Tuesday, June 27, 2017

This year, July 1 is all about extensions

It’s been called the day of the year when NHL GMs make their biggest mistakes. And now, July 1 is almost here. While most Canadians will be busy painting their faces and setting off fireworks, the hockey world will be keeping an eye on the wire for the latest signings.

Most years, that means watching the unrestricted free agents. But this year’s class isn’t an especially strong one. There’s Kevin Shattenkirk, and we’re all breathlessly waiting to see which teams he pretends to be interested in before signing with the Rangers. There are respected veterans, like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Jarome Iginla. Alexander Radulov might get there, and Ryan Miller will be available. But as far as dramatic storylines, this year’s UFA class won’t have all that much to offer.

So instead, let’s turn our attention to the other July 1 class: players who are already under contract, but will become eligible to sign an extension. The CBA dictates that players on multi-year contracts can sign extensions one year before their current deal expires. And that means we’ll have plenty of big-name players who can re-up with their current teams as early as Saturday.

No doubt, plenty of negotiations have already taken place behind the scenes. Some players will sign almost immediately. Some might take a few days or weeks to get a deal done, like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in 2016. And others could head into the season without a new deal, Steven Stamkos or Anze Kopitar-style, which will no doubt cause some frayed nerves for their team’s fan base.

So today, let’s look at some of the bigger names who are eligible to steal the headlines from this year’s UFAs on July 1.

Carey Price

Price is one of two true superstars still in their prime who’ll be eligible for unrestricted free agency in 2018. With a recent Vezina and Hart Trophy on his resumé, he’s widely considered the best goaltender on the planet. Now he’ll have a chance to be paid like one.

But is it possible that it won’t happen in Montreal? The Canadiens have been an unpredictable team in recent years, both on and off the ice. They made headlines by trading Price’s friend P.K. Subban last year, and we can’t say for sure exactly how that sat with the goaltender. Price has also had to endure an injury, playoff disappointment and a coaching change, and his team still can’t score any goals for him. Could he secretly have his eye on the door?

Well… not really, no. As juicy a story as that would be, there’s been little indication of any true animosity between the Canadiens and their franchise player, and he’s explicitly said that he plans to stay. We won’t know for sure until the ink is dry on a new deal, but all indications are that it will happen, and probably quickly.

But the story won’t end there. While Price will almost certainly re-sign in Montreal, the question of how much it costs could loom large. Barring some sort of hometown discount, Price could become the highest-paid goaltender in the league. The top cap hit at the position right now belongs to Henrik Lundqvist at $8.5 million. That contract seems like a bit of an outlier — it’s over $1 million more expensive than the second-highest-paid goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky — but it should be in the ballpark for Price. If he wants even more, Marc Bergevin probably won’t have much choice.

Whatever Price winds up getting, Habs fans will be fine with it as long as he can maintain his recent level of play. But how much room does that leave Bergevin to sign guys like Radulov or Andrei Markov, or to get a new deal done for Alex Galchenyuk (if he’s still on the team)? And can Bergevin get a Price deal nailed down quickly enough to know what he’s working with when bidding on this year’s UFA market?

As always in Montreal, we’ll get some off-season drama. It may not end in another star player leaving town, but we’ll see how long the story drags on.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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