Two years ago, we were teased with the Sebastian Aho offer sheet.
Last year, the Hurricanes delivered with Jesperi Kotkaniemi.
Is this a start of a trend in the right direction to bring us more chaos? Probably not, but we all can hope.
With the cap slowly starting to increase, teams around the league may be able to take advantage of those around the league who don’t have any financial flexibility. One way to do that is with an offer sheet.
If a team accepts an offer sheet, they’re compensated in draft picks.
Offer Sheet Compensation
|Draft Compensation||Salary Threshold|
$1,386,490 or below
Over $1,386,490 to $2,100,742
Over $2,100,742 to $4,201,488
First-round pick, third-round pick
Over $4,201,488 to $6,302,230
First-round pick, second-round pick, third-round pick
Over $6,302,230 to $8,402,975
2 First-round picks, second-round pick, third-round pick
Over $8,402,975 to $10,503,720
4 First-round picks
Which players around the league should be targeted with an offer sheet? And how much should acquiring teams be floating these pending restricted free agents?
Let’s take a closer look at the top targets this offseason.
Offer: $7M x 6 years
Ahead of free agency this year, 24 defensemen are set to have a cap hit of at least $7 million in 2022-23. This offer sheet would put Dobson right in at 25, which may seem like a stretch considering he isn’t a top-pair defenseman on his own team right now, and the Islanders’ leading duo each comes in, on average, closer to $6 million on the cap.
But that cap hit actually can fit his caliber play. Dobson projects to be worth 1.9 wins next season, which lands him 25th among defenders in the league and ahead of both Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech.
There’s always a risk to signing players with limited experience to such hefty contracts — especially without certainty of how he’d handle facing top competition when he won’t have someone like Pulock ahead of him to absorb those minutes. In this case, that cap risk comes with a cost of draft capital: a first-, second- and third-round pick.
But Dobson’s emerging into the kind of player teams likely hope they can gain with their first-round picks, which can make it worth it. The other added benefit is the timing of his career this contract would capture, covering his peak seasons and ensuring a team pays for current and future performance, versus catching the tail end of his prime then covering years of decline. Teams around the league have been far too willing to sign 27-plus-year-old defenders to significant contracts, when that risk should be reserved for those in their early-20s like Dobson.
Would the Islanders match that?
Based on their current roster construction, they really need to — they’re still feeling the ripple effects of losing Devon Toews for two second-rounders. Trading another puck-mover in Nick Leddy only added further strain. Losing Dobson would put this team in the market for not one, but two players of this mold.
But there are some financial hurdles. Would management want to spend extra for Dobson when Pelech and Pulock are each closer to $6 million? Can they swing this when looking ahead at other expiring contracts, like Mathew Barzal in a year or breakout goaltender Ilya Sorokin a season later, along with some depth roles? Would there be any latitude to invest in another high-end forward to punch up this offense if Dobson absorbed $7 million of cap space instead of a bridge deal he’s probably on track for?
Whether the Islanders matched the offer sheet or let Dobson walk, it puts the team in a bind, something opponents around the league should always be trying to do.
Offer: $11.2M x 7 years
There is bound to be some sticker shock at the price tag here as it would make Matthew Tkachuk the fifth highest-paid player in the league.
But he’d be worth it.
At 4.4 projected wins, Tkachuk is expected to be one of the 10 most valuable players in hockey next season after a massive breakout year where he scored 104 points and dominated play at five-on-five — at both ends of the ice. The fact he’s also a rugged power forward only adds to the intrigue. He’s a very special player, a unicorn in this league that features a rare combination of brawn and skill. There’s no one like Tkachuk and he’s a cornerstone piece that teams can build around.
The big price tag means not only a meaty salary cap expenditure, but also plenty of draft capital. Again, Tkachuk is very likely worth the cost: four first-round picks. The likelihood of any of those firsts turning into a player of Tkachuk’s caliber is slim and gets slimmer depending on which team is offer-sheeting him. Over the next seven years, Tkachuk is expected to add 26 wins of value to a team’s ledger. Based on work done three years ago, any team whose true talent lies above 80 points over the next four years should come out ahead. Having Tkachuk on their team makes it even easier to do that.
