6 Restricted Free Agents NHL Teams Should Give Offer Sheets To

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistJuly 16, 2021

6 Restricted Free Agents NHL Teams Should Give Offer Sheets To

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    With the NHL offseason now underway, most of the focus is on the Seattle Kraken expansion draft Wednesday and the annual NHL draft weekend of July 23-24. After that, the attention will turn toward the free-agent market opening July 28.

    Fans and pundits will be following the destinations of this summer's top unrestricted free agents. However, there's always the possibility of a restricted free agent receiving an offer sheet from a rival club.

    Offer sheets are a rarely used tactic by NHL general managers because the restricted free agent's team usually quickly matches the offer. The last player successfully signed away was Dustin Penner in 2007. The most recent attempt was in 2019, when the Carolina Hurricanes matched the five-year, $42.27 million offer sheet Sebastian Aho signed with the Montreal Canadiens.

    Still, the opportunity is there for any general manager to make an offer to a good young player from a rival club, especially those with limited salary-cap space. If the venture proves successful, the gaining club sends a predetermined number of compensatory draft picks to the player's former club based on the salary of the new contract. If the player's team matches the offer, he cannot be traded for a year.

    Not every restricted free agent is eligible to receive an offer sheet. Some, such as Minnesota Wild winger Kirill Kaprizov and Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes, lack the required years of NHL professional experience and thus cannot receive offer sheets.

    With the salary cap remaining at $81.5 million for 2021-22, several young stars could be tempting targets for offer sheets. Here's a look at six who are worth the attempt.

Anthony Beauvillier, New York Islanders

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    With $77.1 million invested in 17 players for 2021-22, the New York Islanders are squeezed for cap room. A rival club could be tempted to take a run at signing Anthony Beauvillier to an offer sheet.

    Beauvillier has tallied 24 or more points each season since his NHL debut in 2016-17. His best season was 2019-20, when he had 18 goals and 39 points in 68 games. However, the 24-year-old is a versatile forward who can skate on the wing or at center and plays a responsible two-way game. He has elevated his play in the postseason, netting 14 points in 22 games last year and 13 points in 19 contests this year.

    Coming off a two-year, $4.2 million contract, Beauvillier is a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. The Islanders must also re-sign restricted free agents Ilya Sorokin and Adam Pelech, who also have arbitration rights. Kyle Palmieri and Casey Cizikas are their notable unrestricted free agents.

    The Islanders can get some cap relief by putting permanently sidelined defenseman Johnny Boychuk and his $6 million annual cap hit on long-term injured reserve. Nevertheless, it will still be a tight squeeze to fit everyone within their payroll. An offer to Beauvillier worth $4.1 million per season would only cost a team a second-round pick if the Isles decide not to match it.

Conor Garland, Arizona Coyotes

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    In just three seasons with the Arizona Coyotes, Conor Garland has developed into one of their best forwards. He has back-to-back 39-point performances over the past two seasons. This year was his best, reaching that point total in just 49 games while finishing third among Coyotes scorers. He also earned a spot for the U.S. team at the 2021 World Championship, tallying 13 points in 10 games.

    A small forward at 5'10" and 165 pounds, Garland possesses good offensive skills and can skate on either wing. Selected in the fifth round (123rd overall) by the Coyotes in the 2015 draft, it took him a while to reach the NHL, but he's making the most of the opportunity.

    Completing a two-year, $1.8 million contract, Garland is due for a substantial raise. A restricted free agent with arbitration rights, he has some leverage in negotiations with Coyotes management. The club has $31.4 million in projected cap space, but it's uncertain how much they will spend toward the $81.5 million ceiling.

    On June 23, Daily Faceoff's Frank Seravalli reported there were no negotiations between the two sides since exchanging contract proposals on May 20. If talks remain at a standstill, perhaps a club could sign him away with a four-year offer sheet worth $4.5 million annually. The Coyotes would get a first- and a third-rounder as compensation.

Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    The top all-around defenseman on the Dallas Stars, Miro Heiskanen is in line for a substantial raise. He could also draw attention from rival clubs willing to ink him to a lucrative offer sheet.

