Given the circus that was the opening of 2022 NHL Free Agency, many could be excused for thinking that the dust had settled for the summer. Even though a number of significant unrestricted free agents (UFA) are still available, attention should be shifted to the plethora of talented restricted free agents (RFA) still unsigned for next season. Although both UFAs and RFAs can sign contracts with any team, an RFA’s rights remain under team control which gives their previous club the right to match any deals tendered by opposing teams, also known as offer sheets.
Although offer sheets are exceedingly rare within the NHL – only 10 have ever been signed in the salary cap era – the threat of one introduces an interesting wrinkle and dynamic into contract negotiations. Of those 10, only two have ever gone unmatched (Dustin Penner, 2007; Jesperi Kotkaniemi, 2021). Even so, the fact that many teams find themselves at the mercy of a flat cap could increase the likelihood of one, as teams with ample cap space could capitalize on the opportunity to force another team to have to navigate a tricky cap situation. Two factors – draft pick compensation and salary arbitration – also figure heavily into discussions around RFAs, so let’s dive in.
2022 Offer Sheet Compensation and Arbitration
If players sign an offer sheet with an opposing team and their previous club elects not to match, they could be entitled to compensation in the form of one or more draft picks, depending on the player’s new salary. According to CapFriendly, here are the updated offer sheet compensation tiers for this season:
Notably, players who have filed for arbitration are not eligible to receive offer sheets from other clubs, but those elected by their team can be tendered one. As of July 17, the following players elected for arbitration, and teams had until 5 p.m. ET on July 18 to elect players for team arbitration. Here is a list of upcoming arbitration hearing dates provided by the National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA). With that, here are the most notable RFAs still without a contract as of August 1, divided by position.
Looking at the RFA class of 2022, most of the top players still available are forwards and include a number of top-six talents, especially at left- and right-wing.
Jason Robertson, Dallas Stars
2021-22 Statistics: 74 GP – 41 G – 38 A – 79 PTS – 18:07 ATOI
Sophomore slump? Not for Jason Robertson. After producing 45 points in 51 games in a stellar rookie season, the American winger combined with Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski to score 41 goals as part of one of the NHL’s best-attacking triumvirates.
An elite shot generator who leverages his long 6-foot-3 frame to create space in the offensive zone, his transformation into a bona fide star was unexpected but welcome for an offensively stunted Dallas Stars’ outfit. With only $11 million to sign Robertson and goaltender Jake Oettinger, the Stars could face a cap crunch if their young stars opt to skip the team-friendly bridge deals.
Kailer Yamamoto, Edmonton Oilers
2021-22 Statistics: 81 GP – 20 G – 21 A – 41 PTS – 16:52 ATOI
With 20 goals last season, Kailer Yamamoto provided some much-needed depth behind the Edmonton Oilers’ two mega-stars. His micro-stat profile doesn’t scream someone who can drive play on their own, but he can function as a solid complementary player within a top-six forward group.
Andrew Mangiapane, Calgary Flames
2021-22 Statistics: 82 GP – 35 G – 20 A – 55 PTS – 15:44 ATOI
One of the favourites of the NHL’s analytics scene, Andrew Mangiapane broke out in a big way with 35 goals last season. According to MoneyPuck, he formed one-third of the NHL’s second-best forward line by expected goals share (xGF%) at 5v5, capitalizing on the efforts of linemates Mikael Backlund and Blake Coleman.
Related: Top 25 Free Agents of 2022
Despite his diminutive size, the 26-year-old winger is canny enough offensively to find empty pockets of space and finish open chances. One point to be aware of is his sky-high shooting percentage (SH%) of over 17 percent at 5v5, although his individual chance creation (ixG/60) came in among the top-40 of forwards last season.
Jesper Bratt, New Jersey Devils
2021-22 Statistics: 76 GP – 26 G – 47 A – 73 PTS – 17:26 ATOI
After failing to eclipse 35 points in his first four NHL seasons, winger Jesper Bratt erupted with a near-point-per-game campaign in 2021-22. His development into an elite dual-threat gives the New Jersey Devils yet another promising offensive talent, but the two parties have yet to reach an agreement despite the Devils’ ample cap space.
His previous deal paid him $2.75 million per year, so he could look to command almost triple that amount on a long-term pact. It’s a risk given the small sample of top-line performance, but future surplus value down the road could make a hefty gamble worth the price.
Nicolas Roy, Vegas Golden Knights
2021-22 Statistics: 78 GP – 15 G – 24 A – 39 PTS – 16:15 ATOI
Despite being stashed at the bottom of the Vegas Golden Knights lineup, 6-foot-4 center Nicolas Roy is a potential breakout candidate if he can wriggle his way into greater usage. He produces high rates of expected goals and scoring chances at 5v5 in sheltered deployment (both within the top-70 among forwards last season) and a well-placed offer sheet could force the cap-strapped Golden Knights to relinquish his services.
