The NHL returns in a little over a week and the Anaheim Ducks still haven’t signed restricted free agents (RFAs) Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale to new contracts.
It’s a puzzling situation, considering the fact that Anaheim isn’t short on cap space and their unattached duo are two of the top prospects in their system.
With that in mind, British Ice Hockey analyses the landscape as it relates to Zegras, Drysdale, and the Ducks.
Why are Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale restricted free agents?
In the NHL, there are two types of free agents – restricted and unrestricted (UFA).
UFAs are completely free to negotiate and sign contracts with any team in the league, without compensation being sent to their previous club.
Players automatically become UFAs when their contracts expire if they have at least seven years of NHL experience or are over the age of 27.
There are other routes to unrestricted free agency, but none of these apply to Zegras or Drysdale – which means they remain RFAs.
Unlike their unrestricted counterparts, RFAs remain under team control after their contracts expire, essentially tying them to their current club.
While it is possible for other teams to recruit RFAs via offer sheets, this process is frowned upon in general manager circles and therefore rarely happens in the NHL.
Why haven’t the Anaheim Ducks re-signed Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale yet?
The Ducks hold the hammer in their negotiations with Zegras and Drysdale and have decided to play the waiting game as a result.
Anaheim general manager Pet Verbeek knows that Zegras and Drysdale are exceedingly unlikely to agree to be offer-sheeted, allowing him to squeeze every nickel and dime in their negotiations with the Ducks.
However, this approach has attracted some criticism from across the hockey world, with well-healed pundits questioning the need for tense negotiations with two of the team’s highest-potential players.
“Nobody I have been talking to is optimistic about [a deal being close],” said Sportsnet insider Elliotte Friedman.
“Like the team just doesn’t seem like they’re going to budge. Zegras just doesn’t seem like they’re going to budge. I don’t think Drysdale wants to budge either.
“This level of athlete, they just don’t blindly accept it, right? You can negotiate hard and you can demand a high standard but you also have to be able to recognize that you have to bend in certain ways too. And Verbeek as a player, he never bent on anything.
“So, I just think that, I just look at this and I say, ‘Sometimes you need to bend a bit more than you’d like to, to get players on your team to buy into what you’re selling.’ You don’t have to bend a ton but you have to bend a little bit. And I just wonder if he’s just not interested in doing that. We’ll see where it goes.”
Zegras, for what it’s worth, is an elite-two way forward that can play anywhere across the front line. He is incredibly mobile and boasts some of the best stick-handling technique in the sport. Famed for his creativity on the puck, the 22-year-old is projected to become one of the stars of the sport and posted 65 points (23 goals, 42 assists) in 81 appearances last season.
Drysdale is also highly-regarded, with 32 points (four goals, 28 assists) in his last injury-free season.
In other words, Zegras and Drysdale are worth keeping for the Ducks – who have more than $15 million in salary cap space.
How long do the Anaheim Ducks have to re-sign Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale?
The deadline to re-sign restricted free agents falls on 1 December. If the Ducks fail to re-sign Zegras and Drysdale before then, they will be locked out of the NHL for the rest of the season.
However, the more realistic ‘deadline’ is the start of the season on 11 October – which is when the Ducks will want their RFA duo inked by.
Verbeek holds all of the power in these negotiations, so it is down to him to determine how this plays out.
With Zegras and Drysdale unlikely to lower their salary demands, this drama could spin on for a while yet.