The Dallas Stars are seemingly done for the summer, yet the NHL roster is far from complete. Three very important players remain unsigned, as restricted free agents Antoine Roussel, Cody Eakin and Brenden Dillon are all still involved in negotiations as fans eagerly await the news that they have been locked up.
There's a concern that because negotiations are still ongoing the Stars would be in danger of losing one or more of the three, when this is all just part of the business. All three players are in very unique positions when it comes to their experiences, role on the team, overall numbers and most importantly -- comparables.
The game when it comes to RFA negotiating is that the team has almost all of the leverage and the players have relatively little -- which is why it made sense for Roussel to file for arbitration, and why it wasn't a "bad sign" of things to come. Dillon and Eakin have no such control, other than perhaps signing an offer sheet (very rare) or holding out during training camp (very likely to happen).
Roussel and Dillon are both undrafted players that have taken on major roles for their NHL team, yet both are in unique positions as far as their skill set and numbers go, and there's only so many tools that can be used as comparables when negotiating contracts and you can't use the numbers of other unrestricted free agents.
Mike Heika has a very detailed and long article about each scenario, and I definitely recommend checking it out. Here are some snippets:
So, are any really comparable to Roussel? Beleskey probably is the closest. He had 132 hits (Roussel was second on Dallas at 146) and 64 penalty minutes with the Ducks. He's not a big fighter, but he is an agitating winger with some skill.
Strangely enough, the best comparable might be Roussel's linemate Ryan Garbutt, who just signed a three-year deal that averages $1.8 million. However, Garbutt was an unrestricted free agent, so he's not an eligible comparable player.
It seems, Roussel could fall in the range of two years at $1.5 million per season.
Brenden Dillon is coming off a great season, but defensive defensemen generally do not get big contracts until they are unrestricted free agents. The system just doesn't have the numbers that help them. Dillon had 17 points (6 goals, 11 assists) in 80 games. He was third on the team in average minutes on ice at 21:05 and led the team in hits at 168.
While Gudbranson and de Haan signed big bridge deals, they also were first-round draft picks. Both are getting paid for the defenseman their team expects them to become. Dillon has done a great job as an undrafted player, but he still is in the "has to prove it" stage. The guess here is two years at an average of $1.5 million.
Cody Eakin could be the toughest negotiation of all. He is seen as a third line center who can be really effective in creating offense out of a defensive position. However, he is coming off a season in which he played second line minutes (17:19 a game) and produced impressive numbers (16 goals, 19 assists, 35 points). So that should push him above his two fellow teammate in the expected rate of his next contract.
But neither side is right or wrong. It's a negotiation, and the only way to settle it is for both sides to agree. That's one of the reasons this could take some time. One of the key elements of negotiation pressure for the players is training camp. If they are not signed by that time, they won't report. Then, the threat of missing their services becomes an issue.
Jamie Benn did that after the lockout in 2012-13 and missed the first five games of the season. He eventually signed a five-year contract extension that averages $5.25 million a season.
Do Dillon or Eakin have the same sway as Benn? It would be an interesting battle. Dillon clearly is a top four defenseman on a team that needs physicality, but Dallas also has able replacements in Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak and Jyrki Jokipakka. Eakin is a key piece on the third line with Roussel and Garbutt, but Vern Fiddler also played well on that line last season and could easily move up.
The Stars certainly want to put their best lineup on the ice, but they have the ability to be patient if the negotiations aren't going the way they want.
In conclusion? Heika states this is all part of the process, and the Stars are going to have to be patient with Dillon and Eakin. The good news is that Roussel's contract situation will be determined next week at the latest, with the Stars likely agreeing to whatever the arbitrator rules -- if they even get that far.
It's a long summer ahead...don't expect to hear much on the other two for quite a while.