5 NHL Restricted Free Agents Who Teams Should Target with an Offer Sheet

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistJanuary 30, 2022

5 NHL Restricted Free Agents Who Teams Should Target with an Offer Sheet

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    The NHL's 2022 signing period for restricted and unrestricted free agents (UFA) begins July 13. Fans and pundits will be focused on the destinations for the top UFA talent, but noteworthy restricted free agents (RFA) could also change teams via offer sheets.

    Under that scenario, a rival club signs another player's RFA to the principal terms of a contract, including length and compensation. The player must give his team notice of the agreement, allowing it seven days to match the deal. If the team refuses, the player then joins his new club and his former team receives a predetermined number of draft picks as compensation based on the financial terms of the offer sheet.

    Offer sheets are rarely signed because they are often matched, but there have been two recent instances featuring opposing results.

    The most recent saw the Carolina Hurricanes sign Jesperi Kotkaniemi away from the Montreal Canadiens last August with a one-year, $6.1 million contract. The other occurred in July 2019 when the Hurricanes matched a five-year, $42.27 million offer sheet signed by Sebastian Aho with the Canadiens.

    It's still many months until the free-agent period begins, and it's difficult to determine which teams could go the offer-sheet route. Nevertheless, the Kotkaniemi signing could inspire an enterprising general manager with plenty of salary-cap space to consider this option if they cannot find what they're seeking through trades or the UFA market.

    A number of talented players are slated to become RFAs this summer. Most will likely re-sign. A handful, such as the Vancouver Canucks' Brock Boeser, could be tempting offer-sheet targets, especially with next season's salary rising by just $1 million to $82.5 million.

    Here's a look at five restricted free agents who could receive offer sheets after the free-agent market begins and the reasons they could be targeted.

Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks

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    A gifted offensive winger, Brock Boeser has had an immediate positive effect upon the Vancouver Canucks since he joined them for nine games late in the 2016-17 season. Though injuries have limited him to playing just one full NHL season, the 24-year-old's stick-handling skills and lethal shot could draw attention this summer from rival clubs in need of a first-line scorer.

    Including his rookie campaign in 2017-18, Boeser has eclipsed the 20-goal plateau three times and netted 45-plus points four times. He led the Canucks in scoring when he finished second in the Calder voting and in 2020-21. With 11 goals and 22 points in 37 contests, he's fifth among their scoring leaders this season. He's also their leader in total goals (105), assists (122) and points (227) since his rookie campaign.

    Boeser is completing a three-year contract, which carries a $5.88 million average annual value and arbitration rights this summer. He's earning $7.5 million in actual salary this season, so it'll cost the Canucks that much just to keep the right to match an offer sheet. He could seek a substantial raise after teammates Elias Pettersson ($7.35 million AAV for three years) and Quinn Hughes (six years, $7.85 million AAV) signed lucrative contracts last summer.

    The Canucks, however, have $71.4 million invested in just 13 players for 2022-23. They're also under new management this season, and this front office could have different ideas about Boeser's value. Re-signing him will prove challenging unless they can shed sufficient cap space. A rival GM could attempt to pry him away with a multiyear deal worth over $8.5 million annually.

Pierre-Luc Dubois, Winnipeg Jets

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    Acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets in a trade last January, Pierre-Luc Dubois struggled through injuries and time in the COVID-19 protocols during his first season with the Winnipeg Jets. Healthy and adjusted to his new club, the 23-year-old forward has regained his form, sitting second among his teammates with 18 goals and 31 points in 40 games.

    A big, versatile forward who can play center or wing, the 6'2", 205-pound Dubois was chosen third overall by the Blue Jackets in the 2016 NHL draft. He established himself as a two-way player with solid offensive skills, tallying at least 48 points in each of his first three NHL seasons, including a career-high 61 in 2018-19. He could reach 50 points before the end of this season.