Pavel Zacha, Boston Bruins
2021-22 Statistics: 70 GP – 15 G – 21 A – 36 PTS – 16:51 ATOI
In finding his potential arbitration ask unappetizing, the Devils sent Pavel Zacha to the Boston Bruins, with whom he is set to enter said arbitration. After three years of earning $2.25 million annually against the cap, the Czechia forward likely believes he has done enough to earn a raise going forward. He grades out as an excellent puck-carrier who generates a solid rate of shot attempts but posted a 7.92 SH% at 5v5 in 2021-22, 10th among Devils’ forwards.
Lawson Crouse, Arizona Coyotes
2021-22 Statistics: 65 GP – 20 G – 14 A – 34 PTS – 17:26 ATOI
The big-bodied Lawson Crouse finally tapped into the offensive potential which made him the 11th-overall selection in the 2015 Entry Draft, scoring at a 25-goal rate last season. He loves to throw hits (41st in the NHL in 2021-22) and can find his way into opportune scoring areas with his muscle, but struggles to drive play in the right direction.
Martin Necas, Carolina Hurricanes
2021-22 Statistics: 78 GP – 14 G – 26 A – 40 PTS – 16:11 ATOI
Although Martin Necas cooled off from his 63-point pace from a year ago, the 12th-overall pick in 2017 has demonstrated the capability to be a core piece of the Carolina Hurricanes’ top-six. Within the team’s high-tempo system, Necas generates a ton of shots, particularly off of the forecheck and the cycle.
Despite his offensive talents, a dip in his shooting percentage (SH%) of 12.3% last year to 8.8% this year and a poor postseason (no goals), has invited trade rumours. Unless the Hurricanes get a premier talent in return, shedding Necas would be shortsighted.
Miles Wood, New Jersey Devils
2021-22 Statistics: 3 GP – 0 G – 0 A – 0 PTS – 14:25 ATOI
Almost the entirety of Miles Wood‘s 2021-22 campaign was wiped out due to a pre-season hip injury which required surgery, limiting the 6-foot-2 winger to three games last season. Hip injuries can be notoriously difficult to overcome, particularly in a sport that is so lower-body intensive. If the power forward can get back to his pre-injury form (he scored 17 goals in 55 games in 2020-21), the Devils can slide a solid physical presence alongside their skilled core.
Yakov Trenin, Nashville Predators
2021-22 Statistics: 80 GP – 17 G – 7 A – 24 PTS – 14:40 ATOI
In his first full NHL campaign, Yakov Trenin potted 17 goals while providing a ferocious forechekcing presence. Unsurprisingly, the hard-hitting forward found success by nosing his way into dangerous areas, producing high rates of shots off of rebounds and deflections.
Filip Zadina, Detroit Red Wings
2021-22 Statistics: 74 GP – 10 G – 14 A – 24 PTS – 14:11 ATOI
General manager Steve Yzerman has hit on many of his draft picks, but Filip Zadina has proven to be a frustrating case through the first four years of his professional career. After tallying 51 points in 80 American Hockey League (AHL) games before turning 21, the Czechia-native scored 18 points in his first 37 NHL appearances, a respectable 40-point pace for a young offensive player.
Since then, he’s only mustered 16 goals and 43 points in 123 games, representing a drastic fall-off from his energetic start. He’s yet to deliver on the potential that made him the sixth-overall pick in the 2018 Draft, but he could see better results while being insulated by the Red Wings’ offseason additions.
Ryan McLeod, Edmonton Oilers
2021-22 Statistics: 71 GP – 9 G – 12 A – 21 PTS – 12:46 ATOI
In the 22-year-old Ryan McLeod, the Edmonton Oilers may have their third-line center for the foreseeable future. The 6-foot-2 pivot scored 25 points in 88 regular-season and playoff games this past season, while also being willing to do the dirty work along the boards in the defensive zone. With Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid putting up astronomical scoring numbers, someone has to be the defensive conscience. For the Oilers, that could be the feisty McLeod.
Mason Appleton, Winnipeg Jets
2021-22 Statistics: 68 GP – 8 G – 13 A – 21 PTS – 14:53 ATOI
From the Winnipeg Jets to the Seattle Kraken to going back to the Jets, Mason Appleton had a turbulent 2021-22 season, but managed to top 20 points for the second straight year. He’s an active forechecker and is comfortable skating with the puck but at age 26, doesn’t have much more room to grow.
