We heard about it for what seems like years but was in reality only a couple of months: Once one restricted free agent (RFA) forward domino dropped, the rest would follow.
There have been a couple, sure. Timo Meier signed a strange deal with the San Jose Sharks that will give him a relatively low average annual value but ensures that he’s got a hefty qualifying offer coming when the contract expires in four years.
And Clayton Keller signed a year early, with Arizona Coyotes general manager John Chayka clearly seeing what was happening with the slew of unsigned RFAs and wanting no part of it in a year’s time.
But the majority of talented, young RFA forwards held their ground until very recently, when arguably the most contentious negotiation ended. And it ended with a bang, to the tune of the Toronto Maple Leafs giving Mitch Marner a six-year deal with an average cap hit of $10.893 million.
In a word: Woof.
It’s a massive contract that belies most any comparable for an RFA winger that came before it. But that might be the new normal. And it also might not look so onerous down the line as the cap continues to go up and players start demanding more at a younger age than they ever have before.
It remains to be seen what the rest of the RFA crop will do. That group includes names like Brayden Point, Mikko Rantanen and, of course, Brock Boeser.
There was a rumour earlier in the week that the Vancouver Canucks and general manager Jim Benning had offered Boeser a contract around the draft for six years at $7 million annually.
There were also rumblings that the Canucks were trying to low ball Boeser on a bridge deal, offering something around $5-6 million.
How does this Marner deal affect the Boeser negotiations? Hard to say. The players were both drafted in 2015, but Marner was taken much higher (fourth overall compared to Boeser’s 23rd) and has been much more productive. The Maple Leafs forward scored 94 points in 82 games last season, after posting averages similar to Boeser in his first two full seasons in the league.
But does Boeser have a 94-point season in him? You never want to put a ceiling on a young player, but that would seem unlikely. He has shown that he can score at better than a 30-goal rate, though.
The real question is whether this crop of RFAs, and Marner in particular, have re-written the rules on how valuable young RFA forwards are. It’s possible. And Boeser’s agent Ben Hankinson is probably laughing right now. Is Boeser really worth almost $4 million less against the cap than Marner?
That will no doubt be an argument that Hankinson makes as his client continues to be absent from training camp.
Sure, the Canucks are a bit cap-strapped right now. But so are the Leafs, and that’s not Boeser’s problem anyway.
Hopefully, the fact that one of the bigger fish in the RFA market was scooped up—along with the start of training camp—means that a Boeser deal is right around the corner. But it’s hard to see the Marner deal doing anything but increasing Boeser’s leverage here.
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