Every offseason there is chatter about offer sheets and restricted free agents, and Boston Bruins fans fantasize about tossing an offer sheet bomb at a rival franchise like the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Toronto Maple Leafs.
But the reality of the situation is that there hasn’t been a successful offer sheet acquisition of an NHL restricted free agent since way back in 2007, and that the Boston Bruins are not in a current salary cap position to do it even if they wanted to.
Last year Marc Bergevin and the Montreal Canadiens gave it a go when they signed Carolina scorer Sebastian Aho to a five-year, $42.27 million offer sheet, but that was quickly matched by the Hurricanes thereby ending any RFA drama. This offseason there might not be that kind of offer sheet melodrama due to the flat salary cap and the COVID-19 economics hampering all 31 NHL teams. That’s the reality of the situation and it’s far more likely the Boston Bruins would swing a deal for a young RFA – perhaps using their own restricted free agent Jake DeBrusk as the trade chip – rather than lassoing them with an offer, as is the case with Boston’s interest in Florida defenseman MacKenzie Weegar.
But just for laughs and giggles without any realistic pathway for the Boston Bruins, let’s take a look at the top RFAs that remain unsigned as potential offer sheet targets for any ambitious GMs across the NHL looking to win games rather than make friends at the GM Meetings:
Mikhail Sergachev – The real advantage is a two-fold one for any Eastern Conference team as two of the best RFAs available for offer sheets also happen to play for the salary cap-strapped, Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. An offer would either subtract a good player from their roster, or thoroughly blow up their salary cap situation. The 22-year-old Russian defenseman with all the tools had a breakthrough season where he finished with 10 goals and 34 points in 70 games for the Bolts while showing skating, a cannon shot and the 6-foot-3, 223-pound size that everybody wants in a top-tier defenseman. Even better, Sergachev had three goals and 10 points during the bubble playoffs while topping 22 minutes of ice time per game and is just scratching the surface of exactly how good he’s going to be. The Lightning are going to be scary good on the back end with both Victor Hedman and Sergachev in their 20’s for the next few seasons, and an Eastern Conference team looking to torpedo that should take a long, hard look at throwing a big offer sheet at Sergachev. Once the Lightning massage the salary cap enough to sign Sergachev, they are going to be very tough to beat for the foreseeable future.
Anthony Cirelli – The 23-year-old Cirelli isn’t a household name by any means, but he’s an incredibly useful young player on a Stanley Cup-winning team that could have an even higher upside at a different NHL address. Cirelli has mostly been a third line center on a stacked Lightning roster but has been a key part of the depth battle that Tampa Bay has been able to win against other NHL teams over the last few seasons. Cirelli finished with 16 goals and 44 points in 68 games last season while pushing close to the 20-goal/50-point territory that would make him at least a No. 2 center on a number of other playoff teams. The fact that Cirelli plays with a bit of a speedy, scrappy edge and can kill penalties only adds to his value, and he could have the makings of an eventual Selke Trophy winner as he enters the prime years of his career. If there is one young player that the Lightning might eventually have to part with due to salary cap concerns, it could be a guy like Cirelli that’s a bit of a luxury as a third line center due for a big raise.
Mat Barzal – Boy, wouldn’t it be a poetically beautiful way to erase the Boston Bruins mistakes of the 2015 NHL Draft if the B’s were in a salary cap position to throw a massive offer sheet at the playmaking Barzal? Sadly, the Boston Bruins aren’t going to be in that kind of catbird spot to make a big offer sheet and it doesn’t seem like Barzal wants to leave the Islanders either way. But it would have been pretty sweet if Don Sweeney had been in a position to show the kind of chutzpah it would take to reclaim a player like Barzal that they missed so badly on when they passed him over three straight times in the first round back in 2015. Barzal hasn’t been at the 22-goal/82-point level he reached during his Calder Trophy-winning rookie season with the Islanders over the last few years, but he’s also become more of a well-rounded, two-way player under Barry Trotz over the last couple of years. Barzal will be well worth whatever he gets paid on his next contract, whether it was an offer sheet or a bridge contract with the Isles. One thing not to underestimate in the Barzal situation, in particular: Angering Lou Lamoriello would like a GM calling down the thunder on themselves. It’s probably not the wisest move for long term job health and wellness.
Pierre-Luc Dubois – The big franchise center in Columbus has been an impact player since entering the league while averaging north of 20 goals and 50 points, so he’s not going anywhere except for Columbus. Even if a team threw a big offer sheet at Dubois, the Blue Jackets have the cap space, Columbus currently sits right around $11 million in cap space, to match any offer sheets just as Carolina did with Sebastian Aho a year ago. But how often do NHL teams get a crack at a 6-foot-2, 207-pound top line center that plays with physicality, puck possession and has shown the kind of fire to handle John Tortorella as his head coach? Dubois is a franchise player through and through, so he would be worth the stretch for many NHL teams looking for that big, strong No. 1 guy. But I don’t see any scenario where he’d be leaving Columbus.
Jack Roslovic – The 23-year-old Roslovic isn’t a big name in NHL circles right now despite being a former first round pick in that stacked 2015 NHL Draft. But he continues to improve with the Winnipeg Jets and posted 12 goals and 29 points last season for the Jets while averaging just a shade under 15 minutes of ice time. For a player like Roslovic, it’s really not even worth the draft picks sacrificed, or the hard feelings stirred up, for other teams to send an offer sheet to the Winnipeg center. Instead Roslovic has been mentioned as possible trade bait for the Jets perhaps in exchange for fellow RFA defenseman MacKenzie Weegar in Florida. There’s still a lot of upside for a player that’s a bit of a late bloomer for the Jets.
Roope Hintz – The 23-year-old speedy Finn forward is just coming into his own as an NHL player for the Dallas Stars after posting 19 goals and 33 points for the Stars last season and then adding another 13 points in the Dallas playoff push to the Stanley Cup Final. Hintz has blazing speed, size at 6-foot-3, 205-pound and a very clear upside with an NHL resume where he’s had to work his way up from being a bottom-6 forward to begin his career. This is the kind of player that could be had for a mid-level offer sheet with Dallas currently sitting at less than $5 million of salary cap space for next season. That being said, Tyler Seguin and Ben Bishop are also going to be out until April, so the Stars are going to have some LTIR cap space to deal with for most of next season if they wanted to go up and over the cap to begin next season.
Jesper Bratt – Another speedy, young player that’s cut his teeth as a bottom-6 forward at the NHL level, the 22-year-old Bratt had 16 goals and 32 points for the Devils last season while showing very good skating speed and tenacity for a young, up-and-coming Devils team. Just like Hintz, Bratt wouldn’t be a major offer sheet acquisition price tag for any NHL general manager looking to stir things up. So it might not be worth it for any teams to drum up the hard feelings of an offer over a complimentary player, but Bratt looks like a guy that might have some significant upside with more ice time on a different team in a different situation.