An offer sheet of this size obviously comes with plenty of risk. For starters — is it enough to pry him out of Calgary? Considering the team’s current cap issues with Johnny Gaudreau and Andrew Mangiapane to sign (we’ll get to him too), it just might be … but to be sure there’s room for a team to go even higher. At $11.2 million, there’s a 65 percent chance that Tkachuk lives up to the money, but even at $12 million, there’s a 60 percent chance. That would make Tkachuk the second-highest paid player in the league behind only Connor McDavid and would have to give the Flames serious pause. In the grand scheme of the contract landscape, it’s an overpay, but as long as Tkachuk performs at the level expected of him that doesn’t really matter. See: Marner, Mitch.
The other risk is if Tkachuk actually can live up to that money though, and that’s where finding the right balance is key. Our initial offer here is $11.2 million because the expected value on that deal is three wins per season. Based on Tkachuk’s big jump last season, it’s something he should live up to, but it gives a prospective team some grace if he regresses all the way back to his previous level of a 2.7-win player. His 4.4-win projection already lies somewhere between that and his mega season, one that likely represents his peak output. As long as the expectation isn’t that, a signing team should make out fine here — assuming Tkachuk can provide this level of his play in another locale. Being without Johnny Gaudreau adds another layer of risk with regard to what Tkachuk can accomplish elsewhere and is why the three-win expected value is important.
It’s a lot of money, yes, but it’s for arguably the very best available asset on the market this summer. Tkachuk’s value is comparable to Gaudreau’s, but he’s at a better position on the age curve and should hold value for longer. That’s worth a lot, and with Calgary in a vulnerable position, there should be every effort made by opposing teams to try and steal Tkachuk.
$4.2M x 5 years
The Rangers are only at the start of their playoff window, but they already face the task of trying to balance the books after tying up so much cap space in their core.
Kakko’s NHL play to this point makes him the prime candidate for a bridge deal. That helps balance costs in the interim for the Rangers, who have rising costs thanks to extensions to Adam Fox and Mika Zibanejad kicking in this summer. Plus, management has to invest in a second-line center, consider extending any of their deadline rentals, and re-sign other pending RFAs like K’Andre Miller. Signing a short-term deal can benefit the player too; he can bet on himself to push for a more lucrative third contract.
But a team could try to change up that timeline with a second contract that would give the winger some more security now. And given the way Kakko’s season ended, as a healthy scratch in the Eastern Conference final decider, that team may hope he’s open to looking for a new opportunity after a pretty challenging start in New York.
We’re offering a five-year deal with an average annual value at $4.2 million, which keeps the compensation to a second-rounder — versus a first and third that comes with an AAV of $4,201,489. A second-rounder can be worth it for a reclamation project with Kakko’s potential. While he was on the right path last season below the surface, injury did derail some of that progress this year.
The risk is that he’s only shown glimpses of that at the NHL level, which makes the cap hit a drawback seeing as his market value is only $2.7 million, on average. This would be an overpay to start, and could easily become a steal if he follows the route of two of his comparables, Max Pacioretty and Roope Hintz. But if he ends up measuring up closer to Magnus Paajarvi, this quickly becomes a weight on the books for a depth player.
Offer: $6.3M x 4 years
Okay so assume Calgary finds a way to sign Gaudreau and Tkachuk. Both those contracts have to come in over $10 million per season (if not, kudos to the Flames because that would be a steal), leaving the Flames with not a lot of room to sign a number of players. One of those players is Andrew Mangiapane who scored 35 goals last season despite limited time on the top power-play unit. He may not finish at that level again, but he’s shown a knack for scoring goals throughout his career.
