It’s not necessarily advice specific to the Pittsburgh Penguins, but it applies. There are 48 somewhat-captive restricted free agents still waiting for contracts from their teams, and a dozen or so of those 48 are talented players struggling to crack the NHL lineups, including a few recent first-round picks.
Phrased another way, they are RFAs who may or may not be immediately valuable to their teams but could be valuable to other teams with paper-thin rosters, significant injury issues, and temporary cap space.
Again, not specific to the Pittsburgh Penguins, but that could be any team.
When Penguins President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke spoke to Sportsnet at his annual fundraiser in Calgary last week, much of the media drooled that he admitted he was going to slip an offer sheet to Phil Kessel before he, as GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs, traded for Kessel from the Boston Bruins.
“I don’t understand the fuss over offer sheets…Offer sheets are part of collective bargaining. If it’s appropriate to use one, use one,” Burke said.
“I was prepared to offer sheet Phil Kessel when I signed him in Toronto, and I told the Boston Bruins that. They were trying to make a deal with the LA Kings and trying to talk to Nashville, and I said, ‘either you guys make a deal with me, or I’m going to offer sheet him.’ So they made a deal with me.”
On Friday, we looked at the remaining UFA centers that could slide into the Penguins range, but the talent pool isn’t exactly flush with candidates. Does Mark Jankowski ring a bell?
Now, this is probably fantasyland talk, but a few useful RFAs could be signed in the $1 million range, and they would not require an ounce of compensation in return. Multi-years could be added, as well as bonuses to seal the deal. Any RFA who signs an offer sheet for less than $1.356 million does not merit compensation for the team that holds his rights.
All righty, then. Pitter patter, let’s get at ‘er.
RFAs Ripe for a Pittsburgh Penguins (or other) Offer Sheet
1. Nolan Patrick, C
Patrick’s career has fizzled since he missed the entire 2019-20 season due to migraine issues. He scored just nine points (4-5-9) in 52 games last season. Philadelphia Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher did well to acquire top-pair defenseman Ryan Ellis from Nashville for Philippe Myers and Patrick.
Nashville flipped Patrick to the Vegas Golden Knights for out-of-favor prospect Cody Glass.
The Patrick-Glass trade was a swap of prospects not wanted by their teams. Patrick, the second overall pick in 2017, has not yet lit up the NHL. Before his debilitating migraine issues, he scored 31 points (13-18-31) in 72 games during his second NHL season. His rookie numbers were nearly identical.
Vegas and Patrick are working on a new contract, but maybe, just maybe, someone could throw a wrench into the works and force Vegas’ hand. Complicating Vegas’ situation, they don’t yet have enough money to give Patrick even a minimum deal. Vegas currently has 37k of salary cap space and only the bare minimum of 20 players on the roster.
In other words, expect Vegas to hit the NHL trade market to dump salary before signing Patrick.
Unless…someone else signed Patrick to a $1.3 million deal in the meantime? Maybe a two-year, $2.6 million deal?
Remember who drafted Patrick? Yep, Ron Hextall and Chris Pryor.
2. Kieffer Bellows, LW
No one is entirely sure of the New York Islanders cap space, but CapFriendly.com currently estimates them to be just over the salary cap. Bellows was their 2016 first-round pick, 19th overall. He has struggled to push his way into the deep Islanders lineup.
Bellows is 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, so he has the NHL frame. Oliver Wahlstrom passed the power forward on the Islanders depth chart, and the recent (finally) signing of Zach Parise further limited space.
Bellows would be a good get, and the Islanders probably couldn’t stop any team with a million bucks to spend and an opportunity to give. In 22 NHL games over the last two seasons, Bellows has five goals and six points.
Cmon, who doesn’t want to stick it to Lou Lamoriello, at least a little bit?
3. Givani Smith, RW
A power forward drafted 46th overall in 2016, Smith was raw. He’s 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, and hasn’t yet infiltrated the Detroit Red Wings lineup regularly. He scored four points (1-3-4) in 16 games last season and three points (2-1-3) in 21 games in his rookie year.
Detroit has plenty of cap space, so no team (especially the Pittsburgh Penguins) could outbid Detroit, but Smith is still unsigned. A power-forward who is only 23-years-old can only be upside, but if not, he can be buried in the AHL at little or no salary cap cost.
GMs won’t scoop the low-level RFAs because they don’t want rival teams to return the favor in the future. See, also: Montreal Canadiens. However, a player like Patrick could be the perfect acquisition for the Penguins as they await the return of Sidney Crosby, who is expected to return in late October, and Evgeni Malkin, expected to be out longer.
Patrick, especially, would be a free player. Vegas is so deep in their salary cap mess that only a significant trade will clear things up, and as you’ve seen this summer, those aren’t so easy anymore.
As Burke said, I don’t see the fuss over offer sheets. So, let’s go.