On Friday, the Free Agent Frenzy will begin. 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 of an unmatched offer sheet since 1997. However, 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.
Edit: Off the Market
Torey Krug, Defence, Boston Bruins – Re-Signed with Boston, 4 years, $21 million
2015-16 Stats: 81 games, 4 goals, 40 assists, 44 points, CF 50.2%, RelC +2.5
2015-16 Salary: $3.4 million
Since signing as a college free agent, Krug has grown into an effective puck-moving defenceman for the Bruins. While he is a big undersized, he uses good positioning and smart play to still be effective in his own zone. His goal total dropped unexpectedly this season, as it was the first year that Krug finished short of double digits in goals. However, his playmaking game improved, as he hit 40 assists for the first time in his career; and had a career high in points.
According to General Fanager, the Bruins currently have over $21 million in cap space available. However, they only have 14 NHL regulars under contract right now. With so much space, the Bruins should be able to match any offer sheet. For that reason, we’ve put him pretty low on the list.
2016 NHL Offer Sheet Targets
16) Valeri Nichushkin, Right Wing, Dallas Stars
2015-16 Stats: 79 games, 9 goals, 20 assists, 29 points, CF 52.2%, RelC -0.4
2015-16 Salary: $925,000
Nichushkin burst onto the scene and looked like a budding power forward when he put up 14 goals and 34 points in 2013-14. However, he lost most of last season due to injury, playing just nine games. This past year, he could not find his previous form, finishing with just nine goals. The Stars were not happy with Nichushkin’s lack of progression, and there were times he was in Lindy Ruff‘s doghouse.
According to General Fanger, the Stars have over $13 million in cap space. This does not seem to be a cap issue as Nichushkin has been rumored to want to return to Russia this summer. Could another team convince him to sign an offer sheet and stay in the NHL. Would the Stars match, or take compensation for a player coming off two straight disappointing campaigns.
15) Mike Hoffman, Right Wing, Ottawa Senators
2015-16 Stats: 78 games, 29 goals, 30 assists, 59 points, CF 49.0%, RelC +1.7
2015-16 Salary: $2.0 million
Mike Hoffman scored 27 goals and 48 points as a rookie, bursting onto the NHL scene in 2014-15. He would top those numbers this past season with 29 goals and 59 points. Hoffman was a key contributor in the Senators offence. However, concerns about his consistency and work ethic seem to often pop up.
According to General Fanager, the Senators have over $17 million in cap space; with just three roster spots open. The Senators have not been spending up to the cap recently. The team works off their own internal budget. Previous management was also less than enamored with Hoffman; as they took him to arbitration last year. How do Pierre Dorion, and Hoffman’s former junior coach, Guy Boucher feel about him and what he is worth?
14) Chris Kreider, Left Wing, New York Rangers
2015-16 Stats: 79 games, 21 goals, 22 assists, 43 points, CF 50.0% RelC +3.3
2015-16 Salary: $2.6 million
Kreider has the size, speed, and strength to be a power forward in the NHL. The 25-year-old burst onto the scene in 2012, and has shown steady growth since that time. He’s put up over 20 goals and 40 points in each of the last two campaigns. Kreider goes to the dirty areas of the ice and isn’t afraid to drive the net with reckless abandon. He has a combination of size, skill and grit that any NHL team would welcome.
According to General Fanager, the Rangers have over $15 million in cap space available. However they only have seven NHL regular forwards under contract for next season; and 15 players total. This is another situation where a successful offer sheet seems unlikely.
13) Ryan Strome, Centre/Right Wing, New York Islanders
2015-16 Stats: 71 games, 8 goals, 20 assists, 28 points, CF 50.2%, RelC +0.9
2015-16 Salary: $832,000
After scoring 18 points in 37 games as a rookie, and following that up with 50 points in 81 games as a sophomore, Strome struggled last season. He had just 8 goals and 28 points. The former fifth overall pick, even found himself spending some time in the AHL. He is slick with the puck, and has a ton of offensive tools at his disposal. The questions are whether or not the 22-year-old Strome (23 on July 11th) will put it all together.
According to General Fanager, the Islanders have over $15 million in cap space with five players to sign to make a 23-man roster. With Stome having a down year, could a team steal him away with a modest offer sheet? Would Garth Snow consider taking the compensation over the player?
12) Rasmus Ristolainen, Defence, Buffalo Sabres
2015-16 Stats: 82 games, 9 goals, 32 assists, 41 points, CF 45.4%, CRel -3.2
2015-16 Salary: $925,000
Ristolainen had a real breakout campaign in his third year in the NHL. He showed off his ability to quarterback the power play with good vision and passing skills, as well as a hard slap shot. Ristolainen also continues to grow his defensive game. He took on bigger minutes and more responsibility this year. It isn’t perfect yet, but he’s performing very well for a 21-year-old.
