Do they look nervous?

Even in the wake of the Jesperi Kotkaniemi offer sheet, the forced settlement of arbitration season and some serious commitments to cornerstone stars, more than a few critical restricted free agents remain without contract in September.

We still have first-line wingers, two stud defencemen and at least one franchise centre due big raises.

Vancouver’s Jim Benning may be under the most pressure to negotiate long-term extensions with his RFAs. Despite taking care of Thatcher Demko and Conor Garland, he still has two big guns to compensate.

The next true pressure point to settle unsolved cases will be training camp, which is fast approaching.

Will any of these young stars refuse to report?

Here is where things stand with the top unsigned RFAs of 2021.


1. Quinn Hughes
Position: Defence
2020-21 salary cap hit: $916,667
Arbitration rights: No
Bargaining chips: 2020 Calder runner-up. Power-play quarterback. 97 points through first 129 NHL games. Key building block in Vancouver. Averages nearly 23 minutes per game.

The latest: Preliminary contract talks got underway between Benning and the two most important engines of the Canucks’ rebuild in early April.

Hughes has been putting up gaudier numbers than recent RFA defencemen (Charlie McAvoy, Zach Werenski, Mikhail Sergachev) and is arguably more important to his franchise’s future.

Benning drew mild criticism for the in-season extensions he handed out to Demko and Tanner Pearson, essentially signing some smaller fish before dealing with the biggies.

While significant money came off the books in July — Loui Eriksson, Alex Edler, Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel — Vancouver inherited Oliver Ekman-Larsson's huge contract, still has multiple RFAs to satisfy and is dealing with Roberto Luongo’s cap recapture penalty.

Perhaps bridge is the only solution. The good news for panicky people in Van City: Hughes is classified as a 10.2(c) RFA, meaning he cannot sign an offer sheet.

On June 15, agent J.P. Barry suggested to Donnie and Dhali on CHEK that he is exploring a deal longer than five years for Hughes.

Term will be a major sticking point, and fellow RFAs Heiskanen and Makar helped set Hughes' market. He won't be cheap.

Conversations continue.

“You look around, a lot of these deals are done during camp,” agent Pat Brisson told Postmedia in mid-August. “But this isn’t our goal; our goal is to get it done. There’s no animosity.”


2. Elias Pettersson
Position: Centre
2020-21 salary cap hit: $925,000
Arbitration rights: No
Bargaining chips: 2019 Calder Trophy winner. Finished 16th in Hart voting in 2020. 66 points in each of his first two seasons. Plus-19 player. Career 17.6 per cent shooter. No. 1 centre. Put up 21 points through 26 games in 2021, and it still feels like underachieving.

The latest: In late January, Pettersson switched agents, leaving Michael Deutsch at Eclipse Sports Management and joining teammate Hughes at CAA. Power brokers Pat Brisson and Barry will handle their extension negotiations — and hold a great deal of leverage.

Barry told Rick Dhaliwal that the plan is to work on both deals together, like the twin monsters Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane signed in the summer of 2014. Unlike Hughes, Pettersson could theoretically ink an offer sheet.

Barry, you may recall, put the screws to Benning in securing lucrative contracts for Tyler Myers and Loui Eriksson in recent off-seasons. But they were UFAs, not RFAs.