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5 NHL star restricted free agents who could sign early and what they’re worth


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Training camp for the 2023-24 season hasn’t even started yet. So it may seem a bit soon to be jumping right into contracts expiring on July 1, 2024. 

But there’s rightfully a lot of buzz for the upcoming class of restricted free agents.

Just like the UFAs, these players became eligible to sign extensions two months ago. And it won’t be surprising to see teams get proactive, especially with those considered to be franchise cornerstones. So that’s where we’ll start: The biggest restricted free agents who could sign early. 

Rasmus DahlinBuffalo Sabres

Of the 2024 restricted free agents, the player who seems closest to an extension is Rasmus Dahlin. The 23-year-old is coming off a three-year deal that carried a $6 million cap hit, signed by then-general manager Jason Botterill. 

So now’s the time for a long-term deal. 

Kevyn Adams has signed a handful of long-term deals since taking over as general manager, but none have had an outrageously high cap hit. If anything, it feels like Tage Thompson’s $7.1 million AAV has been an internal cap of sorts. But that limit probably doesn’t apply to Dahlin — his actual salary for this upcoming season is above that at $7.2 million. 

Had his contract expired this year, Evolving-Hockey would have projected an eight-year deal worth a $10.5 million cap hit. While he has another year, this still seems like a fair endpoint. It would be worth 12 percent of the cap in the first year, which would be a little above the Cale Makars and Adam Foxes of the world. It may seem steep but is more a consequence of that bridge deal (which made sense at the time of the signing). But this would stay below his market value, which The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn’s model projects to be around $12 million, on average, over the next seven years, after his current contract ends.


Adding a contract of that magnitude to the books in Buffalo would be significant, but it’s a worthwhile bet to make for a No. 1 defenseman whose game has stabilized after a slower start. As the Sabres continue to improve, Dahlin should have more support, which should keep his value high to match that salary as the contract ages. 

Elias PetterssonVancouver Canucks 

Elias Pettersson’s the most pivotal piece in Vancouver, so it makes sense why management would want to have a contract done sooner rather than later. Unfortunately for the team, the player isn’t in a rush to extend — he put talks on hold while preparing for the season.

While this is at the top of the priority list for the Canucks, there’s still more than enough time to hammer out an extension. The big question is what that next deal might look like, granted the player wants to stick around. 

Once Petterson’s current contract expires, he projects to be worth a market value of about $14 million, on average, over the next seven years. Going a step down to that $12-13 million range, since as an RFA, he probably won’t hit that number, feels fair. It would keep him in a tier with other franchise cornerstones, like Auston MatthewsNathan MacKinnon and David Pastrnak


It’s a high price — one that Pettersson’s earned — but it goes to show just how much costs can rise after a bridge. That’s not all that may strain the Canucks here; the fact that they handed such a major contract to a secondary player like J.T. Miller before their core pieces were locked up long-term is a backward way of cap construction. 

The term is a question too. While a long-term deal seems like the most likely based on the fact that he already went short-term, and most star players take the maximum, there’s no guarantee here. Pettersson could follow in Matthews’ footsteps and opt for a short-term deal to avoid over-committing to a team that’s struggled to move forward and maximize his earnings that way. 

Moritz SeiderDetroit Red Wings

While Dahlin and Pettersson are seeking their third contracts, Mortiz Seider’s still on his entry-level deal. So will he follow in their paths on a short-term deal, or will Steve Yzerman go big with his No. 1 defenseman?

Cap space isn’t a big issue for the Red Wings. But will management want to go as big as possible this soon? Will Seider?

Looking back at Yzerman’s track record sparks that question from Detroit’s side. He hasn’t consistently gone for the big contracts post-ELC to his stars. Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos each signed five-year deals, before going for the maximum. Nikita Kucherov was signed to a bridge deal first, too. So if that is Yzerman’s pattern, maybe mid-term is the move.

Then there’s the player perspective: Would Seider be selling himself short, especially after he had a very slow start to 2022-23?

A shorter-term deal could be a two- or three-year contract worth a cap hit of around $5 million. Evolving-Hockey has a five-year deal at $6.5 million, on average. But how much would that raise the price of his next deal? That’s what could motivate Yzerman to push for more with a core piece. Then, a cap hit percentage of 10 and 11 could make sense, similar to other young No. 1s like Makar, Fox, Quinn HughesMiro Heiskanen and Charlie McAvoy. That would equate to a $9 million cap hit, which would line up with his market value.


Detroit may push it a little lower based on his last season, but the recent Jake Sanderson contract may have set the bar for a No. 1 upward of that $8 million benchmark. As long as Seider rebounds — which the Red Wings have to bet on — that market value should start climbing, raising the chance of him delivering positive value throughout the deal. 

Matthew Beniers, Seattle Kraken

Like Seider, Matthew Beniers will be seeking his second contract sometime in the next year. He faces a similar question of bridge-deal or long-term for that second contract. 

The trend in recent years has been signing young stars to major second contracts. That tends to be a smarter bet considering player peaks and aging curves, even if it seems like a high price at the time of the signing based on experience. Contracts signed by Jack HughesTim StützleRobert ThomasJosh NorrisNick Suzuki and Dylan Cozens all fit that trend. 

Considering Beniers’ stellar start to his NHL career, his potential moving forward, and the fact that he’s the biggest source of star power up front in Seattle, a long-term deal would probably be the best path.

Here, the question is whether general manager Ron Francis will go as big as a long-term deal would call for. His market value projects to be in the $12 million range, on average, over the seven years after his current entry-level deal expires.


That would be a cap hit percentage of about 14 percent, which is a bit high relative to those other big, young signings, even for top-tier talent. The 10 percent range could be more likely, based on past signings, which would put him somewhere around $9 million. 

But that would still be a jump for Francis, who rarely hands out expensive deals; the highest AAV he’s ever signed a player to came this summer with Vince Dunn’s $7.35 million. Maybe for a franchise player like Beniers, he’d reconsider because a short-term deal probably costs more down the line — just look to Pettersson as an example of that. 

Owen Power, Buffalo Sabres

If Thompson is the internal cap for forwards, it’s easy to see how Dahlin would be the same for defensemen in Buffalo. As their No. 1, it’s reasonable to see him be the highest-paid player for some time. So for Owen Power, the bar may have just been set. 

Staying at or below $10 million seems more than reasonable for a player who has as little NHL experience as Power, especially since he isn’t the team’s No. 1 at a position. His projected market value in the seven years after his ELC ends is about $9.2 million, so that seems like a fair ceiling for his second contract. Pushing it a bit lower, closer to that Sanderson signing, could be fair too since the two are in similar positions and are their team’s No. 2 defensemen. 


But of all the aforementioned players, this is the one who could also make sense as a lower-term deal. Power isn’t as proven so there could be some skepticism from management, and the player may want to bet on himself a bit longer — Dahlin’s getting a bigger raise now than he would have had he signed long-term right after his ELC.

But Adams’ tendencies so far point to a big contract sooner than later, NHL experience or not. That didn’t stop him from extending Cozens to save in the future. Management saw the value in their 2C and signed him accordingly as soon as possible. So that may be the move here, which could lead to a long-term contract in that $8 million range. The Sabres will have the space to manage it, even with Dahlin’s incoming raise.

“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.

A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

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