It has not been done in six years and never by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Per the NHL CBA, restricted free agents (RFA) are open to negotiating like their unrestricted counterparts, but the team which owns their rights has a chance to match a signed offer sheet or receive draft pick compensation. The last RFA who signed an offer sheet was Ryan O’Reilly way back in 2013. Back then, the Calgary Flames offered the young center a whopping $10 million over two years, but the Colorado Avalanche matched it. There has not been an RFA who signed an unmatched tender since Anaheim Ducks power forward Dustin Penner inked a five-year, $21.5 million deal with the Edmonton Oilers in 2007 and Anaheim GM Brian Burke ranted for several years.
Penner had not yet been injured eating pancakes, either (That’s no joke, btw).
Currently, there are more than a dozen 20-goal scorers who are RFAs this summer — players from Mitch Marner, Patrick Laine to Andre Burakovsky. The list is perhaps the most star-studded list, ever and there is growing talk someone and some team will finally break the near-collusive offer sheet drought.
The only Penguins RFA to ever received an offer was power forward Kevin Stevens who was tendered by his hometown Boston Bruins just a couple of months after the Penguins won their first Stanley Cup in 1991. The Penguins matched the five-year, just over $5 million offer for Stevens and won the 1992 Stanley Cup, too. Otherwise, the Penguins have not entered that fray in 28 years.
Should they dive in this season? It does make sense.
According to Cap Friendly, the Penguins are eligible to sign a player between $4.22 million and $6.34 million because they have the required original first and third round pick (acquired picks are inexplicably ineligible). Should the Penguins sign an RFA to a sheet in that range, they would not draft until the fourth round this year.
The Penguins may also sign a player to a deal over $10.5 million and forfeit their next four first round picks.
Marner or Laine would be significant gets, but those first round picks aren’t lottery protected and the Penguins may eventually find themselves in the lottery. So, I’ll dream along with you about watching Sidney Crosby dish to Laine or Marner flying around PPG Paints Arena ice, but that would be team-building maleficence.
With some trepidation, I also point out the Penguins cannot sign an RFA in the $6.34 million – $10.5 million range because they sent their 2020 second round pick to Vegas to ensure the selection of Marc-Andre Fleury in the expansion draft. That was like paying a man in the desert to drink water.
And so the Penguins could shop for a B-level RFA and yield their first and third-round pick. Would it be worth it? Actually, yes there are several RFA’s who may fall into that range which could not only add to the Penguins but be superior to their expected take at pick 21.
The Penguins could use more scoring on their wings, especially the left side where currently only Jake Guentzel is a consistent offensive threat. However, if the Penguins deal Phil Kessel, they could be equally bare on the right side, too.
3. Timo Meier, LW SJ Sharks
Meier flies under the radar for those who don’t watch the 10 p.m. games. This season Meier poured in 30 goals and 34 assists. The 22-year-old Swiss product was the ninth overall pick in 2015 and this was his breakout season. He is fast, creative and just coming into his own. Meier’s next contract could exceed $5 million because he hit the 30-goal mark but it’s tough to see his far exceeding the $6 million threshold. If San Jose doesn’t go to the mat for him, a team should be willing to scoop him up at the top end of the mid-range scale.
The risk would be overpaying a speedy young player who has only posted one great season. But that’s also why Meir could be in the Penguins range and not in the $8 million – $10 million range, too.
2. Jakub Vrana, LW Washington Capitals
Wouldn’t this be interesting? Swiping the arch-rival Washington Capitals 2014 first-round pick (13th overall) and 24-goal scorer. Vrana had his breakout year with 24 markers this season but was also an untameable force in the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs (which the Capitals won).
Vrana, 23, is fast, has remarkable hands and creativity and is just on the precipice of the rest of his career. He could be a steal for a team in this salary range. Worst case scenario, the Penguins could force the Washington Capitals to match a $5 million offer and spend more than they hoped to retain Vrana. Win-win?
1. Brock Boeser, RW Vancouver Canucks
Boeser and the Vancouver Canucks are not close to a contract. They’ve been talking but it hasn’t gone well. The 22-year old sniper has posted consecutive 20-goal seasons including 26 goals and 56 points this season. He has a wicked wrist shot with a quick release, good vision and hasn’t yet fully developed his defensive game. If the guy likes hot dogs, the Penguins fans will eat him up.
There is scuttle that Boeser wants north of $6 million but the Canucks are well below than that. Would Boeser be worth a first and third pick? Yes. And hell yes.
Not on the list:
These players didn’t make the list because of several factors; risk-benefit analysis and their value doesn’t equal a first and third round selection.
William Karlsson — he should make more than $6.3 million, but his new team also has a chance to regret that contract given Karlsson’s history.
Travis Konecny — not worth a No. 1 and No. 3 pick.
Zach Werenski — though this name was tempting to include, is a 44-point defenseman worth a first and third?
Kasperi Kapanen — He will be a hot name but not worth the picks or nearly $5 million per season.