|P.K. Subban will need a new contract before play resumes. (US Presswire)|
Whenever the time comes and a new collective bargaining agreement is reached to end the lockout, there will be a handful of players who will put the new system to the test right away.
The majority of free agents -- unrestricted and restricted alike -- signed with teams prior to the lockout. It was a bit of an ostentatious display by the owners. The big contracts that guys like Evander Kane signed (six seasons at $5.25 million per) made it hard for people to sympathize with the owners in this lockout.
The rationalization for the big deals went something like this: Everybody from both sides figured they would try to get the deals in before the old CBA expired in anticipation of harsher rules; it would be mutually beneficial. The system was not what owners wanted to operate under in the long term, but they figured they might as well take advantage while it's still there.
But not everybody signed. At the moment, there are six restricted free agents who remain without contracts. It's these players who will see how things work right away:
That's some pretty strong talent there that remains unsigned. Chief among the list are Subban and Benn, but Del Zotto, Kulikov, O'Reilly and Franson are nothing to sneeze at.
The question that begs to be answered: Did these guys make the right moves by not signing before the lockout. Perhaps they didn't have a choice; they just weren't close to reaching a deal and didn't want to agree to something they didn't just want for the sake of signing before the lockout. It could very well turn out that they won't get as much as they could have had they signed before the lockout.
Then again, they will have an immediate upper hand when it comes to negotiating a new contract. The first litmus tests will be slanted toward the players.
Why is that? Let's put it this way. Pretend you're Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk. The lockout is lifted and it is your responsibility to make sure the roster is ready to go. Your team will have some buzz to start the season as Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney are on board. Even with those guys, Benn is a massive part of the team; he was an all-star, after all.
So you're Nieuwendyk and you are looking at just over a week from the time the CBA is signed to the time the season starts. You want Benn in the lineup -- you need him there -- especially if the season is shortened, you can't afford to have Benn off the ice. Every game carries more significance when there are fewer -- it's one reason why football and its 16-game schedule is king in the United States. No GM will want to fall behind the 8-ball because one of their best players was unsigned.
The result should be a great contract for Benn as the time crunch will presumably lead Nieuwendyk to give in more to Benn for the sake of getting a deal done.
The same holds true for the other players. Subban is certainly a massive part of things in Montreal. Del Zotto is a pretty key figure on their blue line, as is Kulikov in Florida. These six teams will want those players back from the opening faceoff.
Naturally, though, we'll have to see what the new CBA looks like before we can really anticipate what these deals might look like. One thing is probably guaranteed. They won't be signing any super long contracts as the owners are trying to cap the length of deals. But in exchange for fewer years, players might ask for a little more money per year. How that will work with their percentage of the hockey-related revenue going down remains to be seen.
As we will hopefully find out this week with the CBA negotiations, when talks get down to the wire, the pressure builds and people give into demands. Well in this case the players (as in the six RFAs) will not need a new contract as much as the GMs will.
Is this to say the contracts will be unreasonable? No, not at all. But it might make you cock your head to the side and wonder "what was the lockout for, again?"
Of course, they could be so restricted with the new CBA that they will look foolish for not signing earlier, but I am going to sell that notion.