In the days leading up to NHL training camps opening later this week, the pressure is increasing on players without contracts and teams to get something done. On Monday, we saw the first break in the restricted free agent logjam, as Columbus and defenseman Zach Werenski agreed on a three-year, $15 Million contract extension.
The bridge deal is back-loaded with the third year at $7 Million, leaving the 22-year-old blueliner one arbitration-eligible year away from unrestricted free agency, but the trade off for the Blue Jackets is they have the 2015 first rounder locked up at a salary less than Seth Jones $5.4 Million cap hit.
The Werenski signing may not have as much of an impact on the forward group of the RFA class in Mitch Marner, Mikko Rantanen, Brayden Point, Patrik Laine and Matthew Tkachuk as it will for free agents Charlie McAvoy, Ivan Provorov, and Brandon Carlo, but the $5 Million AAV re-establishes the more accepted practice of a more reasonable lower salary for a shorter-term contract.
Speculation in recent weeks has indicated that the Marner camp would prefer a shorter deal to inch closer to unrestricted free agency, but at an amount ($9 to 9.5 Million) closer to what top players are getting on long-term deals.
Darren Dreger indicated TSN 1050 radio on Monday that while discussions are still ongoing, the two sides are no closer to an agreement and that Marner will likely skate with his former junior team in London, ON later this week if he is still unsigned. If the impasse extends into training camp, Marner still may head over to Switzerland to skate with the Zurich Lions.
The Leafs rookies play the third game at the Traverse City Prospects Challenge against the host Detroit Red Wings on Monday night, looking to go 3-0 after a 6-2 win over St. Louis on Friday and 6-3 victory against Chicago on Saturday. Ian Scott is the likely starter in goal for Toronto.
Most of the Leafs players were on hand at the Ford Performance Center in Etobicoke, ON for an informal skate on Monday, including veteran Jason Spezza, who will be wearing #19 this season after Nic Petan wore it at the end of last season.
Spezza wore #19 for most of his tenure in Ottawa and switched to #90 for his five years in Dallas.
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