Mangiapane has a lot of upside because what he’s accomplished to date has been in a middle-six role. Over the last three years, he’s consistently scored at a top-line rate at five-on-five and can likely thrive in a bigger role. What’s most tantalizing about Mangiapane is not just his goal scoring, but his ability to push play in the right direction. He’s earned a 58 percent expected goals rate in each of the last two seasons and his relative output is elite year after year. Over the last four seasons, only six players have a higher impact on relative expected goals than Mangiapane’s plus-0.44, and his impact on actual goals is equal.
At 26, there is some risk in his age, but keeping the term relatively short should mitigate that. We’re offering him $6.3 million to maximize the first and third-round pick threshold, and it’s a salary he should still be able to outperform. A savvy team that puts him in a bigger role could easily make sure of that.
Most importantly, with Calgary desperately needing to sign Gaudreau and Tkachuk, there just may not be enough room for this kind of ticket for Mangiapane. He’s third on the priority list there and that may be enough to squeeze the team out of a very good player. This deal would leave the Flames with $20 million to sign Gaudreau, Tkachuk and about seven other players. Good luck with that.
Offer: $7.8M x 5 years
The Devils want to keep Jesper Bratt. General manager Tom Fitzgerald stressed that after the season ended. New Jersey has the cap space to keep their winger, but there’s more the team has to address — there’s goaltending, another high-impact winger, possibly some depth on defense, and Damon Severson’s next contract now that he’s in his final year. That can quickly add up, which gives other teams an opening to try to push Bratt’s next deal closer to his market value.
Some comparable signings to Bratt have kept cap hits in the range of $5-7 million, depending on length. Anything within that range should work for the Devils. But moving higher than that could get tricky. Evolving Hockey’s highest projected AAV ($7.2 million) comes with an eight-year term if he were to extend. That could still be doable. But his market value is actually $8.4 million, on average, over the next seven years. Our offer comes in between those two values, at $7.8 million for five years.
Considering how much New Jersey has already invested in their core — between Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes and Dougie Hamilton — with the potential to add to that with another impact winger or goaltender, that may be above what the Devils can invest if they want to maintain any financial flexibility.
Bratt’s coming off a career year on the scoresheet, where he backed up his play with consistently strong impacts on both ends of the ice. The winger can bring the puck into the offensive zone with control and create offense off the rush, or he can cycle it to generate quality looks, whether it’s with his passing or shooting. He’s projected to be worth 2.5 wins next year, where he stacks up to other high-end wingers around the league.
While $7.8 million may seem like a lot for a player who isn’t yet a household name, he could easily become one if he keeps up his level of play — and his comparables paint a pretty encouraging picture of where he can go from here. That’s what makes him worth a first-, second- and third-rounder in compensation. And most of the teams with those picks available to them could use a player like Bratt on their roster. Then again, so could the Devils, who could match this deal and figure out a way to balance out their cap situation elsewhere.
Offer: $4.0M x 4 years
The Leafs have some flexibility with the salary cap, but not a whole lot. Given Timothy Liljegren’s new deal ($1.4 million for two years) and the logjam on the left side, a big raise for a mostly unproven defender may simply be too rich for Toronto.
For a prospective team the risk isn’t in the compensation (a second-round pick here is mostly meaningless), but about whether Rasmus Sandin can be a $4 million defender. The model thinks he can be, but that’s based on a limited sample in a limited role. A $4 million defender is one that can play in the top four and that’s not something Sandin has proven yet. That’s a real risk to take on, and in that case, it might be wiser to do what Carolina did last year with Kotkaniemi: a big one-year deal to pry the player out to find out what he’s made of.
Sandin looks legit though and we’re comfortable with putting a bit of term behind the 22-year-old defenseman. It has potential to be a steal if he can live up to what he did last season in a larger role. In that time he posted a 59 percent expected goals rate and while that needs to be taken with some grain of salt given his usage, it’s not nothing either. Not all sheltered defenders thrive like that.
The key to discerning the “haves” from the “have nots” on the third pair is the individual skill set that leads them to those results. The ones that make it tend to display strong microstats that showcase an ability to move up the lineup. Sandin isn’t elite in that regard, but he does have decent numbers with regard to exiting the zone, moving the puck up the ice and facilitating offense with his passing.
