The Vegas Golden Knights aren’t a very old franchise. So when the team goes through some new territory, such as missing the playoffs or, in this case, having complications with a free agent, it’s fun to watch some of the newer hockey fans get their knickers in a twist overreacting to these things.
Nicolas Hague is the Golden Knight’s only remaining restricted free agent. He was not one of the 67 players named to the team’s training camp roster on Tuesday and will reportedly not attend training camp until a new contract is signed between him and the team.
Given the team’s short history, this has never really happened with the Golden Knights. So allow me to ease your nerves. Nic Hague will sign with the Vegas Golden Knights. He’s not getting traded, offer-sheeted, or going overseas to play hockey. These RFA holdouts are simply just part of the business.
The way RFAs work in the NHL is that players, typically young ones coming off their first NHL contracts, are not allowed to negotiate with other NHL teams in free agency if they receive a qualifying offer from their current team. In the case of Nicolas Hague, the Golden Knights gave him a qualifying offer, so he and his agent can’t suddenly start talking to the Pittsburgh Penguins or any other team.
Some players go through arbitration, which is a process where a mediator decides a salary for a player. This is not relevant in Hague’s case, as arbitration hearings were in September. Hague’s options are simply to sign a deal with the Golden Knights, retire, or request a trade. (He’s going to do the first).
There is also the option of an offer sheet, where an outside team would sign Hague to a specific contract which would need to be matched by the Golden Knights. The team signing an RFA, in this case, Hague, would need to pay the Golden Knights compensation (usually draft picks) based on Hague’s new salary.
History of RFA Holdouts
The life of an RFA can be a convoluted mess. It has resulted in some players utilizing their right to hold out during salary negotiations so much that they missed games in the regular season.
Stanley Cup Champion Ryan O’Reilly, freshly retired PK Subban, Hampus Lindholm, Andreas Athanasiou, and perhaps most famously, William Nylander all held out during the parts of the season before they got deals with their teams. RFAs have until December 1st to sign or are ineligible to play for the year.
Ryan Johansen, Johnny Gaudreau, and Rasmus Ristolainen are all examples of players that have missed training camp due to RFA contract holdouts. The persistent factor is that they all eventually signed.
Hague is one of five remaining unsigned RFAs in 2022. Rasmus Sandin (TOR), Ryan McLeod (EDM), Jason Robertson (DAL), and Alex Forementon (OTT) are the other unsigned players. None of these players scream ‘big superstar holding out for a contract all season’ to me like Gaudreau or Nylander.
Contract talks with these players are likely stuck in the mud due to things like term, AAV, and bonuses. But starting tomorrow, all teams have a bulldozer that can start to unclog that mudpie, that being training camp. With every passing day of camp, it’s one less day that RFAs can practice with their team.
The Golden Knights currently have roughly $3.8 million in cap space with Robin Lehner, Nolan Patrick, and Shea Weber on LTIR. They’ll sign Hague. It’s just a matter of time.