NHL·Preview

NHL's talented crop of restricted free agents could lead to unusual summer

With NHL free agency around the corner, an unusual storyline has emerged. Restricted free agents have received more buzz, and the plethora of talented young players in that pool combined with a tight salary cap means we could see an offer sheet for the first time in six seasons.

Buzz builds towards 1st offer sheet signing since Ryan O'Reilly in 2013

Winnipeg Jets' Patrik Laine, left, and Kyle Connor talk during Game 6 of their first-round playoff series against the St. Louis Blues. Both forwards will be among the most talented restricted free agent class ever this summer. (Jeff Roberson/The Associated Press)

There will be plenty of intrigue in places like Vancouver and Montreal when the curtain raises on the 2019 NHL free-agent frenzy on Monday.

The Canadiens will be in the mix for prized unrestricted free-agent centre Matt Duchene, and word has been the Canucks will pursue UFA defenceman Tyler Myers.

There are other standouts who soon could relocate to new addresses on Canada Day, talented players like Artemi Panarin, Anders Lee, Ryan Dzingel, Joe Pavelski, Gustav Nyquist, Mats Zuccarello, Wayne Simmonds, Justin Williams, Joe Thornton, Jake Gardiner, Micheal Ferland, Corey Perry and Ben Chiarot as well as goalies Sergei Bobrovsky, Semyon Varlamov and Robin Lehner.

There also is a curious sidebar to this summer's free-agent period. Heck, an argument could be made whether or not a rival general manager has the nerve to sign a prominent restricted free agent to an offer sheet is the most exciting storyline.

A rare occurrence

The NHL hasn't had an offer sheet thrown at a player since then Calgary Flames GM Jay Feaster signed then Colorado Avalanche restricted free agent Ryan O'Reilly a little more than six years ago.

If you remember, the league was coming out of yet another one of commissioner Gary Bettman's lockouts. O'Reilly had been playing in Russia for Magnitogorsk Metallurg, and he was signed to a two-year, $10-million US contract by the Flames that eventually was matched by Colorado.

You know the rest of the story. Two years later, the Avalanche could no longer afford to keep O'Reilly. He was traded to the Buffalo Sabres, and the Sabres moved him to the St. Louis Blues last summer. Now the two-time world champion with Canada has added a Stanley Cup title and Conn Smythe Trophy a couple of weeks ago to his brilliant resume.

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In July 2012, the Philadelphia Flyers took a chance and signed Shea Weber to an offer sheet. The Nashville Predators matched, but Weber was traded four years later in a deal that landed the Predators P.K. Subban. Of course, he was moved to the New Jersey Devils last week.

For the most part, however, offer sheets have been as rare as the Toronto Maple Leafs winning a playoff series in the past several summers.

But that could change next week. Why has there been so much offer-sheet chatter in the months and weeks and now days leading up the free-agent period? There are a handful of reasons.

The salary cap limit will rise only $2-million next season to $81.5-million.

Time to break ranks?

As a result, there are too many teams mired in salary cap hell. There are too many contenders like the San Jose Sharks, Winnipeg Jets, Toronto Maple Leafs, Washington Capitals and more clubs in vulnerable situations to see another team swoop in to try and land a young stud talent.

There also is an abundance of young talent out there who are only a few days from restricted free agency, players such as Mitch Marner (Toronto), Sebastian Aho (Carolina), Matthew Tkachuk (Calgary), Sam Bennett (Calgary), Brayden Point (Tampa Bay), Mikko Rantanen (Colorado), Kevin Labanc (San Jose), Timo Meier (San Jose), Jakub Vrana (Washington) and Jets offensive snipers Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine.

Calgary's Matthew Tkachuk could be an offer sheet candidate this summer. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

There are some worried GMs out there that someone in Bettman's old boys' club will break ranks next week and put forth the dreaded offer sheet. There's too much gossip out there that an offer sheet drama or two will play out.

The price to sign a restricted free agent is steep. For example, if a team signs a player to an offer-sheet contract worth more than $10.6 million a season that club has to surrender four first-round draft picks. If a restricted free agent signs an offer sheet with an average salary between $8.5-million and $10.6-million a year the compensation is two first-round selects, a second-round pick and a third-round choice.

These are hefty prices. But still, there will be plenty of intrigue to see if there is rogue out there willing to take the road less travelled, an offer sheet.

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