It’s hard to do business in the NHL right now.
With cap space limited all across the league, teams are no longer willing to pay any sort of premium for bottom six players.
A quick look at free agent signings this offseason will tell you as much.
Teams weren’t willing to throw big dollar figures at bottom six forwards, but almost more notably, they weren’t willing to invest any sort of term into these types of players.
Evan Rodrigues, who potted 19 goals last season and added 24 assists while providing strong defensive play — essentially exactly what you’d want in a third-line centre — picked up just a one-year commitment at a cap hit of $2 million from the Colorado Avalanche.
Granted, part of this phenomenon could be due to the fact that with the salary cap set to increase soon, agents are advising their clients that if they sign a short term deal, they’ll be able to get both more term and more money if they just wait until next offseason to sign.
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Another victim to this, who was arguably the second-best bottom six forward on the free agent market this offseason behind Rodrigues, is Tyler Motte.
Motte and the Canucks negotiated ahead of the 2022 Trade Deadline, but the two sides were too far apart for the Canucks to be comfortable keeping him for the rest of the season.
Instead, the Canucks turned their focus to getting something in return for their expiring asset, and flipped Motte to the New York Rangers in exchange for a fourth round pick.
Sources have suggested Motte’s camp wanted a multi-year deal from the Canucks north of $2 million, and the Canucks weren’t willing to meet that ask.
According to Rick Dhaliwal of Donnie and Dhali – The Team, the Canucks had preliminary check-in style negotiations with Motte earlier this offseason, but ultimately were not among the final teams interested in Motte before he signed with the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday morning.
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Motte’s decision to sign in Ottawa is certainly understandable, as he’ll be used as the top penalty killer and may even find some time in the top six if the injury bug hits the Senators’ forward group.
This will give him the best opportunity to delay cashing in on the longer term contract that he and his camp likely hoped they’d be able to get this offseason.
The question is, will that happen next offseason, or will the market remain closed off to the idea of bottom six free agents until the 2024 offseason, when the NHL’s salary cap is expected to increase substantially?
To the surprise of many, the market dried up almost completely this offseason, and it’s certainly going to be something both players and their agents will keep an eye on as they prepare to navigate the 2023 offseason and beyond.
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