It’s not a slam dunk, but Sandin is worth betting on given how vulnerable the Leafs are with their cap picture. Given the UFA defense market, teams can do a lot worse out there.
Offer: $4.0M x 1 year
It wasn’t long ago that the Golden Knights were the misfits. Now they’re a team that spends whatever it takes to have star power, whether it’s cap space, future assets, or roster players. That’s the reputation they’re building for themselves, with some drama surrounding it all. What could add to some of that chaos? An offer sheet.
Vegas doesn’t have much cap space to maneuver this offseason, even after offloading Evgenii Dadonov (for real this time). And that makes some of their restricted free agents prime targets for offer sheets, including Roy.
The forward doesn’t have overwhelming counting stats that make him jump off the page, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. This past season, Roy concentrated his shots to the scoring areas and had a positive offensive impact at five-on-five, even though he didn’t have the finishing to match. If he can tap into that, maybe his career follows those of comps Blake Wheeler and Zach Hyman, instead of Viktor Stalberg and Richard Panik. A one-year contract is a safe bet to make at limited compensation (a second-rounder). Given the cap constraints in Vegas, $4 million may be too steep for them to match.
Offer: $10.5M x 5 years
Jason Robertson is already a superstar in this league and those don’t come around often. He’s helped turn the Stars’ top line into one of the league’s best and is already a bonafide point-per-game player after just two seasons. He drives play to a very strong degree and is already projected to be one of the game’s most impactful players. Robertson is a player worth prying away from Dallas and building around — there aren’t a lot of forwards north of 3.5 projected wins. His best comps suggest he can stay around that threshold for a long time.
Like Tkachuk, the idea here is to pay Robertson full market value, well above what a typical RFA gets. According to Evolving Hockey’s contract projections, Robertson’s RFA value falls closer to $8 million per season, but his market value based on how many wins he brings to the table is over $13 million. A huge gap.
The best young players have a sweet spot where their true value falls not only well above fair RFA value, but also fair UFA value. That makes overpaying a technicality rather than something that will actually be troublesome. Again, see: Marner, Mitch.
We’re offering $10.5 million, an incredibly rich deal for only two seasons of hockey. But what Robertson has shown during that time has been remarkable – and worth the risk. At that price, the expectation is 2.9 wins, essentially an elite top-30 forward. Robertson has been that from his rookie season onward and there isn’t a lot of risk he won’t continue to be that as he enters his prime.
Dallas has $20 million in cap space, so this one might be matched — but if it’s viewed as a huge overpay perhaps there’s a chance the Stars balk at the offer and take the compensation instead. Two firsts, a second and a third don’t really compare to what Robertson can offer to the right team, but it’ll be a tough decision if this deal makes him the highest-paid Star.
Offer: $4.2M x 4 years
How often do we see teams spend extra to add depth players with championship experience in free agency? And how often are those players past their prime? How often do their contracts end up burning them?
If teams are learning from mistakes of free agency past, they could try to approach things differently this year. Instead of looking for this offseason’s version of Barclay Goodrow or Blake Coleman, they can try to add a slightly younger and cheaper version in Lehkonen with an offer sheet.
Over the last few years, teams have seen Lehkonen in a variety of ways — as a key defensive force on a playoff underdog, on a bottom feeder, and on an elite team alongside top-caliber players. The fact that he’s maintained his game and continued to play to his strengths in each of those situations may give a team confidence in how the forechecker will fit in with their roster.
Offering $4.2 million is above market value, but it keeps the compensation to a second-rounder which is less than what he was traded for at the last deadline. A team just has to project whether he’s worth that contract. If he only stacks up to his top comp, Joonas Donskoi, maybe not. But if he follows the path of strong match Bryan Rust, that’s even more enticing.
Colorado has the space to match this contract, especially if Valeri Nichushkin walks as a free agent; if they extend the pending UFA, there’s more leeway for another team to pry Lehkonen away.
