Like the rest of the hockey world, Taylor Hall watched as John Tavares listened to interested teams make their pitches a year ago.
Tavares, the captain of the New York Islanders, held all the cards. In the end, five clubs got in the room with the star centre and his camp.
The Islanders were among them, but so were the Toronto Maple Leafs.
While he felt a strong pull to the only franchise he’d ever known — New York picked the Oakville, Ont., product first overall in 2009 — Tavares eventually landed on going home, signing a seven-year, US$77-million deal with Toronto as an unrestricted free agent.
Fast-forward 12 months, and Hall said seeing that whole process play out has changed the free-agency game.
“You’re starting to see players want to — I don’t know if it’s paid what they’re worth — but they want to see what’s out there and see what the other 30 teams have to offer,” said Hall, a winger with the New Jersey Devils. ”That’s in the players’ rights. That’s what we fought for.
“If you have time, I think it’s wise to take it and make sure you make the right decisions.”
This year’s crop of pending UFAs are following the road map laid out by Tavares in the leadup to Monday’s opening of free agency.
Sergei Bobrovsky, Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene — all of the Columbus Blue Jackets — have had well-documented visits clubs jockeying for their services.
Hall, who’s entering the final year of his contract and could be in a similar boat at this time next year, said things have shifted. Some stars are more keen to keep their options open before hitting the market as UFAs.
“(Tavares) did something that really hasn’t been done before,” said Hall, who has yet to begin talks with New Jersey on a new deal. ”He made a decision for himself and was definitely aware of the ramifications in Long Island and all that, and I think he’s pretty happy about it.”
This year’s restricted free agent class is perhaps even more intriguing than its UFA counterpart with so many young stars still without contracts.
Toronto winger Mitch Marner, Winnipeg Jets sniper Patrik Laine, Tampa Bay Lightning centre Brayden Point and Colorado Avalanche star Mikko Rantanen, along with a host of others, remained unsigned and have been able to see what else is out there during the window allotted to speak with teams ahead of free agency.
A team that signs an RFA has to provide hefty compensation to the franchise that loses the player — no general manager has signed an offer sheet since 2013 and one hasn’t seen one accepted since 2007 — but the fact the door’s open remains intriguing.
“There’s definitely a changing landscape,” Hall said. “You’re starting to see players have a little bit more of a voice.”
With that in mind, The Canadian Press takes a look at some of the notable pending UFAs, and a couple RFAs, to watch heading into Monday.