The NHL trade market continues to be active with chatter but not much action…yet. Could the New Jersey Devils be the one to get things going, and who are they targeting? If chatter has any credibility, we could finally see more offer sheets to star RFAs, such as breakout defenseman Cale Makar, this offseason.
And just as important is the drama surrounding how teams who hold the RFAs will respond to the previously taboo but perfectly legal maneuver.
Don’t take your eyes off the New York Islanders.
According to one NHL exec, not much player movement will occur until NHL GMs can figure out Seattle Kraken GM Ron Francis’ “poker face.”
For a deeper look into that, read more in the latest ‘Off The Record.’
1. Could Islanders Be Offer Sheet Targets?
Every offseason since the salary cap era began, we wait in anticipation for NHL GMs to finally use the offer sheet tool. Since the cap was installed in 2005-06, and GMs had the option to poach restricted free agents from other teams, we’ve seen just nine total offer sheets signed and just one accepted. In 2007, the Anaheim Ducks chose not to match the five-year, $21.25 million offer sheet that the Edmonton Oilers delivered to forward Dustin Penner.
That was the infamous Edmonton-Anaheim dust-up with former Anaheim GM Brian Burke hurling a few choice words at Edmonton GM Kevin Lowe.
“We do not believe these salaries make sense,” said Burke in 2007. “If I think they don’t make sense and I match them, then I’m just as dumb as the team that extended the offer.”
The fight has shaped more than a decade of behavior.
The most recent signed offer sheet was the five-year, $42.27 million one that the Montreal Canadiens offered to Carolina Hurricanes forward Sebastian Aho in July 2019. The Hurricanes matched it, and the idea of a team not matching continued to be a giant tease.
As one high-ranking NHL team player personnel member told OTR recently:
“This could finally be the summer we see multiple offer sheets. It’s now or never, really. With the flat cap and some teams about to enter cap hell for the foreseeable future, it’s now or never for offer sheets, I think.”
Perhaps Montreal GM Marc Bergevin broke the ice with the Aho offer. Bergevin is having a pretty good summer, too.
There’s already been plenty of speculation that a team will put an aggressive offer sheet before Colorado Avalanche RFA defenseman and Norris Trophy finalist Cale Makar. The Avalanche have until July 28 to ink Makar to a contract and avoid the situation, but there’s also little doubt that Avalanche GM Joe Sakic would match an offer sheet in a heartbeat–if he can.
There’s also quiet offer-sheet speculation surrounding Columbus Blue Jackets sniper Patrik Laine, too.
An offer sheet worth $10.276 million AAV or more results in four first-round draft picks as compensation if the team doesn’t match. An AAV between $8.221 million and $10.276 million on an offer sheet this year means two first-round picks, a second and a third for compensation.
With that in mind, another NHL exec told OTR to focus more on “second-tier” players and not superstars as potential offer sheet candidates. The exec also said to keep an eye on the New York Islanders as a primary target for teams looking to poach players via an offer sheet. The Islanders have three key RFA’s to sign in forward Anthony Beauvillier, defenseman Adam Pelech and goalie Ilya Sorokin. They currently have $5.7 million in salary cap space.
That’s a lot of talent and not a lot of cap room.
Also remember, teams must have their original draft picks to make an offer. For example, a team without a first-round pick can’t acquire one via trade and use it as OS compensation.
Off the record:
“I know some GMs don’t want to be on Lou Lamoriello’s revenge list, but in this climate, I can see teams definitely going after the Islanders,” the exec said. “Think about how many teams – including the one you cover (Boston Bruins) – are looking for a big top 4 left-shot defenseman. He’s that gritty and yet skilled guy you want to have in the playoffs. The Isles may be in some trouble here. I know Lou is the smartest and the Godfather, but he may lose a player here to an offer sheet.”
This exec also said that he expects Lamoriello to be very active on the NHL trade market as he tries to maneuver a way to keep these three players.
Perhaps Francis Ford Coppola will direct the movie of Lou’s revenge?
2. Devils Ready To Bolster Defense
Speaking of defenseman, New Jersey Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald is already hard at work trying to reshape his blue line on the NHL trade market, and when July 28 hits, Fitzgerald will be a major player. The Devils have $33.3 million in salary-cap space to play with, and their only key free agent remaining is center Igor Sharangovich, an RFA.
Here’s a bit for the NHL trade mill: According to multiple sources, the Devils are again gauging interest in veteran defenseman P.K. Subban and listening on Will Butcher. Both defensemen are entering walk years. Defensemen Matt Tennyson, Ryan Murray, and Connor Carrick are all unrestricted free agents, and all could conceivably walk, too.
To say the Devils’ blue line will have a different look next season is an understatement.
Off the record:
“It’s no secret what Fitzy’s focus is this offseason but he’s got a lot of work with that D because he’s basically trying to create a brand new top-four,” an NHL Exec told OTR recently. “The good thing for him though is he’s got a ton of prospects upfront to offer in trades and plenty of cap space.”
Could they try to steal Pelech from their rivals via an offer sheet?
3. Kraken Poker Face
While all of this offer sheet, free agency, and NHL trade market chatter is wonderful, nothing big is expected to happen until July 17 when NHL teams must submit their protection lists for the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. There are plenty of teams trying to complete lesser trades with the Kraken right now to secure who Seattle selects from their list, but the action isn’t expected to pick up until a week from Saturday. That’s why Kraken GM Ron Francis basically controls the NHL trade market and, to an extent, the free-agent market for now.
Off the record:
“I’m telling you right now, George McPhee had a brilliant poker face when he was in Ron’s spot, but Ron’s may be even better,” an NHL exec told OTR. “Everyone is constantly checking in with him and trying to talk to other GM’s to see what they’re hearing, and really, no one knows for certain yet. The one thing I can say is Ron and his staff are very focused on the development and not just going all in and risking the future.”