NHL Free Agent Frenzy: RFA Offer Sheet Targets

Now that the dust has mostly settled on another NHL free agency period, it’s time for general managers to pick through the scraps and see what might be left out there to help their teams.

Of course NHL free agency isn’t all about the UFAs, as there are a number of quality restricted free agents still unsigned by their clubs. Any team can sign these RFAs to a contract now that free agency has officially begun, but by virtue of being restricted, teams own those player’s rights and have the option to match that contract or refuse and receive compensation.

Because of these complexities, rarely do offer sheets occur, and even rarer is an instance where they might work (Dustin Penner going from Anaheim to Edmonton is the lone example since 1997), but with so many teams in cap trouble and so many exciting names needing new deals, there is a possibility we could get one or more offer sheets in the following weeks. Here’s a look at some of the most likely targets.

 

NHL Free Agent Frenzy: RFA Offer Sheet Targets

1) P.K. Subban – D Montreal Canadiens

2013-14 Stats: 82 GP, 10 G, 43 A, 53 PTS, 81 PIMs, -4, 24:36 TOI

2013-14 Salary: $3.75 million ($2.875 million cap hit)

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: Subban has become one of the top defensemen in the NHL. His recently completed contract was a two-year bridge deal that he reached with Montreal after the two struggled with negotiations through the start of the shortened 2012-13 season. Despite missing the first handful of games holding out for a new contract, Subban lit the league on fire that year on his way to the Norris trophy. This year he proved he wasn’t just a one-hit wonder with another great season, and Montreal is in the enviable position of having a superstar, albeit one in need of a hefty raise. Likely to receive something in the $7-8 million range, similar to the Shea Weber offer sheet of two years ago, could another team offer even more for his services? The Canadiens have about $15 million of cap space available with only a couple of players needed to round out their roster, but a $9-10 million offer for Subban from another team, which isn’t outside of the realm of possibility, could certainly cause some problems for the Habs in the future after they match it. Make no mistake, it’s extremely unlikely the 25-year-old Subban will be playing anywhere other than Montreal next season, but the potential of an offer sheet could seriously upset the apple cart.

2) Ryan Johansen – C Columbus Blue Jackets

2013-14 Stats: 82 GP, 33 G, 30 A, 63 PTS, 43 PIMs, +3, 17:38 TOI

2013-14 Salary: $810,00 ($870,000 cap hit)

Johansen is the perfect example of a player who is going to get a massive raise, no matter who signs him. The Jackets have been waiting patiently for their 2010 first round pick to arrive and he finally broke out this season in a huge way by not only potting 33 goals, but also leading Columbus in scoring. At 21 years old, he appears well on his way to becoming a top offensive pivot in the NHL, and it’s just a matter of time before he gets locked in to a huge contract. He could easily demand $5-6 million, something in line with the contracts that comparable players like winger Gabriel Landeskog (21 years old, 65 points this season, $5.57 million) and center Matt Duchene (23 years old, 70 points, $6 million) got from Colorado. While Columbus GM Jarmo Kekaleinin has gone on record saying he would match any offer sheet for Johansen, and with $18 million in cap space, that should be no problem (even with only 17 players signed) so other teams aren’t likely to target him. Still, with that skill set, no contract signed, and growing animosity between the two sides in recent contract negotiations, more than a few GMs around the league are keeping tabs on what Columbus will or won’t do with their young franchise center.

3) Mats Zuccarello – LW New York Rangers

2013-14 Stats: 77 GP, 19 G, 40 A, 59 PTS, 32 PIMs, +11, 17:08 TOI

2013-14 Salary: $1.15 million

Though I could have put teammate Derick Brassard in this spot, it seems as though Zuccarello is a more likely offer sheet target as the Rangers appear to want to keep Brassard as their first line center moving forward. That isn’t to say that the 26-year-old Zuccarello is expendable, after all he led the team in scoring until Marty St. Louis brought his points along with him from Tampa Bay prior to the trade deadline. The Norwegian hadn’t shown much in the way of offensive pop since his rookie season in 2010-11, but broke out in a big way this year and especially in the playoffs. He’s a smooth skater with great vision on the wing, and many teams would be happy to acquire his services. He will likely cost somewhere in the $4-5 million range, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see him get more than that on an offer sheet. Complicating matters is what the Rangers decide to do with their roster. Yes, they have around $14 million to play with, but they also have only 17 players signed, including only eight forwards. If someone offers Zuccarello something too far out of their price range, he could easily get lost in the shuffle in favor of a cheaper alternative. In all honesty, GM Glen Sather has never been afraid to throw cash around, but the Rangers are in a delicate position right now after their Stanley Cup final appearance, and prudence may win the day for once.

4) Torey Krug – D Boston Bruins

2013-14 Stats: 79 GP, 14 G, 26 A, 40 PTS, 28 PIMs, +18, 17:30 TOI

2013-14 Salary: $850,000, ($916,667 cap hit)

Krug is the player I consider most likely to get an offer sheet this summer, and there’s also a very good chance it could work. This season, his first as an NHL regular, Krug exploded onto the scene as one of the best young offensive defensemen in the game. He tied with Zdeno Chara for most points among Boston’s blueliners, and finished tied for third overall on the team in power play goals (6). Though undersized for a defenseman, Krug is a very good skater, is already a power play quaterback, and has sublime hockey sense, especially in the offensive zone. He finished fourth in Calder voting this season as the NHL’s top rookie, best among all rookie D-men. A $3 million dollar, shorter-term contract seems likely, and that’s where things get difficult for the Bruins. They’re only $1.6 million under the cap (though that number will get bumped up by $4 million once Marc Savard goes back on LTIR), with five roster players to sign, including Krug and Reilly Smith, who is also due a big raise.  If a team comes calling with a $4-5 million deal, the Bruins may be forced to either let Krug walk, or trade away an established roster player like Brad Marchand or Loui Eriksson to make room for him (which they might have to do anyway). Either way, it’s a tough situation for the Bruins, and they might be easy prey for an offer sheet.

5) Chris Tanev – D Vancouver Canucks

2013-14 Stats: 64 GP, 6 G, 11 A, 17 PTS, 8PIMs, +12, 20:44 TOI

2013-14 Salary: $1.5 million

Tanev has been one of the best-kept secrets around the NHL for a while now, but it looks like he’s finally getting the attention he deserves. Not flashy like the other defensemen on this list, Tanev’s bread and butter is a solid, responsible game in his own zone, though he did add a bit of scoring panache with six goals last season. On a Canucks team full of comparatively high-priced veterans on the blueline, Tanev may have been the best of the bunch for large stretches this year. The rise for the 24-year-old from going undrafted to playing a consistent top-four role has been impressive, but the Canucks may have difficulty signing him. According to rumors, negotiations have not been going well, and there’s a very good chance another team could swoop in with an offer sheet and complicate everything. Vancouver isn’t in a hard position to re-sign him with about $5 million in cap space (which will get bumped up after they reduce their roster to two goalies, from its current three), but will a $3-4 million contract upset their ability to add some more depth? Tanev would be a solid addition to any team’s top four defensemen, so this is a situation worth keeping an eye on.

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