According to General Fanager, the Sabres have over $19 million in cap space with just five players needed to fill out the roster. Ristolainen is a huge part of the Sabres future, and they are unlikely to let him go without a fight. This seems an unlikely offer sheet target, but due to his talent level, he is attractive and should be on the list.
11) Mathew Dumba, Defence, Minnesota Wild
2015-16 Stats: 81 games, 10 goals, 16 assists, 26 points, CF 47.7%, RelC +0.4
2015-16 Salary: $832,500
Dumba showed off the ability to score that made him such a highly touted prospect in the 2012 draft, hitting double digits in goals. He skates and moves the puck extremely well. Dumba is also not afraid to play a physical game, throwing big open-ice hits. Defensively, his positioning and awareness are improving but the 21-year-old’s game is a work in progress.
According to General Fanager, the Wild have over $12 million in cap space, but need eight more players to fill out a 23-man-roster. This makes things tight, and a good sized offer sheet could force the Wild into a cap crunch.
10) Vincent Trocheck, Centre, Florida Panthers
2015-16 Stats: 76 games, 25 goals, 28 assists, 53 points, CF 51.3%, RelC +2.9
2015-16 Salary: $600,000
A former third round pick of the Panthers, Trocheck proved that he could be a top 6 centre in the NHL with a strong 2015-16 season. He put up 25 goals and 53 points. Trocheck might be a bit on the small side, but he has very good skating and excellent playmaking ability. He has soft hands and can slow the play down looking for an opening. He also has a good wrist shot.
According to General Fanager, the Panthers have over $19 million in cap space, but will need four more players if they wish to fill in a 23 man roster. Matching this year shouldn’t be a problem. The question becomes how much will the Panthers want to spend as many of their young players get new contracts. Still this seems an unlikely target.
9) Brayden Schenn, Centre/Wing, Philadelphia Flyers
2015-16 Stats: 80 games, 26 goals, 33 assists, 59 points, CF 50.5%, RelC -1.3
2015-16 Salary: $2.75 million
Schenn, 24, is coming off the best season of his career. He has an excellent wrister, and a very good release. Schenn is a big body, who skates faster than he appears to be moving at first glance. He is ultra-competitive, battling on every shift, and working at both ends of the rink. He should be expecting a significant raise next season.
According to General Fanager, the Flyers have over $11.9 million in cap space, and need to add five skaters for a 23-man roster. This would seem to be enough to retain Schenn, but any big free agent moves in July could complicate things. The Flyers could also be a target of the retaliatory offer sheet, as they have handed out a few high profile offer sheets (Ryan Kesler, Shea Weber).
8) Tyson Barrie, Defence, Colorado Avalanche
2015-16 Stats: 78 games, 13 goals, 36 assists, 49 points, CF 44.6%, RelC +.4
2015-16 Salary: $3.2 million
Barrie, 24, is one of the premier young puck-moving defenceman in the NHL. He is also chronically underrated. Barrie is an outstanding skater, and very good stick handler. The ability to handle the puck and make plays at top speed is a real strength. He also has outstanding vision, and the ability to thread passes through small openings. He also quarterbacks the power play. Barrie does have some issues in his own end of the ice though.
According to General Fanager, the Avalanche have over $20 million in cap space, with eight players to be added to their roster. Barrie was rumored to be on the block all season long. While Joe Sakic may have recently dispelled the rumors and said that the team would re-sign Barrie, it hasn’t happened yet. Did the Avalanche consider trading him earlier in the year? Would they let him go now if the offer was too high?
7) Jaden Schwartz, Left Wing, St. Louis Blues
2015-16 Stats: 33 games, 8 goals, 14 assists, 24 points, CF 53.9% RelC 2.0
2015-16 Salary: $2.7 million
Schwartz has extremely soft hands and is a wizard with the puck. A tremendous stickhandler, he has a lot of impressive moves in his arsenal. He also has a very hard, very accurate wrist shot with a good release. Couple these together and Schwartz can score goals. However, he has been more of a play maker to this point in his career, as he also has excellent vision and crisp passing skills. He is extremely creative with the puck, and also has the ability to slow the play down to wait for an opening. Schwartz is not afraid to go to the dirty areas of the ice, and is involved in board battles and in working the front of the net. An ankle injury cost him much of this past season.
According to General Fanager, the Blues have over $15.2 million in cap space, with 18 players on their NHL roster. They should have the space to match nearly any offer here.
