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Examining NHL’s top remaining RFA situations: Contracts, offer sheets, and cap space

NHL Free Agents

NHL training camps are just a couple of weeks away and there are still a number of significant restricted free agents who are unsigned.

Vancouver’s duo of Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes tops the list, while Kirill Kaprizov (Wild), Brady Tkachuk (Senators), and Rasmus Dahlin (Sabres) are also seeking new deals.

What sort of contracts are they looking for? What kind of contracts should they get? Could see another offer sheet like Carolina’s successful signing of Jesperi Kotkaniemi this past week?

We take a look at all of those questions here.

Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks

Team salary cap situation: $10.6 million in remaining salary cap space, (per Cap Friendly) plus $3.5 million in long-term injured reserve relief when Micheal Ferland ends up there.

2020-21 stats: Pettersson (26 games, 10 goals, 11 assists); Hughes (56 games, 3 goals, 38 assists)

Offer sheet risk: Moderate. The Canucks’ salary cap situation, combined with the fact they have two top-line RFAs still sitting here unsigned, should make them an offer sheet risk for at least one of them. In theory. But any team that wants to sign either Pettersson or Hughes is going to have to a rich enough offer to convince them to sign, and be enough to prohibit Vancouver from matching. That sort of offer is getting until the multiple first-round pick tier. Pettersson is probably worth that, so it might be worth it. The jury is still out on Hughes.

What sort of contract are we looking at? Pettersson is already a top-line center and should be viewed as the Canucks’ cornerstone player. He is sensational. But he also recently said in a Swedish interview that while he wants to stay in Vancouver, he also wants to play in a situation where he has a chance of winning, something that has not happened lately in Vancouver. Could he take a short-term bridge deal, see how the Canucks progress, bet on himself (one he would almost certainly win), then cash in down the line?

Hughes’ deal might be a little tricker. He has been outstanding offensively so far in his career, but his defensive game took a small step back this past season. He is definitely part of the young, up-and-coming group of defenders ready to take over the position. Are the Canucks confident enough to give him a deal comparable to Cale Makar and Miro Heiskanen?

[Related: Every free agent signing by all 32 NHL teams]

Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo Sabres

Team salary cap situation: $23 million in cap space and still needs to spend more than $2 million to reach the salary floor.

2020-21 stats: 56 games, 5 goals, 18 assists

Offer sheet risk: Extremely low. The Sabres could literally match any offer any team could throw at Dahlin, and it is doubtful that anyone is confident enough in Dahlin to throw an offer so lucrative at him that it would make Buffalo consider not matching it.

What sort of contract are we looking at? This is a tough one. Dahlin’s potential is still enormous, and he has shown flashes of being a superstar level player. But his 2020-21 season was a bit of a mixed bag. He seemed to take a step back early in the year, and then looked like a completely different (and better) player in the second half after the coaching change. And that has been a constant problem. In three years he has already played for three different coaches who all had different ideas for the type of player he should be, and as a result we do not even know what type of player he is. This situation screams bridge contract.

Brady Tkachuk, Ottawa Senators

Team salary cap situation: $24 million in salary cap space and still need to spend $3 million to reach the salary cap floor.

2020-21 stats: 56 games, 17 goals, 19 assists

Offer sheet risk: Extremely low. Just like the situation in Buffalo, Ottawa could match literally anything and almost certainly would. There are always going to be (very legitimate) questions about the Senators willingness to pay top dollar under Eugene Melnyk’s ownership, but Tkachuk is the centerpiece of this rebuild. They are not letting him get away.

What sort of contract are we looking at? This should be a long-term deal. No need for a bridge. And it would probably actually save the Senators money in the long-run to get him signed now. If Tkachuk gets a bridge deal he could really cash in on his next deal if he continues to develop the way he has. He is their best player, potentially a future captain, and there is no reason to think he should not be able to get -- and be worth -- a contract similar to the one Ottawa signed Thomas Chabot to a couple of years ago (eight years, $64 million).

Kirill Kaprizov, Minnesota Wild

Team salary cap situation: $12 million in salary cap space, but it disappears quickly next season due to buyouts.

2020-21 stats: 55 games, 27 goals, 24 assists

Offer sheet risk: Literally none. He can not sign an offer sheet because he signed a two-year entry-level deal in 2019-20 and did not play a game. That means he is not eligible to sign an offer sheet. So no risk. The bigger concern has been him going back to the KHL and playing in Russia.

What sort of contract are we looking at? The Wild have reportedly made long-term offers of seven and eight years to Kaprizov that would make him the highest paid player in the history of the franchise. Kaprizov is reportedly looking for a shorter team deal.

The problem with that for the Wild is that because Kaprizov is already 24 years old he would be eligible for unrestricted free agency at the end of almost any short-term deal. That is not at all what they want. That is part of what is making it a difficult negotiation because both sides have very strong reasons for wanting the type of contract that they want.

Minnesota wants to keep its superstar for as long as possible, and the superstar almost certainly wants to keep his options open for another big pay day and the possibility of unrestricted free agency at an age where teams will still pay top dollar. Somebody is going to have to blink here.

Kailer Yamamoto, Edmonton Oilers

Team salary cap situation: Currently more than $2 million over the salary cap

2020-21 stats: 52 games, 8 goals, 13 assists

Offer sheet risk: It should be high. If there is another offer sheet possibility sitting out there, this should be the situation for it. Yamamoto is a very good young player and currently on a team whose salary cap situation would make matching an even modest offer difficult. If Jesperi Kotkaniemi is worth $6.1 million and a first- and third-round pick, Yamamoto is certainly worth something in the $4.1 million range. The compensation for that is a second-round pick. Well worth it if you can get him to sign it.

What sort of contract are we looking at? Almost certainly a shorter term deal. Yamamoto is a good player and shown flashes of being a quality top-six option but the track record at this point is so small that it would be difficult to commit anything longer term. It also would not make much sense for Yamamoto to commit to that when there is a good chance he could bet on himself, prove his value even more, and turn that into a more significant pay day in the future.