Now that the 2019 NHL Draft has passed by, fans turn their attention towards what will surely be an exciting summer. The 2019 free agent class is unprecedented, boasting a tremendous amount of star talent. The group of restricted free agents is unprecedented and there are many reports that the league could see its first offer sheet in a long time. While this year, many fans are paying mind towards the group of RFA forwards, the group of RFA defencemen is also extremely talented, with at least four potential number-one defenders, and a number who could be part of a team’s top four. Today, the team at Last Word on Hockey will list our Top-10 RFA Defencemen.
Top 10 RFA Defencemen
1.) Charlie McAvoy, Right Defence, Boston Bruins
Previous Cap Hit: $916,667
McAvoy was a key part of the Bruins reaching the Stanley Cup Final. He may have been the Bruins best defender last season, passing players like Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug on the depth chart despite playing just his second full season in the league. McAvoy scored 28 points in 54 games. He also had solid possession numbers with 54.1 percent Corsi-For and +1.0 relative Corsi. McAvoy played over 22 minutes per game for the Bruins.
Evolving-Wild projects McAvoy to receive a six-year contract at just over $7.1 million per season. McAvoy is in a unique situation, as he cannot sign an offer sheet due to having just two seasons of pro service time. The Bruins have over $12 million in cap space with 20 players under contract and fitting McAvoy in should not be too big of an issue. Negotiations may linger a bit as the lack of the ability to sign an offer sheet could lead Don Sweeney to put his primary focus on the UFA market before moving back to McAvoy.
2.) Zach Werenski, Left Defence, Columbus Blue Jackets
Previous Cap Hit: $925,000
Werenski has made an immediate impact with the Blue Jackets in three years in the NHL. Last season he scored 11 goals and 44 points in 82 games. The smooth-skating, puck-moving defender has been a key part of the Jackets rise from the bottom of the NHL standings into being a contender, and one who upset the Tampa Bay Lightning in this year’s playoffs. Werenski has great possession numbers throughout his career, with a 51.0 percent Corsi-For and +1.4 relative Corsi.
Werenski has been projected to sign a seven-year contract at over $6.8 million per season. With all the unrestricted free agents leaving Columbus this off-season, the Blue Jackets can not afford to see Werenski also leave. This will discourage offer sheets as Columbus is likely to match. They also have the cap space to fit him in. It would be very surprising to see Werenski in anything other than a Blue Jackets jersey come training camp.
3.) Ivan Provorov, Left Defence, Philadelphia Flyers
Previous Cap Hit: $894,167
Coming out of his entry-level contract, Provorov has already established himself as one of the top young defencemen in the NHL. He played over 25 minutes per game for the Flyers last year, putting up 26 points. This was done from his 2017-18 production when he put up 41 points. Playing heavy defensive minutes, and with plenty of defensive zone starts, McAvoy had a 47.5 percent Corsi-For and -2.0 relative Corsi.
Evolving-Wild projects Provorov to receive a six-year contract worth over $6.6 million per season. The Flyers could also look at a bridge deal here. One shouldn’t expect Philadelphia to be an offer-sheet target though, as the team has over $15 million in available cap space as well as the revenues to match any contract structure. The bigger fear here is a holdout. The Flyers and Provorov are reportedly far apart in contract negotiations. That will need to change over the next three months.
4.) Jacob Trouba, Right Defence, New York Rangers
Previous Cap Hit: $5.5 million
Trouba, a veteran of contract disputes with the Winnipeg Jets, was recently traded to the New York Rangers. After the trade, Larry Brooks has reported that the team and player are close on a seven-year contract worth between $7.5 million and $8.0 million per season. Following this big trade, the Rangers are unlikely to allow Trouba to sign an offer sheet with any other team.
Troub had a very strong season with the Jets last year. He put up eight goals and 50 points in 82 games. It was a new career high in points for the big defenceman. It was also the first time he played in all 82 games. He also put up a 49.2 percent Corsi-For with a +0.7 relative Corsi, all while playing top pairing minutes and facing the other team’s best lines.
5.) Ryan Murray, Left Defence, Columbus Blue Jackets
Previous Cap Hit: $2.825 million
It was a breakout season for the second overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft. With 29 points in 56 games, Murray set a new career high in scoring. He also put up a 50.1 percent Corsi-For, with a -0.1 relative Corsi despite facing a significant percentage of defensive zone starts. Murray has never quite lived up to the high expectations that came with his draft status and consistent injuries have played a big part in that. Now coming into his prime years, there may be some hope that Murray is ready to take the next step.