6) Jacob Trouba, Defence, Winnipeg Jets
2015-16 Stats: 81 games, 6 goals, 15 assists, 21 points; CF 51.9%, RelC +1.6
2015-16 Salary: $832,000
Trouba, 21, is developping into a big and powerful defenceman. While he is more a stay-at-home type than an offensive contributor, he does have a good shot, and a good first pass out of the zone. Trouba defends very well against the rush. He is also willing to battle in the corners and clear the front of the net. Part of the newer bread of defensive defender; Trouba can skate and plays a strong positional game.
According to General Fanager, the Winnipeg Jets have over $20 million in cap space, with 19 players on the roster. However, it should be noted that the Jets have been more of a budget team than a cap ceiling team. Could matching a potential offer sheet push them over their internal budget. There have been some rumors swirling that the Bruins could send an offer sheet to Trouba.
5) Mark Scheifele, Centre, Winnipeg Jets
2015-16 Stats: 71 games, 29 goals, 32 assists, 61 points, CF 54.0, Rel C +2.1
2015-16 Salary: $832,500
Scheifele came into his own this past season, as the 23-year-old emerged as a top line centre and set career highs in nearly every category. He combines excellent size, long reach, soft hands, and quick stickhandling to protect the puck and buy time to make plays. Scheifele also has great vision, and the ability to pass the puck through the eye of a needle. He quite simply is the type of pivot who makes his linemates better. Scheifele is a good shooter, due to an accurate wrist shot with a very good release.
The Jets will face similar cap and budget related issues with Scheifele, as they do with Trouba.
4) Hampus Lindholm, Defence, Anaheim Ducks
2015-16 Stats: 80 games, 10 goals, 18 assists, 28 points, CF 57.8%, RelC +7.8
2015-16 Salary: $832,500
Since being drafted in 2012, Lindholm has developped into a top-pairing worthy two-way defenceman. He has become an analytics darling with his stunning 57.8% corsi percentage, and being +7.8% relative to team. All this while taking a relative even number of zone starts in both the offensive and defensive end. He can shutdown top forwards and brings a little offense of his own.
According to General Fanager, the Ducks have over $15.5 million in cap space, but only 15 players on the 23 man roster. If the Ducks aren’t careful, and make a big splash on July 1st (get it, Ducks making a splash), they could find themselves in a cap crunch; which would then make Lindholm an attractive target.
3) Sean Monahan, Centre, Calgary Flames
2015-16 Stats: 81 games, 27 goals, 36 assists, 63 points, CF 48.4%, RelC +0.3
2015-16 Salary: $925,000
Monahan, 21, should be expecting a big raise as he comes off his entry level deal. He has produced at a high level, scoring 80 goals over his three NHL seasons. Improving every year, this was Monahan’s best with 63 points. He is a big, strong centre; with an excellent wrist shot and release. He protects the puck well and can play the role of playmaker. He can also be a goal scoring power forward.
According to General Fanager, the Flames have almost $20 million in space with five players to sign. Financially they should be able to withstand almost any offer. Monahan is on the list due to his attractiveness to other teams, and not necessarily because the Flames are vulnerable. Big, number one centres are tough to find now.
2) Nathan MacKinnon, Centre, Colorado Avalanche
2015-16 Stats: 72 games, 21 goals, 31 assists, 52 points, CF 46.4%, RelC +2.8
2015-16 Salary: $925,000
Ever since being taken first overall, and bursting onto the scene with 63 points in the 2013-14 season; MacKinnon has been seen as a franchise changng player. He has outstanding skating ability, with great speed, and the ability to cut on a dime. He also has power to his game; and the ability to fight through checks as he goes to the net. MacKinnon can do it all, scoring goals, setting up plays, and playing a two-way game.
As previously mentioned, the Avalanche have the cap space to match almost any offer. We’ve put MacKinnon this high because it is very difficult to get a number one centre, and MacKinnon has proven to be that over his first three NHL seasons. He could even be a breakout star in the next couple of years, and a franchise defining player.
1) Nikita Kucherov, Right Wing, Tampa Bay Lightning
2015-16 Stats: 77 games, 30 goals, 36 assists, 66 points, CF 54.4%, RelC +3.9
2015-16 Salary: $700,000
Kucherov is coming off a career year, where he joined the exclusive 30-goal plateau. He was also amazing in Tampa’s run to the Eastern Conference Final, putting up 11 goals and 19 points in 17 games. Kucherov has a very heavy wrist shot and an incredible release. He is also a strong stickhandler, and good playmaker. Undersized, but with strong skating ability, Kucherov is a dynamic offensive player.
According to General Fanager, even after signing Steven Stamkos, the Lightning still have over $9 million in Cap Space. However, Alex Killorn also needs a contract; and Victor Hedman, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Jonathan Drouin will all need contracts after next season. It is unlikely that Tampa will be able to fit all these players under the cap in 2017-18. A general manager may try to force Steve Yzerman‘s hand with an offer sheet.