Flames need to spend big money on 3 restricted free agents this summer

Feb 12 2019, 3:16 pm

It’s a changing of the guard in the National Hockey League, with elite-level restricted free agents earning salaries of over $10 million after their rookie deals are up.

Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel both secured monster contracts as RFAs, while Patrik Laine will likely receive a big payout in the summer, but one name has dominated headlines over the past week.

Toronto’s Auston Matthews put pen to paper on a five-year, $58.17 million deal, meaning the Maple Leafs star will earn $11.6 million per season, the second highest in the NHL to McDavid.

Matthews’ deal is a game-changer across the league landscape as he’s the first young superstar not to sign the eight-year max contract that’s become commonplace over the last few seasons.

Three big RFA contracts loom for the Calgary Flames ahead of next season and while they won’t reach Matthews-level payouts, the price tag continues to rise with the team’s overall success.

Comparable numbers courtesy of CapFriendly.

1. Matthew Tkachuk

The man known as ‘Chucky’ is in for a sizeable payday, likely the largest since the Gaudreau and Monahan contracts that Calgary signed in 2016.

Matthew Tkachuk has been a force over his first three NHL seasons, netting 61 goals and 154 points in just 199 games for an average of 0.77 points per game.

While the 21-year-old has been on a tear to begin his career, he likely won’t command a dealer higher than his two young counterparts in Gaudreau and Monahan who have been faces of the team.

Calgary will likely lock up Tkachuk to a long-term deal to eat as many unrestricted free agency years as possible, likely within the ballpark of between $5.75 and $6.25 million per season.

The closest comparable contract likely comes with Filip Forsberg’s six-year deal signed in 2016 that pays him an even $6 million per season, averaging just under Tkachuk’s pace at 0.73 points per game when he signed the contract.

Comparables:

  • Filip Forsberg (NSH) – 6 years, $6 million cap hit
  • Nikolaj Ehlers (WPG) – 7 years, $6 million cap hit
  • Mark Scheifele (WPG) – 8 years, $6.125 million cap hit

2. David Rittich

Calgary likely expected a quiet negotiation period with David Rittich when the season began, but the 26-year-old late bloomer has taken the team by storm this year.

After an average rookie campaign in 2017-18 that saw him play 21 games, Rittich has become the number one starter in Calgary this year with a 20-4-5 record, a 2.55 goals against average, and a 0.915 save percentage.

Due up at the end of the season after signing back-to-back one year deals, the 26-year-old Czech will likely command more term and a higher salary than his current $800,000.

Calgary looks keen to lock up Rittich for the foreseeable future as well, with Elliotte Friedman telling Sportnet 960 this week that the Flames view the breakout star as their long-term option in net.

So, the begs the question… what do you pay a starting goalie with only 55 games of NHL experience.

Guessing Rittich plays 20 more games before the end of the regular season, that would put him in the same conversation as when the Vancouver Canucks inked Jacob Markstrom in 2016.

Markstrom was the same age as Rittich currently is now, only had 83 NHL games under his belt when he signed, and was locked up for three years at $3.66 million per season.

Rittich likely won’t get more than a two or three year deal as his resume is still pretty small, but somewhere in the range of $3 and $4 million would likely keep ‘Big Save Dave’ sticking around.

Comparables:

  • Jacob Markstrom (VAN) – 3 years, $3.66 million cap hit
  • Petr Mrazek (DET) – 2 years, $4 million cap hit

3. Sam Bennett

Sam Bennett’s is a curious case, as the Flames already gave him a bridge deal of two years and $1.95 million per season after his rookie deal expired in 2017.

Flames fans have waited over four seasons for the former fourth overall draft pick to break out offensively, but he still hasn’t found a home in Calgary’s top six forwards.

Bennett is making the most out of his contract year however, posting his best offensive totals since his rookie season with 10 goals and 21 points in 53 games.

A slight raise is probably expected for the 22-year-old Bennett, who will likely earn between $2 and $3 million per year when he eventually puts pen to paper.

If comparable contracts are to be believed, then Bennett would be primed to ink around a new deal in the neighbourhood of three years with Dallas’ Radek Faksa, Anaheim’s Ondrej Kase, and Columbus’ Oliver Bjorkstrand all signing for those terms.

Though he’s more of a defensive player than Bennett, Faksa has almost the same point per game average as Bennett over the last two seasons and was locked up for just over two million dollars.

It’s possible the Flames could pay Bennett slightly more than expected due to his projected ceiling, but with four years under his belt it’s becoming less likely that he’ll live up to those lofty expectations.

Comparables:

  • Radek Faksa (DAL) – 3 years, $2.2 million cap hit
  • Ondrej Kase (ANA) – 3 years, $2.6 million cap hit
  • Oliver Bjorkstrand (CBJ) – 3 years, $2.5 million cap hit