Why the Predators should try the offer sheet approach
Okay, I already know what you are thinking.
“It’s a waste of time, Adam, you doofus. Offer sheets never happen so stop dreaming about it.”
Maybe that is true. There are a lot of reasons why the restricted free agent market is always a barren wasteland. General managers presumably do not like offer sheets. The player in question has to actually want to sign with your team and come to an agreement with you. You need to have the necessary salary cap space and the required draft pick capital to make the offer. Then after all of that you still have to hope the other team either chooses not to match the offer, or is unable to match the offer.
That is a lot of moving parts and makes the whole thing a long shot. We saw it play out a year ago when the Montreal Canadiens tried to poach Sebastian Aho away from the Carolina Hurricanes. It ended up doing the Hurricanes a huge favor in getting their franchise player signed long-term relatively stress free.
But there is one team -- and one situation -- right now that is practically begging for an offer sheet attempt.
That situation is the Nashville Predators.
The player they should target is Tampa Bay Lightning forward Anthony Cirelli.
Why it make sense
• General manager David Poile has always been aggressive building his roster.
He has never been shy about going after blockbuster moves or building his roster through trade or free agency. Ryan Johansen, P.K. Subban, Kyle Turris, Matt Duchene, Filip Forsberg, James Neal, and Mikael Granlund are just some of the examples of key players that he acquired in big moves over the years.
They do not always work, especially recently (Turris, and Granlund; jury still out on Duchene), but the attempt has always been there.
An offer sheet would definitely be considered an aggressive move.
• They still need help this offseason
Not only do they need help, but their options in unrestricted free agency and the trade market are extremely limited.
They lost three of their top-four goal scorers from a year ago (plus Kyle Turris) and have not really made any significant addition to help what was already mediocre offensive team (and an awful power play team).
They are reportedly one of the teams that has been interested in Mike Hoffman. He would certainly add some scoring punch to their lineup and probably would not require a huge investment at this point, but he is also 31 years old and a very one-dimensional player. He’s good. But they could aim higher.
• They have the necessary assets for an offer sheet
As of this moment the Predators still have more than $12 million in salary cap space and their full allotment of draft picks for the 2021 class. The key question here is how close to the cap the Predators are willing or able to go. This is not a normal offseason or a normal situation, and it stands to reason that player budgets are not what they may have ordinarily been. But with that amount of salary cap space they could theoretically sign a UFA (Hoffman?), make a significant offer sheet signing, and still probably not come close to reaching the salary cap.
Beyond that, the Predators do not have many players due for new contracts in the coming two years. Most of their roster is set long-term.
Newly acquired forward Luke Kunin remains unsigned as a restricted free agent this offseason, and both goalies are in the final year of their current contracts. But other than that, the only expiring contracts after this season are Brad Richardson (UFA), Jarred Tinordi (UFA), and Dante Fabbro (RFA).
They could go as high as $6.5 million on an offer sheet and only give up a first-and third-round pick if they are successful. This would be risky if the Predators were in danger of being a lottery team. Even for as disappointing as they were a year ago, they should still be a playoff team this season. The picks are worth the risk.
• Tampa Bay is still vulnerable
The three biggest RFA’s still out there are Cirelli, Mathew Barzal (New York Islanders), and Pierre-Luc Dubois (Columbus).
While Barzal and Dubois are the better players, they will also require a far larger investment (and more draft picks) while there is virtually no chance of either team allowing them to get away. They have the salary cap space to match any reasonable offer, and they will.
Cirelli and the Lightning are another matter.
After re-signing Mikhail Sergachev a couple of weeks ago the Lightning already find themselves nearly $2 million over the salary cap, still have four roster spots to fill, and still have another RFA to re-sign (defenseman Erik Cernak). To this point they have been unable to shed salary to create space to fill those spots.
An offer sheet in the $4.5 to $5.5 million range would put a ton of pressure on them.
• Cirelli would be a perfect fit
Not only are they a likely playoff team that has the draft picks and salary cap space for a move like this, but Cirelli would be pretty much everything they need in a player.
Young, good, and a significant upgrade to their lineup.
He is still only 23 years old, looks like he has 50-plus point ability offensively, and has already become a Selke-level defender, finishing 11th two years ago in the voting and fourth this past season.
If it were something that was going to happen it probably would have already happened by now, but it is still worth pondering. They will not find a better player on the unrestricted free agent market. A similar player in trade would cost more than the draft pick capital an RFA would cost. If there were ever a situation that an offer sheet would make sense, this is it.