Nick Ritchie signed a three-year, $4.6 million contract with the Anaheim Ducks Wednesday night, ending the impasse that left him as a restricted free agent weeks into the regular season. There was never a lot of information that leaked out of either camp during the process so it’s not clear what Ritchie was looking for, but it’s hard to imagine that he got what he was hoping for out of this contract. It strikes me as a deal that’s pretty favorable for Anaheim.
That’s not to say that it makes no sense for Ritchie though. While it’s on the long-end for a bridge contract, it still is one and that’s likely what he needs right now. Ritchie has potential, but the results have been lacking with him recording 26 goals and 59 points in 186 career games thus far. He’s still just 22-years-old though, so he might grow into a good power forward and get his big payday with his next contract. In the meantime, he needs to focus on his development and remaining unsigned wasn’t helping with that.
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His first task will be trying to overcome the fact that he missed training camp and the first seven games of the season. It’ll actually probably be at least the Ducks’ first nine games because he needs to get his immigration paperwork in order and is unlikely to be ready to play on Saturday or Sunday. Once he finally has everything in order, he might find himself behind the curve because of how much work he’s missed and consequently I wouldn’t be surprised if his first month or so is less than ideal. Of course, he hasn’t done enough to put him on the radar of fantasy owners in most single season leagues anyways, but keeper league owners shouldn’t be dismissive of him.
The signing also means that William Nylander is the last RFA left unsigned. With Nylander we have a better sense of the gap that may exist with the Maple Leafs hoping to sign him to a cap hit in the $6 million range – which reflects Nikolaj Ehlers’ contract – while Nylander wants something along the lines of Leon Draisaitl’s $8.5 million AAV. That’s a big difference and given that the Maple Leafs also have to consider the cap implications of Auston Matthews and Mitchell Marner’s upcoming big paydays (both will be RFAs this summer), it’s not surprising that the Maple Leafs haven’t caved in yet. Plus, Toronto hasn’t had any real pressure on them given that the offense is clicking right now and the Maple Leafs’ record is 6-1-0 without Nylander. Obviously, Nylander still makes them better, especially in the long run, but the Maple Leafs aren’t exactly seeing a lot of fan pressure right now given that everything is going well as is.
James Mirtle recently wrote an article for The Athletic, updating the situation, and the latest appears to be that the Maple Leafs and Nylander might be heading towards a bridge contract as opposed to the hoped for long-term deal. That’s not ideal, particularly for Toronto, but it might end up being what’s necessary. Keep in mind that if Nylander isn’t signed by Dec. 1 then he simply isn’t eligible to play this season, so while nothing has to happen immediately, there is a hard deadline to consider.
Moving passed RFAs, one of the big stories today is Corey Crawford, who is set to play tonight for the first time since in nearly a year. After missing so much time, it’s hard to say how he’ll do out of the gate, but certainly when he’s at his best, Crawford is a vital part of the Blackhawks. He excelled in 2017-18 before getting hurt with a 2.27 GAA and .929 save percentage in 28 contests and his absence is the single biggest reason Chicago missed the playoffs. While Cam Ward has struggled in Crawford’s absence so far this season, Chicago is nevertheless 3-0-2, so if Crawford is available for the rest of the season, it’s not hard to envision the Blackhawks getting back to the playoffs after a one-year absence.
Chicago’s seeming revival makes things even tougher in the Central Division. The Nashville Predators remain a dominant force, the Colorado Avalanche seem set to prove that their big jump in 2017-18 was just the start, and the Winnipeg Jets are an emerging powerhouse. Then you have the Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, and St. Louis Blues. None of those three teams strike me as Stanley Cup contenders this season, but they all feature solid rosters and none of them would look out of place in the playoffs. Of course, the reality is that at least two of these teams will not advance and it’s going to be interesting to see how this shapes out.
It’s worth noting that Crawford isn’t the only goaltender coming back from an injury tonight. While Matt Murray technically returned from his concussion on Saturday when he served as the Penguins’ backup goaltender, this will be his first start. He got off to a rough start this season with a 5.45 GAA and will be up against the Maple Leafs, who are also getting a goaltender back in Frederik Andersen (Knee).
Finally, it seems Jonathan Quick (lower body) is also good to return tonight. That hasn’t been confirmed as of the time of writing, but he was the first goalie off the ice this morning, which is usually a good indicator of who the starter will be. Quick is of course a big part of the Kings and while Jack Campbell got out to a strong start in Quick’s absence, Campbell has dropped back-to-back games while surrendering eight goals on 36 shots.