NHL Free Agents 2012: Weak Free-Agent Class May Boost Amount of RFA Offer Sheets

Nicholas GossCorrespondent IJune 28, 2012

GLENDALE, AZ - MAY 07:  Shea Weber #6 of the Nashville Predators skates with the puck in Game Five of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Phoenix Coyotes during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Jobing.com Arena on May 7, 2012 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Coyotes defeated the Predators 2-1 to win the series 4 games to 1.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The lack of depth at many positions in the 2012 free-agent class may force NHL teams that miss out on the best players available and still need to fill major holes on their roster to consider going the RFA route.

To sign an RFA, a team must extend an offer sheet (basically a contract offer) to a player. If the RFA decides to accept the offer sheet, then the team whose player received the offer must decide to match it or let the player go.

General managers don't like when teams make offer sheets to their RFAs. This is likely one reason why Dustin Penner in 2007 became the first and only player to be successfully signed as an RFA and change teams.

However, if Tampa Bay Lightning superstar Steven Stamkos wasn't signed to an offer sheet last year, will anyone be signed to one this summer? The compensation for signing Stamkos away from the Lightning would have been four-first round picks.

Here is a compensation table for RFAs this summer, courtesy of James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail:

Here are the draft pick compensation figures for the 2012-13 season:

$1,110,249 or below - No Compensation

Over $1,110,249 to $1,682,194 - 3rd round pick

Over $1,682,194 to $3,364,391 - 2nd round pick

Over $3,364,391 to $5,046,585 - 1st round pick, 3rd

Over $5,046,585 to $6,728,781 - 1st round pick, 2nd, 3rd

Over $6,728,781 To $8,410,976 - Two 1st Round Picks, 2nd, 3rd

Over $8,410,976 - Four 1st Round Picks

The combination of a weak trade market and a lackluster UFA class could make for more RFA action in the offseason.

The compensation can be tough to part with when attempting to sign expensive players, but trying to sign an RFA via an offer sheet is a can't-lose situation for many teams.

Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli (left) with Canucks GM Mike Gillis
Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli (left) with Canucks GM Mike GillisBruce Bennett/Getty Images

If you don't mind giving up draft picks, then why wouldn't you extend an offer sheet? The targeted player's team could match the offer and possibly overpay just so they don't lose him, or they could decline, and the team looking to sign the RFA gets their man.

Here are some of the best RFAs that teams may think about extending an offer to this summer:

Player (Position) Current Team Likely Compensation Notes
Cory Schneider (G) VAN 1st, 2nd, 3rd round picks Why wouldn't a team extend an offer sheet to Schneider and force the Canucks to decide between him and Luongo?
Mike Green (D) WSH 1st, 2nd, 3rd round picks Green, when healthy, is an elite offensive defenseman and could easily make close to $6 million on the open market.
P.K. Subban (D) MON 1st, 3rd round picks A team would have to overpay greatly to get Subban, but he's a young No. 1 defenseman.
Tuukka Rask (G) BOS 1st, 3rd round picks Boston's already close to the salary cap, so a team could hurt their cap flexibility further by giving Rask an offer sheet.
Evander Kane (LW) WPG 1st, 2nd, 3rd round picks Kane hasn't reached his potential, but a big-spender may be willing to take a chance on him.
Shea Weber (D) NSH Two 1st round picks + 2nd and 3rd round picks If Ryan Suter leaves Nashville as a UFA, then an offer sheet being extended to Weber seems like a strong possibility.

Will general managers risk future relationships with their peers by going after RFAs this summer? We'll have to wait and see. But if there was ever an offseason where it could happen, it figures to be this one.

The lack of star power on the free-agent market will force teams to make bold moves, which could result in an increased amount of activity in RFA targets and trades.