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RFA’s Raising the Bar on Contract Raises

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This summer has brought multiple RFA’s to the negotiation table for potential contract extensions with their current teams. The most notable remaining RFA’s on the market are Mitch Marner (TOR), Patrik Laine (WPG), Mikko Rantanen (COL), Matthew Tkachuk (CGY), Charlie McAvoy (BOS), and Zach Werenski (CBJ).

The issue that has come to pass this summer is that many of these young stars are looking for a significant pay raise for their services, many of whom are seeking money that teams can’t afford to pay. Their contract demands are becoming a harder and harder pill for teams to swallow, as they are expected to be given lucrative salaries at such a young age for a small sample size of success.

Patrik Laine is the epitome of these insane demands for a major contract extension. Laine regressed in his third year, scoring 30 goals and putting up 50 points in a full campaign with an abysmal minus 24 for his plus-minus on one of the best teams in the league.

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He took more shots this season than either of his prior two and scored fewer goals with that greater quantity. Laine is prone to be a streaky scorer; they come in bunches when he’s on but he often is invisible for long stretches of the season. Why would the Jets pay Laine, a streaky scorer who doesn’t play defense, more money than any of their other stars?

Matthew Tkachuk of the Calgary Flames is similar to Laine in the aspect of relatively unrealistic raise demands, as he had a breakout year last season. After never eclipsing 50 points in his first two seasons, Tkachuk scored 77 points and over 30 goals in his third season. His contract demands of a raise as an RFA are understandable, as he looks to cash in on that success, but should the Flames pay a potential one-year wonder in Tkachuk more than their superstar Johnny Gaudreau makes? Tkachuk could become a consistent, franchise-cornerstone player, but his talents aren’t worth more than Johnny Hockey’s.

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Mitch Marner is a different case to Tkachuk and Laine, where he expects to be paid similar to Auston Matthews and John Tavares, at around $11 million per season. Marner is a more complete player and is one of Toronto’s best players on a nightly basis. Marner, however, might just be left on the outside looking in on salary demands, as the Leafs likely just do not have enough money to go around.

The bubble on RFA raises is bound to burst eventually. Teams can’t afford to keep forking over large lump sums to young players hoping they keep an upward trajectory towards stardom and expect to compete. The league’s salary cap doesn’t allow for teams to routinely take these risks and have them pay off.

Ultimately, teams won’t be able to put a competitive unit on the ice if they pay one or two guys in the double-digit millions for an annual cap hit. There might be a lockout looming because of these contracts that players expect to be given based on their limited successes.

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