Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The star-studded UFA class of 2019 aren't signing extensions. That's rare, and history suggests it's bad news for their teams.

One​ of the biggest​ stories​ of​ the​ NHL​ season​ is what’s​ happening with the​ star-studded free agent​ class​ of 2019. And​​ what’s happening is: not much.

That’s a big deal. Every summer, we look ahead to the following year’s potential free agents and get excited over all the big names. And every year, almost all of those big names end up signing extensions long before they get anywhere near free agency. By the time July 1 rolls around, there’s rarely much star power left.

But so far, that hasn’t happened for most of the class of 2019. A few big names have signed, including Max Pacioretty, Pekka Rinne, Blake Wheeler and Ryan Ellis. But that’s left several top stars who still need extensions, and who are now less than seven months away from hitting unrestricted free agency.

We can start with Erik Karlsson in San Jose, who could end up being one of the offseason’s biggest stories for the second straight year. The Blue Jackets have both Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin. Buffalo’s Jeff Skinner is having a career year. And the Senators have both Matt Duchene and Mark Stone.

Those six players would all figure to hit the jackpot if they made it to the open market. But the list goes on, with names like Wayne Simmonds, Jake Gardiner, Joe Pavelski, Jordan Eberle and Cam Talbot all on expiring deals. And then there’s Anders Lee and Eric Staal and Tyler Myers and Mats Zuccarello and Semyon Varlamov and … you get the picture. The list is stacked.

Karlsson is expected to use Drew Doughty’s $11-million cap hit as a starting point. Bobrovsky and Panarin could both be looking at deals that would carry cap hits north of $9 or even $10 million. Skinner won’t be far behind, and Duchene was on track to get there too before his groin injury sidetracked a career year. Stone is in the same ballpark, although he can’t officially sign an extension until Jan. 1. And many of those other names figure to be looking at cap hits that would at least start with a six or seven on a multi-year deal. That’s a ton of talent, and a ton of potential money.

Hockey fans might be wondering whether it’s unusual for this many big-name pending UFAs to make it this far into the season without an extension. The short answer: Yes, it’s extremely unusual. For the longer answer, and what it might mean for 2019, let’s dive into the recent history.

Playing the waiting game

Most star players sign extensions relatively early. Some do it right on July 1, the first day they’re eligible; we saw that this year with Doughty and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Others take a few weeks, like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in 2014, or even make it past opening night, like Brent Burns last year. But by the time the calendar flips over to December, most of the big names are already locked down.

When a pending UFA does make it this far into the season without an extension, there are basically three ways the situation can play out. The first is that they eventually sign during the season and stay with their team. If you’re a fan of a team that has one of those big names above, that’s the scenario you’re looking for.

The second possibility is that the player doesn’t sign during the season, but avoids free agency by agreeing to an extension during the offseason. In theory, that’s just as good. But these cases often involve the player being traded first, either as a deadline rental or in one of those June deals that sees his rights dealt in exchange for a middling draft pick. It doesn’t always work that way; as we’ll see, there are players who’ve made it through the season without an extension and then re-upped with their team weeks before free agency, and if you’re a contending team like the Sharks or Blue Jackets, maybe you’re willing to roll the dice while you chase a Cup right now. But if you’re the Senators or Flyers, can you take that chance?

And then there’s the third option: The player doesn’t sign during the season, they don’t sign during the offseason and they make it to the free agency period. At that point they’re free to shop their services to any team and the odds of them coming back are slim.

So how common is it for a star player to make it to December without an extension? And when it happens, how often do each of those three situations above play out?

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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