Offer: $6.3M x 1 year
We’re going the Kotkaniemi route here: a high-priced one-year offer meant to pry a player away and see what he’s made of. This deal is a shade under both Jesse Puljujarvi’s open market value ($6.9 million) as well as the next offer sheet threshold. All that’s needed here is a first- and third-round pick, which is a small price to pay for a player with big upside. His production may not be there yet, but his underlying numbers are fantastic. Chris Kreider being his top comp is interesting — that wouldn’t be a bad career path to follow.
The big key here is Edmonton’s own reluctance to actually keep Puljujarvi … for whatever reason. That hesitancy from his own franchise should make him easier to acquire, perhaps for even less than what this offer sheet would take. That’s probably the right move, but if the team starts playing hardball this isn’t a bad move to make. The Oilers don’t have a lot of cap flexibility and seem to be prioritizing Evander Kane above all. This deal should be able to get it done.
Other intriguing RFAs
Patrik Laine: The definition of an empty-calorie scorer. Laine can put up points and last season showed an ability to create on his own, but his defensive negligence needs to be considered. He’s projected to make $7 million, but that’s probably too rich for a beyond one-dimensional star.
Pierre-Luc Dubois: The center is coming off a bounce-back year, but compensation for his next contract likely costs at least a first and a third, and possibly a second if an offer sheet is worth more than $6.3 million. Teams may not feel it’s worth it to spend that much when the player wants to test unrestricted free agency in two years.
Brock Boeser: He once looked like a big part of the future for the Canucks, but over the last few years it seems like Boeser has settled in as a complementary player. Nothing wrong with that, but the Canucks need to decide if they want to invest in a second-line scorer, or move him in a package for something that serves a bigger purpose. It’s decision time.
Tony DeAngelo: DeAngelo has high offensive upside and can be incredibly effective when he has a partner to complement his game, like he did in elite shutdown defender Jaccob Slavin this year. After spending the year on a cost-effective contract to prove himself, he’s probably only signing an offer sheet that’s lucrative. But it’s a risky investment in cap space given his volatility, let alone draft picks in compensation — especially if a team doesn’t have a strong partner in place for him.
Jake Oettinger: How much extra money did Jake Oettinger make this summer off of seven incredible playoff games? It’s not zero, we’ll tell you that much. Oettinger looked fine during the season, but it was the playoffs where he showed off his true potential. Was it a mirage, or the beginnings of a career as an elite starter? It’s a tough question when it comes to goalies as they’re particularly volatile, but if there’s a lot of confidence that it’s the latter, a long-term pact might be wise here.
Josh Norris: Norris should be a part of the Senators’ future, so whatever another team offers — even if it’s on the high end, closer to his $7.3 million market value — Ottawa should match it. While getting future assets back can help in the long run, so can extending a talented 23-year-old center who would help the team move forward instead of extending the rebuilding process.
Kailer Yamamoto: For whatever reason, the Oilers seemingly need to choose (?) between two first-round picks, rather than keep both. Not sure how they got here, but here we are. We like Puljujarvi more, but Yamamoto doesn’t seem like a guy the Oilers should let go of either. He has tons of potential and played extremely well during the playoffs after a disappointing regular season. Price will dictate what happens here. Yamamoto looks like he’s part of the answer, though it doesn’t look like he’ll come cheap. Evolving Hockey projects a deal that will come way above his actual value.
Dylan Strome: Strome seemed to finally hit his stride this season, after his usage was maximized, and yet Chicago may want to move on from him. At this point, a team just needs to assess whether it’s a smarter strategy to trade for him or send an offer sheet; if the cap hit is under $4.2 million, the latter may be the answer considering the minimal compensation.
Martin Necas: The speedy forward had a dazzling sophomore season, but followed that up with a disappointing third campaign where he fell out of favor. A bridge deal feels like the best course of action in order to figure out what Necas really is.
(Photo of Matthew Tkachuk: Sergei Belski / USA Today)
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