Still-unsigned Blackhawk Brendan Perlini is just one small piece of NHL’s massive restricted-free-agent blockade
Perlini is the last Blackhawk without a contract, but he’s one of many restricted free agents still unsigned around the league.
Fans look at the Blackhawks’ contract chart and worry about winger Brendan Perlini, who remains a restricted free agent nearly a month after the team’s last offseason transaction.
Perlini looks around the league and sees nothing strange at all.
‘‘It’s just something that happens quite slow for a lot of guys,’’ he said last month at the Blackhawks Convention. ‘‘I’m definitely not sitting by the phone every minute, going: ‘What’s going on? What’s going on?’ You’re going to drive yourself nuts.’’
It was an excellent point then, and it still stands now. The NHL has reached a restricted free agent (RFA) impasse, and until one of the major names signs and breaks the dam, nearly every team has a foot stuck in the mud.
The Maple Leafs’ Mitch Marner, the Lightning’s Brayden Point and the Avalanche’s Mikko Rantanen are the headliners, the franchise players who likely will push $10 million salary-cap hits on their new deals — when they happen. The Maple Leafs already have positioned their salary structure to work even if Marner holds out.
But Marner, Point and Rantanen are just the tip of the iceberg. The Flames’ Matthew Tkachuk and the Jets’ Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor aren’t far below that top tier, and the notable RFAs go on and on beyond that.
In fact, of the top 18 free agents of any type entering the summer (as determined by Evolving Wild’s popular contract projections), 11 remain unsigned, and 10 of those 11 are RFAs. All of them are projected cap hits above $6.5 million.
This offseason paralysis is radically different from Major League Baseball’s problem in recent offseasons. The NHL’s blockade is with its young free agents, not its veterans, and this probably will prove to be a one-time issue.
Still, it’s perplexing. The lack of movement at the top of the board has created a trickle-down effect.
It’s still unknown whether Marner is worth $9 million or $12 million per season. That might seem relatively inconsequential, but when that margin of uncertainty is applied further down the board, the consequences are huge. Is the Rangers’ Tony DeAngelo worth $3 million or $6 million? Is the Wild’s Kevin Fiala worth $2 million or $4 million? Is Perlini worth $1 million or $2 million?
Operating conservatively, as always, teams with notable RFAs left have set aside big cap-space portions in case the precedent is set on the $12 million end of the spectrum. Fourteen teams still have more than $7 million in cap space, according to Capfriendly.
That means the remaining unrestricted free agents — and there are several quality ones, from Jake Gardiner (the only unrestricted free agent left among the aforementioned top 18) to Derick Brassard to Patrick Maroon — are also held up in line.
And so are the lower-tier RFAs, such as Perlini. His 21 points in 68 games for the Coyotes and Hawks last season rank 21st among remaining RFAs, a far cry from Marner’s 94 points in 82 games with the Leafs.
Coincidentally, Marner and Perlini are represented by the same agent, Darren Ferris. But it’s safe to say the latter’s negotiations aren’t as high-intensity as the former’s.
General manager Stan Bowman has made it clear the Hawks plan to re-sign Perlini, especially after manufacturing some cap flexibility by trading Artem Anisimov for Zack Smith. But Perlini clearly isn’t one of the NHL’s top remaining free agents, even on Aug. 12.