When I looked at Montreal’s original restricted free agent list (before they picked up Alex Newhook), there was only one contract that I thought could be iffy, Rafael Harvey-Pinard’s. Instead, his was done early but there remains one that isn’t done in winger Jesse Ylonen.
Ylonen remaining unsigned at this point is a bit of a surprise as I thought his contract was going to be one of the relatively easy ones to get done. Players in his situation often sign relatively quickly as there are only so many ways that this can go. It’s not as if there’s a long-term option on the table so it’s either short-term (two years) or shortest-term (one year).
Before getting into those, it’s worth looking at the numbers. Ylonen played in 37 games with the Habs last season, picking up a respectable six goals and ten assists. For his career at the NHL level, he has eight goals and 13 helpers in 52 contests. Meanwhile, in the minors, the 23-year-old had 11 goals and 21 assists with Laval last season and has a total of 34 tallies with 51 helpers in 120 career appearances.
On the whole, these numbers aren’t bad by any stretch – they represent someone who took a step forward development-wise last season but isn’t at the level of a full-time NHL player yet. That’s perfectly fine; a lot of youngsters are in that situation at this point in their careers. But those types of players often sign quickly and the fact he hasn’t is a bit unexpected.
There’s one other element to consider here – Ylonen is now waiver-eligible. At this point, do you think that management would put him on waivers in the fall to try to send him back to Laval? If you’re like me and think that’s not something they’re probably going to want to do, that basically chokes out some of the one-year options that could have been on the table otherwise.
What do I mean by that? Teams regularly offer players less than their qualifying offer in exchange for a higher AHL salary or guaranteed money. The Habs did that with Nicolas Beaudin and Lucas Condotta earlier this month and have gone this route many times in previous years as well.
But if Ylonen’s camp is like me and thinks they’re not going to waive him, there’s no point in the Habs offering any sort of one-year deal with a lower NHL salary than $874,125 which was his qualifying offer (that also included a $70,000 AHL salary). Why take less if you think you’re going to stick in the NHL all of next season? Someone like Harvey-Pinard is still waiver-exempt and could very well be sent down to allow them to keep Ylonen up and both players in the organization. Frankly, that scenario looks quite probable at this point, merited or otherwise.
For the record, I fully expected Ylonen to sign for his qualifying offer for that very reason but that offer expired back on July 15th. There’s nothing preventing the two sides from agreeing to that exact amount later in the summer, however; it’s not as if that offer is gone for good.
At this point, it stands to reason that Ylonen is seeking at least $875,000 on a one-year agreement. That’s a reasonable price point but it’s not like he has much of a case to ask for much more than that. Even an even million is probably on the high side so it’s not as if there’s a big range of possible price tags here. They’re pretty close already.
On a two-year agreement, it’s fair to suggest that Harvey-Pinard’s $1.1 million AAV is the ceiling for Ylonen. If we’re comparing numbers, Harvey-Pinard is coming off the stronger platform season and has 15 goals and six assists in 38 career NHL games with 46 goals and 61 helpers in 145 AHL contests.
Perhaps Montreal is trying to offer two years on a one-way deal at a little under the qualifying offer, noting that if things don’t go well next season after doing a one-year contract, he could be waived the following year and if it’s another two-way pact at that time, he could leave money on the table. It wouldn’t be the craziest of ideas but that basically represents the floor. Let’s peg that at $850,000 while Harvey-Pinard’s $1.1 million is the top end. Again, there isn’t a big range of price tags to navigate through here.
If you’re thinking about a possible two-year deal with one year being a two-way salary and the other a one-way salary, I suppose it’s technically an option as well but going back to his waiver eligibility, if you don’t think they’ll waive him in training camp, there’s not much value in a deal that’s two-way next season and one-way in 2024-25. Not saying it’s not a possibility but it feels unlikely.
It’s also possible that Ylonen is looking at the winger depth in Montreal and wondering if he’d be better off playing overseas next season. I don’t think that’s a probable scenario as he doesn’t have enough of a track record to command a pricey contract in a European league but since we’re covering all the options, that technically would be one as well.
Assuming that’s not really on the table though, with a rough range of about $150,000 to bridge on a one-year deal and $250,000 on a two-year pact, it’s only a matter of time before something gets done or they go back to the qualifier. There is no reason for concern that it’s not done yet (as I’ve said in the past, it’s only notable if an RFA is still unsigned in mid-September); it’ll get signed eventually. But count me among those that are a bit surprised that a contract for Ylonen hasn’t been signed just yet.