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The Big Questions: The Other RFAs

Over the weekend, I took a look at what the next contract for Ethan Bear could look like. He’s definitely the most important pending restricted free agent but there are two others that are very interesting. Both Matt Benning and Andreas Athanasiou need new contracts and although they are aren’t coming off great years, it’s pretty clear that Ken Holland will want both players back with the organization next season. So what could their new deals look like?

Matt Benning is coming off an injury-riddled season so I don’t think we’re going to see a long-term deal this summer. When he’s in the lineup, he’s a solid third pairing defender with some decent offensive upside. His goal this season against the Calgary Flames is a great example of his offensive potential. I think he would benefit from getting some powerplay time and getting a regular partner on the team’s third pairing. I would love to see him play 82 games in that role next season.

There likely won’t be any powerplay time for him next season because of the fact that Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse are ahead of him on the depth chart and Evan Bouchard could be in the lineup, so it’s important for the Oilers to not pay him more than what he’ll be used as, which is a third-pairing defenseman.

I really can’t see Benning getting too much of a raise of his current $1.9 million cap hit which means that the Oilers might not make him a qualifying offer, which will complicate things a little bit more. In my opinion, there are two possibilities.

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First, they could sign him to a two or three year deal with a cap hit lower than $1.9 million. This will give Benning some security and give the Oilers a chance to save a little bit of money while keeping a solid, young NHL defenseman in their organization.

Square One

The other option is for them to trade Benning. With Evan Bouchard waiting to make the jump to the NHL, Benning could be viewed as an expendable piece, through no fault of his own. Think of all the reasons the Oilers would value having a guy like Benning on their team. Those are the exact same reasons why he might bring back a decent return if he was dealt this offseason.

I think Matt Benning is a fine NHLer and I have no problem with him being on the Oilers for the foreseeable future. However, if the organization wants Evan Bouchard to be in the NHL, they’d likely want him playing on the third pairing and that could bump Benning out of the lineup.

It’s hard to tell exactly how Holland will handle this situation but it will go a long way in shaping how the Oilers roster looks in 2020-21. If I had to guess, I would say they sign Benning and wait for Bouchard to really force his way onto the roster before they trade away defensive depth.

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Upfront, the only Restricted Free Agent that the Oilers have is Andreas Athanasiou. He’s coming off a two-year deal that carried a cap hit of $3 million. He scored 30 goals in 2018/19 but wasn’t even on pace for 20 goals before this current season was paused. After coming over in a deadline deal, he scored just once in nine games with the Oilers. When you look at his basic stats, his -46 +/- rating jumps off the page. 

Even though he had a bit of a rough season, the Oilers gave up a lot to get him and I can’t see a scenario where he isn’t with the team once the 2020/21 season begins. They control his rights since he is an RFA and he’s also arbitration-eligible. I doubt the team or player want to go to arbitration, so what would a fair deal look like for the speedy winger?

Right now, there are 28 forwards in the league who signed their current deals as RFAs and make between $3-4 million. Eight of those players signed their contracts in the last calendar year. They are: Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson, Alex Kerfoot, Andre Burakovsky, Jakub Vrana, JT Compher, Kevin Fiala, and Pavel Buchenvich. All of those players have AAV’s between $3-$3.5 million

It seems like the going rate for a goal-scoring RFA winger is between $3.0-$3.5 million. Considering that Athanasiou has arbitration rights and is coming off a deal that saw him make $3 million a season, I would expect his next deal to carry an AAV of $3.5 million. It seems like a fair raise for a player who had a breakout campaign in the first year of his last deal but struggled to follow it up with a second straight successful season. Would any Oilers fans be upset if he was signed to a two-year contract with a cap hit of $3.5 million? I wouldn’t be and I suspect that Athanasiou would be alright with that deal as well.

My best guess is that Ken Holland brings back all three of the Oilers current RFAs. Matt Benning will get a two-year deal and Andreas Athanasiou will likely get a $500k raise while Ethan Bear might be the best bet to get a long-term deal?

Do you think things will play out differently? Will Holland move on from one of Benning or Athanasiou? Give me your take in the comment section! Also, if you have an Oiler’s offseason question that you’d like me to look into, feel free to hit me up on Twitter (@tyleryaremchuk)!

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