Evolving Wild projects Murray to get a three-year deal at just over $4 million per season. As previously mentioned, the Blue Jackets would not be threatened with an offer sheet as they have plenty of cap space to match any deal. However, the Blue Jackets are very deep on defence and with Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Dzingel all unrestricted free agents, they will need to improve their forward depth. Don’t be surprised if Murray is moved in a trade to add to the forward group.
6.) Anthony DeAngelo, Right Defence, New York Rangers
Previous Cap Hit: $863,333
After a number of years of waiting, and being part of three different organizations, Anthony DeAngelo had a breakthrough last season. He played over 19 minutes per game with the Rangers and put up four goals and 30 points in 61 games. DeAngelo was also strong in his possession numbers on a weak New York team with a 46.3 percent Corsi-For but +1.7 Corsi relative. He is finally starting to make good on the promise that was seen during an impressive junior career.
With the trade for Trouba, DeAngelo can play a little lower in the Rangers lineup going forward. This will help him as he continues to develop his defensive game. He is projected to get a six-year deal at $4.6 million per season. The Rangers have plenty of cap space and are well into their rebuild. It would be very surprising if he was not back in Manhattan next season.
7.) Joel Edmundson, Left Defence, St. Louis Blues
Previous Cap Hit: $3 million
Edmundson put up two goals and 11 points in 64 games for the Blues last season. He also added 68 penalty minutes. Playing 19:23 per game, he was heavily relied on by the Stanley Cup Champions. He also played in 22 playoff games with seven points. The big defender is best known for the physical and defensive sides of the game. His possession numbers were 50.4 percent Corsi-For with a relative Corsi of -1.5.
The Blues are deep on the blue line and have prospects ready to make the jump to the NHL. While Edmundson played a role with the Cup Champions, it is not an irreplaceable one. A significant offer sheet would certainly get the Blues to think about accepting compensation for Edmundson. That said, with the rareness of offer sheets, the Blues really need to think about the length of the deal here. If the contract is for one year, Edmundson could be an unrestricted free agent next year. He is projected to receive a six-year deal at $4.6 million per season.
8.) Cody Ceci, Right Defence, Ottawa Senators
Previous Cap Hit: $4.3 million
Heavily rumoured to be traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the coming days, Ceci has been heavily criticized by the analytics community for his work with the Senators. This past season he put up seven goals and 26 points in 74 games. His possession numbers were 44.1 percent Corsi-For and a relative Corsi of -1.9.
Ceci received a qualifying offer of $4.3 million from the Senators and has arbitration rights. If he signs a one-year deal (or is awarded one in arbitration) he could become an unrestricted free agent next summer. The Leafs are facing a cap crunch with a Mitch Marner signing pending. It will be interesting to see where they decide to go with Ceci if this deal goes through. Evolving-Wild projects a five-year deal at $4.35 million per season.
9.) Nikita Zadorov, Left Defence, Colorado Avalanche
Previous Cap Hit: $2.15 million
Zadorov played over 17 minutes per night for the Avalanche last season, putting up seven goals and 14 points in 70 games. He plays a physical game, sometimes crossing the line as seen by his 75 penalty minutes. Zadorov put up a 49.4 percent Corsi-For with a +0.1 Corsi-relative.
Evolving Wild projects Zadorov to have a two-year, $2.5 million contract. The Avalanche have the most cap space in the NHL right now but have several key players who will need new contracts in the next three years. Given that, and the fact that their defence now includes top prospects in Cale Makar and Bowen Byram, Joe Sakic might think long and hard about another team’s offer sheet if it contains significant term. This still seems unlikely though, and one should expect Zadorov and the Avalanche to be able to work out a deal.
10.) Will Butcher, Left Defence, New Jersey Devils
Previous Cap Hit: $925,000
Like McAvoy, Butcher only has two years of professional service time and thus is not eligible for an offer sheet. He has been a valuable part of the Devils over those two years with 74 points in that time (30 points last season). He has been defensively-sheltered with his zone starts and has put up a Corsi-For of 50.4 percent and a +4.9 relative Corsi.
Without the ability to negotiate an offer sheet with other teams, the leverage here sits in the Devils corner. Evolving-Wild projects Butcher to sign a two-year deal with an AAV just under $2.4 million per season. The Devils have over $25 million in cap space right now (with just 15 players signed), so getting a deal done here should not be too big of an issue. However, Ray Shero may focus on filling out more of his roster before getting around to finishing the Butcher deal.
Main Photo: SAN JOSE, CA – DECEMBER 30: Ivan Provorov #9 of the Philadelphia Flyers looks on during the game against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center on December 30, 2016, in San Jose, California. (Photo by Rocky W. Widner/NHL/Getty Images)