considering having an estimated $32 million in cap space, the Jackets can afford to carry that cost; so don’t expect a rival club to swoop in with an offer sheet for Werenski.
Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny, Philadelphia Flyers
This duo is coming off their entry-level contracts and have become part of what should be a bright future for the Flyers.
Provorov earned rave reviews for his play during his NHL debut in 2016-17, and even better, he followed up with an impressive 41-point sophomore campaign.
This season, the 22-year-old defenseman saw a heavier workload, but his production slipped to 26 points. That could affect how much he gets on his next contract, but he should still receive a substantial pay raise. However, it’s not expected to be close to what Werenski could get in Columbus.
Konecny has developed into a reliable top-six forward, and coming off back-to-back seasons of 24 goals and 47-or-more points, the 22-year-old has earned playing time on the Flyers’ top line.
Those numbers and first-line minutes should earn Konecny a good pay raise. How much, however, could depend upon whether management sees him as a rising star or a complementary player alongside established talent like Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier.
MORE: Laine, Binnington and the top restricted free agents in the Central Division
Jakub Vrana, Washington Capitals
After several seasons of development, Vrana enjoyed a breakout performance in 2018-19. With 24 goals and 47 points, the 23-year-old left wing was among the Capitals’ leading scorers. However, he was held scoreless as his club was bounced from the opening round of the 2019 playoffs.
Still, Vrana’s regular-season numbers suggest better days ahead. It remains to be seen, however, if he gets a long-term deal or a short-term bridge contract. Washington’s limited salary-cap space (nearly $73 million invested in 16 players) could affect what he gets, and in turn, it could also make him a potential offer-sheet target.