It's August, and TK and Provy are Unsigned. What's Up with That?
At this time of year one summer ago, the Flyers front office had nothing to do except count the number of days until training camp. Most of the years before, the same was status quo, just as it was throughout the entire league. Sure, there would be the occasional team making a big trade or taking their sweet time on an RFA, but they were generally viewed as outliers.
However, the summer of 2019 has flipped that narrative on its head. Perhaps this should've been viewed as inevitable, or at least likely, considering William Nylander's holdout until December 1st last year. That's the last date an RFA can sign a contract and be eligible to play in that season.
Nylander wasn't the first RFA in recent memory to holdout into the regular season - Josh Anderson of Columbus and Andreas Athanasiou of Detroit are other examples. But as the calendar flips to August, usually a time of relaxation for NHL front offices, much of the league still has plenty of business to be done.
Only the Flyers and the Winnipeg Jets (Laine and Connor) have multiple players on this list. But that means that about a third of the league has a star player still in need of a new contract for the offseason. The only notable RFA skaters signed so far this summer have been the Sharks' Timo Meier (4 years, $6 million AAV) and Kevin Labanc (1 year, $1 million AAV), the Rangers' Jacob Trouba (7 years, $8 million AAV), and the Hurricanes' Sebastian Aho (5 years, $8.54 million AAV - originally signed as an offer sheet with Montreal).
What has caused this change? Previously, player contracts played out in a predictable pattern. A player would signed their entry-level deal for three years. Once that was up, they would receive a raise, usually in the form of a short-term bridge deal. Then, they would become a UFA and receive their massive pay-day. Some players might sign one or two additional contracts afterwards, but this was a pretty standard contract trajectory.
In recent years, with the installation of the salary camp in 2005 and limiting contracts to eight years in 2013, teams have tried to go long-term with players immediately after their ELC expired. Using the lucrative total salary to lure players into these deals, clubs were able to create massive bargains. By the halfway point of many of these contracts, the player had grown to a level worthy of a far greater cap hit than they had previously signed for.
But, as the saying goes, "fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me." RFAs have begun realizing this and are trying to avoid the mistakes of those before them. Either they want short-term contracts that will expire right after they enter their prime, or long-term deals at a massive cap hit much higher than their current value.
Right now, all of these star RFAs are waiting for someone to set the market. No one wants to sign first, because of the fear the others will use them as a comparable to negotiate a better contract than the one they signed.
No RFA has received more attention than Toronto Maple Leafs right winger Mitch Marner. Coming off a career-high 94-point campaign, the 2015 4th overall pick's negotiations have been in the spotlight since Auston Matthews signed a 5-year, $11.6 million AAV deal in the winter (Matthews was set to be an RFA this summer as well). Many people believe that Marner is the domino everyone is waiting to fall first.
Going back to the Flyers, it seems very likely that Konecny will be the first of the two Flyers to put pen to paper. For starters, he's a forward, and there are significantly more forwards than defenseman on the RFA market. While Konecny has played a key role in the Flyers offense the last two seasons, playing in the top-six almost exclusively, he has't been as key to the forwards as Provorov has to the team's defense. And based off Fletcher's comments to the media, it appears that negotiations with Konecny's agent have been progressing faster than with Provorov.
It also helps that Konecny has followed a fairly standard development curve. He had a respectable 28-point rookie campaign, Konecny posted consecutive 24-goal seasons, scoring 47 and 49 points, respectively. It took Konecny a little bit to gain Dave Hakstol's trust and move up the lineup. And while Konecny does have an incredible offensive skillset that he's displayed at 5-on-5, he has never contributed much on the power play and he is a bit of a defensive liability.
Ivan Provorov took a much different journey through his first three years in the league. Within just a few months of making the jump straight from the WHL to the big leagues, Provorov was on the Flyers top pairing, playing over 20 minutes a night on a regular basis from year one on. Provorov's first year was solid - 30 points, consistent time at all three situations (5-on-5, power play, and penalty kill), and respectable advanced metrics despite being paired mostly with Andrew MacDonald.
Year two saw Provorov take a massive jump. His ice-time increased further, he was tied for the league-lead in goals scored by defenseman, and his advanced metrics improved when paired with Shayne Gostisbehere, another elite blue liner. There was massive hype around Provy coming into fall 2018, with the most optimistic fans seeing him as a dark horse for the Norris Trophy.
However, Provorov regressed last season, both by the eye test and advanced metrics. Provorov seemed to be fighting the puck for most of the first half, and he was no longer driving play. Though his play improved a little bit in the second half, it's impossible not to call 2018-19 a down season for Provorov.
There hasn't been much information out there about Provorov's negotiations, but it's been rumored that Provy's camp is looking for a long-term deal around $8 million. A year ago, that wouldn't have sounded that outrageous, considering Provorov's rapid rise to stardom. But after last year's disappointment, such a deal would be a massive risk for the Flyers - if Provorov is closer to 2018-19 than 2017-18 form, that contract would be a sizable overpay for his services. It seems like a bridge deal (two to three years) is most likely, given how far apart the sides appear to be on a long-term pact.
Another important factor in their negotiations is the Flyers cap situation. According to CapFriendly, the Flyers have just over $13 million of cap space to work with. That should be enough to sign Provorov and Konecny, but the Flyers will be pressed against the ceiling once their two deals are done. And if Provorov is unwilling to move off his $8 millionish demands, it will basically be impossible for both to sign long-term deals.
If I had to bet, the Flyers are going to bridge Provorov and go long-term on TK. That's what seems to make the most sense, based on how their careers have played out through three seasons and what limited information has become available. Both could come around $6 million dollars, Konecny for 6-7 years and Provorov for 2-3.
Right now, what Konecny will bring to the table for the next half decade plus is clearer than what Provorov will provide. Ideally, Provy's down season last year would allow the Flyers to lock him up to a similar deal as I project for Konecny, which would be solid at worst and a steal at best. But it seems that Provorov's camp is willing to bet on last year being an outlier. Time will tell if that is the right decision.
Perhaps more concerning to many fans is when these deals will be signed, especially with game number one two months from Sunday. Personally, I believe it's likely both will be ready for day one of training camp. Both players have always talked about how much they love the fanbase and playing in this city. They are also extremely competitive, making it even less likely they would be comfortable missing critical games early in the season.
Of the two, Provorov is more likely to sit out, on account of the larger gap between Fletcher and his agent. But even him missing time would be surprising. And quick PSA: don't worry about Provorov jumping to the KHL. He's way too good for that to be a legitimate possibility.
Sure, it would be a lot more comfortable to have the two young studs under contract already, with nothing in between the present and the start of next season. But having good RFAs go unsigned into August may soon become the new norm. If talks haven't progressed or a deal hasn't been signed in a month, that'd be reason to be concerned. But from everything we've heard, and everything we know about Provorov and TK, expect both to be on the ice in Prague, ready to dazzle in the Orange and Black for years to come.