    Heiskanen enjoyed a fine sophomore performance in 2019-20. He netted 35 points in 68 games during the regular season and led the Stars with 26 points during their run to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final. While his production dipped to 27 points in 55 games this season, the soon-to-be-22-year-old blueliner was the team leader in time on ice per game (24:58) playing in all situations.

    With his best seasons still ahead of him, Heiskanen could become a contender for the James Norris Memorial Trophy. His next contract should make him the highest-paid defenseman on the Stars, exceeding Esa Lindell's $5.8 million annual average value.

    The Stars, however, already have $67.2 million committed to 16 players in 2021-22. A rival club could make things interesting by offering Heiskanen a multiyear deal worth between $8.5 million and $9.5 million per season.

Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    In just two full NHL seasons, Cale Makar has become the Colorado Avalanche's top defenseman and is among the league's best. The 22-year-old was one of three finalists this season for the James Norris Memorial Trophy. He was also the 2020 winner of the Calder Memorial Trophy.

    With $57.8 million invested in just 11 players for 2021-22, the Avalanche could have a difficult time matching an offer sheet for Makar. Team captain Gabriel Landeskog and Vezina Trophy finalist Philipp Grubauer are slated to become unrestricted free agents. Keeping them in the fold will take up plenty of cap space.

    The Avalanche would attempt to match any offer sheet for Makar. On June 30, however, The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun wondered whether a rival club might attempt to use the Avs' cap vulnerability to their advantage by tempting the young blueliner with an offer worth an annual cap hit of $10.2 million. He cited that specific number as it would only require compensation of two first-round picks, a second-rounder and a third-rounder.

    A swift-skating rearguard with superb offensive skills, Makar is fourth among NHL defensemen in total points (94) since 2019-20. His best years are ahead of him, making the 2019 Hobey Baker winner from UMass a worthwhile long-term investment.

Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks

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    Peter Power/Associated Press

    Since winning the Calder Memorial Trophy in 2018-19, Elias Pettersson has become the Vancouver Canucks' most gifted star. Along with winger Brock Boeser and defenseman Quinn Hughes, the 22-year-old center is part of a young core the Canucks hope will lead them back to Stanley Cup contention.

    A talented offensive forward, Pettersson centers the Canucks' top line. Despite being sidelined at times by injuries, he's tied with team captain Bo Horvat in points (153) among the Canucks since 2018-19.

    Pettersson's skills would also make him an inviting target among clubs seeking a young first-line center. With $66.3 million already tied up in 17 players for next season, the Canucks would have difficulty matching an expensive offer. Hughes is also a restricted free agent in line for a big raise, while unrestricted free agents Alex Edler, Brandon Sutter and Travis Hamonic must be re-signed or replaced.

    The Canucks could attempt to sign Pettersson to an annual salary-cap hit similar to the $7 million earned by New York Islanders center Mathew Barzal. A bold offer of $8.5 million per season, however, could put the Canucks into a serious cap crunch.

Andrei Svechnikov, Carolina Hurricanes

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    The Hurricanes successfully fended off an attempt to take away Sebastian Aho via an offer sheet two years ago. Would they be willing to do the same for Andrei Svechnikov?

    Svechnikov has been a key component in the club's rise as a Stanley Cup contender. The 6'2", 195-pound power forward has two seasons with 20 or more goals on his resume, including a 61-point sophomore campaign in 2019-20. The 21-year-old winger's production was down slightly this season, but he still netted 42 points in 55 games to finish third among Hurricanes scorers.

    Completing his entry-level contract, Svechnikov will get a big raise on his next contract. The Hurricanes have a projected $29.4 million in cap space for next season, but they must also re-sign or replace goaltenders Petr Mrazek, James Reimer and Alex Nedeljkovic, top-pairing defenseman Dougie Hamilton and winger Warren Foegele.

    A rival club could make things interesting by inking Svechnikov to a long-term offer worth around $7.5 million per season. If successful, the compensation for the Hurricanes would be first-, second- and third-round picks.


    Stats via NHL.com. Salary info via CapFriendly