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What's latest on Ryan Ellis, Ryan Johansen and other unsigned RFAs?

9/23/2014

Ryan Johansen isn’t the only restricted free agent who remains unsigned in the NHL.

Not sure I can remember the last time there have been this many RFAs still unsigned with preseason underway, but whether it’s the effect of the new collective bargaining agreement or not, a handful of players are still waiting for new deals.

In Nashville, blueliner Ryan Ellis, 23, still doesn’t have a deal with the Predators.

"This is clearly one of those cases where we want to pay him X and he wants Y," veteran Preds general manager David Poile told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "We’ve tried to justify our position, they’ve tried to justify their position, and we just disagree.

"I mean, we’re not trading him. We want him. He really played well at the end of last year. I think with Peter Laviolette's new system, it plays really well into Ryan’s game. The sooner we get it done, the better it will be for everybody."

Poile would not discuss specifics, but it’s thought the Preds have offered two-, three-, four- and five-year deals, so there are options on the table and it may not necessarily end up being a two-year bridge deal. I say that because you have to assume the four- and five-year deals are worth more money per year than the two-year offer.

Elsewhere

• Center Cody Eakin and defenseman Brenden Dillon, both 23 and RFAs, aren’t close to new deals with the Dallas Stars. What’s interesting is that both players are represented by Jarrett Bousquet, who happens to be based in Dallas. Eakin switched agents last season, leaving Gerry Johannson for Bousquet. That doesn’t appear to have made things any easier for the Stars. You get the sense, though, that Dallas GM Jim Nill is willing to be patient and wait this out.

• Similarly in Boston, the Bruins have a pair of unsigned players in forward Reilly Smith and blueliner Torey Krug, both 23. A source told ESPN.com on Tuesday that there is nothing new on either front, very much status quo for the time being. Given Boston’s tight cap situation, not sure you can bank on the Bruins changing their position much.

• Blues RFA forward Jaden Schwartz, 22, continues to wait things out. I’m surprised this one has lasted as long as it has. It never felt like both sides were that far apart, but as of Tuesday still no deal. Word is the Blues improved their offer to north of $2 million last week. My guess is Newport Sports (Wade Arnott), which represents Schwartz, would prefer somewhere north of $2.5 million, so both sides are still in the ballpark of half a million apart per season on a two-year bridge deal. It doesn’t seem like much, but it remains an important gap.

• A quick follow-up on Johansen: Sources confirmed the counteroffer from the player’s camp is two years and $9.5 million in total, so a $4.75 million average. It’s believed to be $3.5 million in the first year and $6 million in Year 2 (when he’s eligible for salary arbitration). The Jackets as of Tuesday are remaining firm on their offer of two years at $3 million per. Neither side sounds one bit willing to move at this point. So it’s a waiting game, and a very bitter one at that.

Junior-eligible players

One issue that crops up from time to time every September is that of junior-eligible players and the rules that govern them in the CBA. Quite simply, if a player remains junior-eligible, he either has to make the NHL roster (past the nine-game NHL regular-season audition) or return to junior.

But what if a prospect can’t learn much by going back to junior for a fourth year, yet perhaps isn't ready for full-time NHL duty? In other words, he's in between. Why can’t he play in the AHL to further develop his skills?

Case in point, Max Domi, 19, and the Arizona Coyotes. Perhaps Domi will make the Coyotes outright and it’s a moot point. But if he doesn’t, he will need to go back for a fourth year of junior where, frankly, he has very little to prove.

"It's hard to imagine any NHL GM would argue against adding additional flexibility to the current CHL rule," Coyotes GM Don Maloney told via email to ESPN.com on Tuesday. "We all understand top junior players are valuable assets for their junior Clubs. However, for any elite junior player who has played three full CHL seasons (in Max Domi’s case, three straight Memorial Cup appearances), the option to place the player (perhaps restrict it to one player per Club) in the AHL would be invaluable to us and a real benefit to the player’s development."

Deputy commissioner Bill Daly said that while the issue comes up from time to time, it hasn’t warranted enough support to change the existing rule with the Canadian Hockey League.

"I don't think this is as big an issue as you think -- although people always focus on it this time of year," Daly said via email. "We actually surveyed the GMs before last year's CHL deal and it wasn't an overwhelming need.

"Any change -- even on a restricted or limited basis -- would be devastating to the CHL. So, no, I don't see this changing in the near future (and at least for the term of this CHL Agreement)."

No question you understand where CHL clubs are coming from, but if a new rule limited exceptions to one prospect per NHL team, I don’t see that as that big a deal. Food for thought ...