    Dubois' skills make him a worthwhile addition to the Jets. Re-signing him, however, could get expensive. He's in the final season of a two-year deal worth an annual cap hit of $5 million and which carries arbitration rights this summer. Signing him to a long-term extension could cost at least $7 million annually.

    The Jets have $71.5 million tied up in 11 players for 2022-23, though they'll get $5.3 million in cap relief if Bryan Little remains on long-term injury reserve. Even then, an enterprising rival GM could test the Jets' ability to pay Dubois with an expensive offer sheet.

Mario Ferraro, San Jose Sharks

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    Mario Ferraro isn't as well known as teammates Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns, but the 23-year-old San Jose Sharks defenseman has become a valuable part of their blue-line corps in his three NHL seasons. He could also become an intriguing offer-sheet option, depending on the Sharks' salary-cap situation for 2022-23.

    Ferraro skates alongside Burns on the Sharks' top defense pairing, sitting second on the club with an average ice time of 23 minutes, 54 seconds. That includes a team-leading 2:33 in short-handed ice time per game. The 6-foot, 209-pounder is the Sharks' leader in hits (89) and blocked shots (109) and is among their takeaway leaders with 22. With 11 points in 40 games, he is on pace to exceed 20 points for the first time.

    In the final season of a three-year, $3.41 million contract, Ferraro should be an affordable re-signing for the Sharks. With $61 million invested in 12 players next season, they would have enough space even if they re-sign impending UFA Tomas Hertl for around $8 million annually.

    That cap space could shrink, however, if an arbitrator rules against the Sharks in Evander Kane's grievance over his contract termination. That could make Ferraro an inviting option for clubs seeking a big-minute shutdown defenseman. Something over $5 million annually on a long-term deal could then become difficult for the Sharks to match.

Andrew Mangiapane, Calgary Flames

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    A sixth-round pick (166th overall) in the 2015 NHL draft, Andrew Mangiapane has blossomed over the past three seasons into a versatile core forward for the Calgary Flames. The 25-year-old winger could also become an offer-sheet target this summer.

    Capable of playing either wing, Mangiapane drew attention in 2019-20 by scoring 17 goals and 32 points in 68 games. He followed it up last season with another 32-point campaign, including a career-high 18 goals, in 56 contests. Now in his contract year, he's already exceeded that career high with 19 goals to go with 24 points in just 39 games.

    Mangiapane has risen up the Flames' depth chart, skating this season as a second-line winger. He's third among the Flames in total goals with 54 since 2019-20. That improvement assures him of a big raise over the $2.43 million average annual value he's been earning since last season.

    The Flames have $50.2 million invested in 11 players next season but also have stars such as Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau to re-sign. It could cost a combined annual cap hit of $20 million to retain them, eating up a big chunk of the Flames' cap space. There would be little room to match a lucrative offer for Mangiapane of over $5.5 million annually on a multiyear deal.

Josh Norris, Ottawa Senators

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    In just his second full NHL season, Josh Norris has established himself as a reliable first-line center with the rebuilding Ottawa Senators. The 22-year-old's offensive skills have quickly made him a valuable part of their core but could also make him enticing to rival general managers this summer in the free-agent market.

    Norris had a solid performance as a rookie in 2020-21 with 17 goals and 35 points, finishing third among Senators scorers and third among all NHL rookies. He's enjoying an even better sophomore campaign, leading the Senators with 18 goals and sitting third with 26 points in 36 games.

    That steady development should put Norris in line for a significant salary increase this summer. He's completing a three-year entry-level contract worth $925,000 per season. With $52.2 million committed to just eight players for 2022-23, the Senators have plenty of cap space to pay him a big raise.

    However, the Senators kept their payroll to $70.7 million this season. With club revenue likely to be affected by recent provincial limitations on their seating capacity due to COVID-19, team owner Eugene Melnyk could keep his payroll well below next season's cap. That could tempt a rival club to dangle a significant offer sheet exceeding $5 million annually to Norris to see if the Senators will match it.

              

    Stats are accurate as of Jan. 28 and are via NHL.com. Salary info via CapFriendly.

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