Friedman on key RFAs and Leafs’ all-in mentality

Training camps are set to get underway across the National Hockey League in a matter of days, but there are still a handful of noteworthy restricted free agents - William Nylander, Darnell Nurse, Sam Reinhart, and Shea Theodore, among others - without a contract.

Elliotte Friedman was asked during a Tuesday afternoon radio hit on Vancouver’s Sportsnet 650 which of those situations in particular, if any, looked problematic from his perspective.

“I think the Nylander one is interesting because it sets the tone for a lot of things Toronto is going to do,” noted Friedman. “Toronto obviously has a lot of big contract decisions to make in the next year with Marner, Matthews, and him. Unless something has changed in the last 24-48 hours, I’ve heard they are significantly apart. Nylander’s agent, Lewis Gross, has not been afraid before to have players sit for a bit of time. He did it with Torey Krug in Boston. He did it with Johnny Gaudreau in Calgary. That’s an interesting one.

“I’ve heard that Nick Ritchie in Anaheim - he’s not a guy that gets a lot of attention, but he’s a talented young player. I heard that one’s been a bit of a battle.

“I think the big thing is, I’ve had guys tell me… I remember one player, and he always said, ‘Don’t use my name,’ so I won’t use his name - but he signed right as a season was starting. And the whole way leading up to it, he told me privately, ‘I’ll sit out the season. I’ll sit out the season’ or into the season, and when it started, he signed.

“I was like, ‘What the heck?’ and he goes, ‘Yeah I had to lie to you. I was never going to sit out any point of the season, and I was in good enough shape that I felt I could miss the preseason if I had to.’

“It just goes to what a guy is willing to do privately. Is a player willing to miss some of training camp. I think you’ll find the answer to that will be yes, several of these guys will.

“But I think the question is now there’s a December 1 deadline. If you don’t sign by then, you can’t play. And Jacob Trouba was a guy who came close a couple of years ago, but at the end of the day he played. I think the biggest question is what is a player really willing to do. And we’re getting to the first of those pressure points, training camp opening this week.

“But Nylander I think, at least if it hasn’t changed in the last 24-48 hours, he was significantly apart.

“Nurse I think is someone the Oilers are trying to, because they have cap issues, they’re taking it tight.

“I heard the Nick Ritchie one was a tough negotiation.

“I think they’ve got a few here that are really worth watching.”  

As a follow-up, Friedman was asked if it was more important to the Leafs to have Nylander in that opening night lineup, or is it more important to get him in at the number they want, given the contracts due in the next year for Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews.

“It’s interesting. Dubas, the GM there, he thinks differently,” said Friedman. “And I always try to put myself in the shoes of not what I think the GM of the organization thinks. And I could see a situation where they say, ‘You know what. We can sign him,’ and not just at any number, but a number they want, ‘And a year from now if the Marner-Matthews things are too big we could always move him.’ You’re always going to be able to trade a young, signed Nylander. So I think they look at it as, ‘Alright, we are looking at it for this year and anything we have to do we’ll deal with again in the future.’

“Now, the other thing I think is interesting is - and I’ve said this before and it always goes crazy, and what the hell, we’ll do it again - I think Toronto is looking at this year like, ‘We’re all in this year.’ And I wouldn’t be surprised if they kicked the tires on Karlsson. I don’t think Ottawa would necessarily do that. But I also wouldn’t be surprised if they were a team that was checking out Panarin.

“And I think they would kind of look at it like, ‘We’re all in for this year. We could make this deal, and if Panarin skates, he skates. But we go for it.’

“So I think Toronto - it would not surprise me if Dubas played that card.”

Karlsson is in the final season of his contract with the Ottawa Senators, and the pact has a $6.5 million cap hit.

The defenseman has a 10-team no-trade list as part of his deal’s modified no-trade clause.

Panarin is in the back half of his two-year deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets, and that contract carries a $6 million cap hit.

The forward does not have any trade protection in his pact.

Cap-related info via CapFriendly