Approaching every NHL offseason, pundits and fans speculate over which restricted free agents could receive an offer sheet from a rival club.
Once a fairly common occurrence in the pre-salary cap days, an offer-sheet signing rarely takes places nowadays. The last occurred in 2013 when then-Colorado Avalanche center Ryan O’Reilly agreed to a contract with the Calgary Flames, which the Avs quickly matched.
Since 2005-06, only eight players have signed offer sheets. All but one (Dustin Penner in 2007) were matched. As a result, most NHL general managers tend to view them as a waste of time. Some NHL followers believe the GMs have a “gentleman’s agreement” not to poach each other’s talent. Proof of such alleged collusion, however, has never been uncovered.
Most fans are wary and weary of the annual media conjecture over possible offer-sheet candidates. This year, however, could be a different story.
For the first time in years, several notable players on cap-strapped teams are due to become restricted free agents. That’s prompted suggestions that at least one of them could sign an offer sheet once the free-agent period begins on July 1.
Here’s a look at the players most likely to receive offer sheets starting next month.
Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs
Coming off his entry-level contract, the 22-year-old right wing enjoyed a career-high 94-point performance in 2018-19. He was also the Leafs’ leading scorer in each of the last two seasons.
With over $74 million invested in 17 players for ’19-’20, the Leafs could have difficulty matching a substantial offer sheet – perhaps over $11 million per season – for Marner. That’s one of the reasons why they’re shopping Patrick Marleau and Nikita Zaitsev.
Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning
Like Marner, Point completed a career-best season (92 points) in the final year of his entry-level deal. And like the Leafs, the Lightning has over $74 million committed to 17 players for next season.
Playing in a city where there’s no state tax, the Lightning probably won’t need to spend as much on Point as the Leafs would for Marner. Still, their cap crunch makes it difficult to re-up Point and address their blueline needs. It also makes them a vulnerable offer-sheet target.
William Karlsson, Vegas Golden Knights
After a career-high 43-goal, 78-point effort in 2017-28, Karlsson managed 24 goals and 56 points this season. Those are still respectable numbers and likely indicative of what to realistically expect from the 26-year-old center.
With over $83 million tied up in 19 players, the Golden Knights are already maxed out for ’19-’20. If they don’t shed sufficient salary before July 1, a rival club could attempt to pry Karlsson away by offering over $7 million annually.
Kasperi Kapanen, Toronto Maple Leafs
Should the Leafs re-sign Marner before July 1, their limited cap space could hamper efforts to re-sign Kapanen. Like Marner, he’s completing his entry-level contract.
The 22-year-old right wing enjoyed a 22-goal, 44-point campaign and still has considerable upside. A rival GM could steal him away with an affordable offer sheet around $4.5 million per season.
Jacob Trouba, Winnipeg Jets
Trouba filed for arbitration last summer and was awarded a one-year, $5.5-million deal. The 25-year-old defenseman is once again an RFA with arbitration rights, only this time he’s a year away from UFA eligibility.
The Jets have over $57 million committed to 14 players and could match any offer. However, they must also re-sign wingers Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor to lucrative new deals. If the Jets haven’t traded Trouba before July 1 and don’t take him to arbitration, he could become an offer-sheet target.
Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames
The 21-year-old left winger established himself among the league’s top power forwards. He enjoyed a breakout performance this season, netting 34 goals and 77 points. Like others on this list, he’s completing his entry-level contract.
The Flames have over $68 million invested in 19 players, giving them sufficient room to match a big offer (over $10 million annually) for Tkachuk. However, it would hamper their efforts to re-sign Sam Bennett and sign two goaltenders.