If you’re a hockey fan, the summer of 2019 absolutely sucked. The only thing anyone could talk about was the 2019 RFA class. The class of players who entered restricted free agency this past offseason was unprecedented. Never had there been so many superstars without a contract all at once. Eventually, everyone (except Julius Honka) got signed before the regular season. The threat of offer sheets was nothing more than a threat, as we only saw one that was actually signed, and subsequently matched.
Now that the dust has settled, and the regular season is underway, who signed the best deal? What team will get the most out of their money in these contracts? What player is most likely to exceed their contract’s value? No. Mitch Marner did not make this list.
5: Sebastian Aho – Carolina Hurricanes
The Deal: 5 years, $8.454 Million AAV
It’s hard to praise the Hurricanes for the value of this deal, as they didn’t participate in any of the negotiations. Aho signed an offer sheet that was tendered by the Montreal Canadiens, which was subsequently matched by the Hurricanes, who didn’t seem to bat an eye. Despite a deal that was heavily front-loaded with approximately $21 million in bonus money in the first 12 months, Carolina had no desire to lose their player.
In three seasons, Aho has put up seasons of 49, 65 and 83 points, improving every year. The AAV is by no means an issue for the Hurricanes, but the term is. Aho will become a UFA at 26. If Carolina had it their way, he’d be locked up for 7 or 8 years. However, difficult UFA issues are a problem for five years from now. As of this moment, they’ve got their franchise centre locked up to a great deal.
4: Brayden Point – Tampa Bay Lightning
The Deal: 3 years, $6.75 Million AAV
The contract that sent Leafs twitter into flames. Brayden Point is coming off a 41 goal and 51 assist season with the Lightning. As a centre, he was expected to be the highest paid player in the 2019 RFA class. But with the tight cap situation in Tampa with Stamkos, Kucherov and the Vasilevskiy deal that kicks in next season, a long term deal with a high AAV wasn’t going to be an option for Point. Therefore, a bridge deal was the only solution.
Point has scored 32 and 41 goals in hist last two seasons, respectively. There is little doubt that the 23-year-old will exceed the value of this contract. It’s a problem for three years from now, but Tampa will have to pay a 26-year-old Point significantly more on his next deal, especially if he wants to sign long-term. For now, Tampa can enjoy their miraculously well-managed hockey team that remains the favourite to win the Stanley Cup
3: Timo Meier – San Jose Sharks
The Deal: 4 years, $6 Million AAV
Sharks GM Doug Wilson maintains his title as arguably the most creative GM in the NHL. Instead of exploring a 2 or 3 year bridge deal or locking Meier up to a long term, 6-8 year deal, he finds the middle ground. Meier scored 21 goals in 2017-18 and improved to 30 last year to go along with 36 assists for 66 points. To get Meier locked up to an extended period of time is a huge win for San Jose. The 22-year-old will still be an RFA by the end of this deal, so San Jose doesn’t have to be concerned with walking him to free agency.
The Sharks did extremely well in locking up Meier up early in the summer. Despite an aging core, and the loss of Joe Pavelski, San Jose still has all the pieces in place to be a cup contender, with more top prospects coming in the near future.
2: Mikko Rantanen – Colorado Avalanche
The Deal: 6 years, $9.25 Million AAV
When Mitch Marner signed a 6 year contract with Toronto, the expectation was that Rantanen should be payed as much, if not more in his second deal. Colorado had more than enough cap room to do it, mainly because of the incredibly team-friendly deal that Nathan MacKinnon is signed to. However, Rantanen ultimately kept his cap hit to a more respectable number, giving Colorado the opportunity to add more if need be.
Rantanen is coming off back to back seasons with over 80 points. He has become one of the best playmakers in the entire league. Having him on a line with MacKinnon is a dangerous threat for the rest of the league. What makes this deal even better? MacKinnon is locked up for 4 more years. That means at least 4 more years of two superstars in their prime, on team-friendly contracts. Colorado is an instant threat to win the Western Conference. They also belong in the Stanley Cup conversation. They’re that good.
1: Kyle Connor – Winnipeg Jets
The Deal: 7 years, $7.14 Million AAV
The last man standing in the 2019 RFA class also signed the best deal. The 22-year-old scored over 30 goals in each of his first two full NHL seasons. Last year, Connor collected over 60 points, while just barely missing that mark in 2017-18. With a cap that is expected to increase, and being so young, the Winnipeg Jets have negotiated an outstanding deal for the left winger.
When 6 years seemed like the longest deal any of the RFAs would take, it was a pleasant surprise to Jets fans to get Connor done for 7. Both Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler are signed for 5 more years. Patrik Laine has signed a 2 year bridge deal. If Winnipeg can hold it together on the back end, they’re set up for Stanley Cup runs for the foreseeable future.
2019 RFA Class VS 2020 RFA Class
While Clayton Keller and Alex DeBrincat seem to have taken the fun out of next year’s RFA class, there are still many big names that are without a deal past this season. Matt Barzal, Mikhail Sergachev and Nico Hischer all need to be extended. All three are integral parts of their team’s future. Whether next summer will be as stressful as 2019 remains to be seen. However, given the contracts that were eventually signed, there is going to be plenty of money spent next year.