Last offseason, Derek Stepan entered the summer as a restricted free agent without arbitration rights. Unfortunately, he ended the summer holding out for 16 days of training camp before finally signing a two-year bridge deal for $6.15 million.
While three of the Rangers four RFAs filed for salary arbitration this past weekend, all but assuring they’ll be on the ice once training camp begins in September, the Blueshirts still have the possibility of a Stepan repeat as John Moore is similarly ineligible to file because he signed his initial NHL contract before the age of 21.
Larry Brooks at the New York Post reported yesterday that the Rangers are continuing to work with Chris Kreider, Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello on long term deals, however, the organization is looking to bring the 23-year old Moore back on a two-year “Glen Sather special” bridge deal at $1.1 million per. Moore’s entry level contract paid him $840K per.
On Saturday, Moore’s former team the Blue Jackets re-signed their 23-year old RFA defenseman David Savard to a two-year, $1.3 million per contract. Moore and Savard both finished last season with identical 15 points so the $1.1 million Brooks mentioned seems more than fair.
Where things have the potential to get messy is if Moore and his agent decide to use this offseason’s unrestricted free agent spending spree to their advantage. Their argument should start and end with Nikita Nikitin. The 28-year old defenseman was embarrassingly given a two-year, $4.5 million per year contract by the Edmonton Oilers despite scoring the same amount of points as Moore while posting a 49.2% Corsi (% of team shot attempts while player is on the ice for vs. against) compared to the Ranger defensman’s 51.6%.
Now, if Sather brings up the Savard contract in the negotiations, Moore’s agent could counter by saying that while the two defensemen had the same amount of points, his client did so while playing a minute and a half less per game and actually generated a greater amount offensive chances as he put 52 more shots on goal during the regular season.
Not having arbitration rights absolutely gives the team the advantage in contract negotiations, but unfortunately, it also forces the player to use the threat of a holdout to regain some leverage.
I’ve yet to see a report stating that the Rangers are going to have a problem re-signing Moore, however, the tight cap situation all but insures that Sather will be looking to pinch pennies when it comes to re-signing the Illinois native, so there’s a distinct possibility of conflict.
The qualifying offer of $850,500 which the Rangers submitted to Moore last week will expire at 5pm on July 15th. If he doesn’t accept the offer (which he won’t), he remains an RFA and can continue to negotiate with the Blueshirts on a new contract. If Moore does not sign before December 1st, he is ineligible to play in the NHL for the remainder of the season.
Even if there aren’t any discrepancies, don’t expect the Rangers to fully focus on Moore until after Kreider, Brassard and Zuccarello are taken care as Sather needs to make sure he has enough cap space available in the event any or all of his arbitration eligible RFAs actually go through a hearing and the arbitrator awards them more than the team anticipated. While there is the 10% summer cap increase, I’m assuming Sather would rather not use it as he’d eventually need to clear out the cap space once training camp begins anyway.
The Rangers have a history of tough negotiations with arbitration ineligible restricted free agents, just ask Brandon Dubinsky, Michael Del Zotto and Stepan, so anything can happen, but my hope is that Moore recognizes his market value as well as the Rangers cap issues and is willing to accept a reasonable deal.
We all know Sather doesn’t blink when it comes to negotiating with RFAs, so if Moore miscalculates his worth, expect a prolonged holdout to a key member of the Rangers roster for the second straight season.