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Milwaukee Admirals

Thoughts A Brewin’: Restricted Free Agents

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Egor Afanasyev
Photo of Egor Afanasyev by John Russell/Nashville Predators

We are now a week removed from the Milwaukee Admirals’ season coming to an unexpected end after falling 4-1 to the Coachella Valley Firebirds in the Western Conference Finals of the Calder Cup playoffs. We are also a few weeks away from the 2024 NHL Draft and free agency.

It’s now time to assess those Admirals who are set to become restricted free agents (RFAs) this summer and who also may be flirting with making the opening-night roster for the Nashville Predators. 

Of the current ten players on the Predators RFA list entering this summer, five are likely to capture the most attention from Predators fans. These five have the most to prove as they have been in the system for some time, all receiving the promising prospect designation. They are Philip Tomasino, Egor Afanasyev, Juuso Parsinnen, Spencer Stastney and Marc Del Gaizo.

The other five are more unknowns, such as Jaret Anderson-Dolan, who has played just one game for Nashville since being acquired off waivers from the Los Angeles Kings last season, or depth players who are more likely to find themselves primarily in the AHL. The additional four include forward Wade Allison, acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers in the Denis Guiranov trade, forward Liam Foudy, acquired off waivers from the Columbus Blue Jackets last season, defenseman Adam Wilsby, and goaltender Gustavs Grigals. 

As for the more notable five, I believe all five get re-signed, or at least should be, with Stastney to be the only potential lock for the 23-man roster coming into camp. The other four have a strong shot, but they all need to have big summers to rise above the rest.

At minimum, the Predators will have to provide qualifying offers to each RFA by July 1, the first Monday following the draft, to maintain that player’s negotiating rights (although this is likely to be moved to June 30 considering the overlap with free agency). The player does not have to accept this qualifying offer. Del Gaizo and Stastney, of the listed five, have arbitration rights. Anderson-Dolan does as well.  The good thing for the Predators front office is that signing these players at their qualifying numbers or even with a decent pay raise does not implicate the salary cap unless the players actually make the NHL roster or are recalled at some point in the future. 

The deals for any of these players are all likely to be bridge deals to see if they have what it takes, with none of these deals going over three years. Tomasino and Afanasyev will likely get one-year, prove-it deals. The players on this list are at an inflection point in their careers where they are no longer promising prospects, and they must either prove themselves or find a home elsewhere. 

If the team does not qualify a player, that player becomes an unrestricted free agent. Due to these players not having played the requisite amount of NHL games and having an existing salary below $1M, the qualifying offer is 105% of the previous base salary (which means the salary excluding bonuses). None of these players are eligible for performance bonuses, and I am focusing on AAV and not any potential signing bonuses. 

Tomasino, Qualifying Offer: $874,125

Tomasino has been viewed as the future of the Predators offense since he was drafted 24th overall in 2019. He’s bounced around the lineup and between Nashville and Milwaukee throughout his career. Head coach Andrew Brunette did not mince words when discussing Tomasino at the end-of-year press conference. This will be a prove-it summer for Tomasino. If the soon-to-be 23-year-old wants to establish himself long-term in gold, he will need to make significant strides. There’s still a lot of unknown about his game with the potential needing to finally translate into production. I consider this to be Tomasino’s last chance at earning a full-time position. 

Prediction: 1 year at qualifying offer 

Afanasyev, Qualifying Offer: $813,750

Afanasyev is probably the biggest unknown on this list. He has a lot of fans in Nashville that believe in him. He definitely has strong leadership qualities and his bottom-six potential is evident. He’s a big body and a heavy skater with a strong and accurate shot. But he hasn’t yet been able to get to that next gear at the NHL level. Granted, he hasn’t had many chances. Afanasyev is undoubtedly wanting more than one year (likely 2-3 at least) as the young Russian is not lacking in confidence in his ability to be a consistent NHL player. But Nashville likely cannot take such a long-term risk on an unproven talent. If I’m general manager Barry Trotz, I’d be OK with extending an extra year at the same price range because the player could still fill a slot in Milwaukee if Nashville isn’t the fit next season. 

Prediction: 1 year at qualifying

Parssinen, Qualifying Offer: $813,750

We all know what Parssinen can do when he’s healthy and using his size to his advantage in the corners. Everyone last season wanted to see the Parssinen that displayed himself in his NHL debut against the New York Rangers or in the OT winner against the Minnesota Wild. But his 2023-24 campaign started off slow with an injury early in training camp. He continued to battle injuries throughout the season and never seemed to find his game before being reassigned to Milwaukee. A small bridge deal like this would let both the team and the player find the sweet spot. Parssinen can be a strong, two-way center, but he needs his skill to align with his hockey sense and consistency. 

Prediction: 2 years, $1.9M, $950,000 AAV

Stastney, Qualifying Offer: $874,125

Stastney is the one player on this list who has likely punched his ticket to a nightly roster slot in the NHL. He performed strongly this season, but his time was cut short on multiple occasions due to injury. He has arbitration rights, so that will likely work in his favor. This contract aligns similarly to what Jamie Drysdale signed with Anaheim last fall (3 years, $6.9M) with Drsydale having more offensive firepower and being a few years younger. Stastney will do well to have three years to prove himself to his 27-year-old season, when he would have the opportunity to test the free agent market as a UFA in the summer of 2027. 

Prediction: 3 years, $4.5M, $1.5M AAV

Del Gaizo, Qualifying Offer: $813,750 

Del Gaizo, like Stastney, has arbitration rights, so he has a bit more negotiating power entering this summer. Del Gaizo has the potential – there’s that word again – to be a consistent presence in Nashville. He performed well when given the opportunity in nine games last season in the NHL. He needs to gain some size, but the hockey sense is there. If Nashville can find another defenseman on the open market or via trade this summer, I have no reason to doubt that Del Gaizo could be the seventh defenseman in Nashville. But the competition only increases as the pipeline in Milwaukee is growing with the likes of Tanner Molendyk and Ryan Ufko chomping at the bit to get their chance too. A one-year deal will provide Del Gaizo the chance to prove himself and let Nashville know if he’s for real or not. 

Prediction: 1 year at qualifying

It’s also important to note that a salary does not impact the NHL team’s salary cap if it falls below the buried limit. This buried list is calculated by the year’s minimum salary plus $375,000. As a result, the maximum salary that can be taken in the minors without impacting the NHL team’s salary cap is $1.15M. All of these but for Stastney meet that threshold, which is why, for players like Afanasyev, I’d be OK extending a bit more term and money. None of these players, except for Stastney, have earned a one-way contract, meaning they get paid the same whether they are in the NHL or AHL. In this scenario, the buried cap hit limit wouldn’t come into play. That scenario matters only in the event a one-way contract is signed. 

Follow Clay Brewer on Twitter/X: @ClayBrewer10

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