Kirby Dach, Montreal Canadiens
2021-22 Statistics: 70 GP – 9 G – 17 A – 26 PTS – 18:03 ATOI
The headliner of a three-way draft-day trade, center Kirby Dach is the latest in a long line of recent lottery picks to swap jerseys early in their careers. Offensive struggles (59 points in 152 games) and Chicago Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson’s desire to rebuild were the impetus for the trade, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have more to give.
Dach is a 6-foot-4 pivot who excels in transitioning the puck through neutral ice, but has struggled to fashion chances within the offensive zone. He is still only 21 years old and a fresh start with the Montreal Canadiens under young star-whisperer Martin St. Louis could reignite his floundering career.
Philipp Kurashev, Chicago Blackhawks
2021-22 Statistics: 67 GP – 6 G – 15 A – 21 PTS – 12:51 ATOI
Philipp Kurashev experienced a cruel regression in SH%, going from 12.3% in 2020-21, to 7% last season, despite observing a slight increase in his shot generation. He’s good at drawing penalties (98th in the NHL by his per-60-minute rate) but had abysmal possession numbers, not helped by playing on an awful Blackhawks team. There could be a player in there somewhere, but who is going to unlock that individual?
Compared to the calibre of RFA forwards still left unsigned, the available defensemen pale in comparison. Still, the group includes several young talents who could take a big step in their development in 2022-23.
Noah Dobson, New York Islanders
2021-22 Statistics: 80 GP – 13 G – 38 A – 51 PTS – 21:28 ATOI
After a spectacular breakout season in which the hulking young defender eclipsed 50 points and took on a greater workload in all situations, Noah Dobson is a large part of one of the NHL’s top defencemen on the right side. With few other puck-movers on the New York Islanders’ blue line, he carried the brunt of the workload in transition, with Adam Pelech the only other defenseman on the team to complete more successful defensive zone exits last season.
Given that his shot- and chance-share numbers were regularly sub-50 percent, there are sure to be growing pains with a player literally and figuratively growing into a bigger role. Still, the poise he showed despite an unsuccessful campaign at the team level is extremely promising, and Dobson should see a mammoth payday sooner rather than later.
Oliver Kylington, Calgary Flames
2021-22 Statistics: 73 GP – 9 G – 22 A – 31 PTS – 18:10 ATOI
According to Natural Stat Trick, the Flames’ defensive pairing of Oliver Kylington and Chris Tanev was one of the NHL’s most effective in terms of driving play and suppressing scoring chances. The mobility and puck-carrying abilities of Kylington meshed well with the veteran Tanev’s poise and defensive awareness, bolstering one of the top defensive groups last season.
After only playing in 95 NHL games from 2015 to 2021, the Swedish rearguard made 73 appearances in 2021-22 while looking much more comfortable at both ends of the ice. If the Flames look to retool in the aftermath of Gaudreau’s decision, Kylington could quickly become a face of the future.
Sean Durzi, Los Angeles Kings
2021-22 Statistics: 64 GP – 3 G – 24 A – 27 PTS
During a season in which the Los Angles Kings’ blue line was often in flux due to injuries, Sean Durzi provided a youthful spark from the backend. His 27 points were a welcome development in the absence of franchise cornerstone Drew Doughty, and he enjoyed a strong postseason showing against the Oilers.
He displayed a willingness to collect the puck and move it out of his own zone, even if it sometimes ended in untimely turnovers. Still, his confidence bodes well for future development where some refining could turn him into a robust engine in transition.
Michael “Mikey” Anderson, Los Angeles Kings
2021-22 Statistics: 57 GP – 2 G – 6 A – 8 PTS – 20:07 ATOI
While Doughty was healthy, he and the promising Mikey Anderson formed a strong first pair for the Kings, playing over 500 positive minutes together at 5v5. Although his offensive game could use some work, Anderson flashed the ability to move the puck out of his own zone under pressure. That combined with his solid zone entry defense results point to a long-term fixture in the Kings’ top-four.
Nicolas Hague, Vegas Golden Knights
2021-22 Statistics: 52 GP – 4 G – 10 A – 14 PTS – 18:40 ATOI
At 6-foot-6, Nicolas Hague is an imposing force on a formidable – when healthy – Golden Knights’ group on the backend. Like his teammates, he is unafraid to join in the attack and pepper opposing netminders with shots on the rush or out of the cycle. Unsurprisingly, he struggles with defending the blue line and could stand to improve his skating and mobility to better handle rush opportunities.
Alexander Romanov, New York Islanders
2021-22 Statistics: 79 GP – 3 G – 10 A – 13 PTS
Once touted as the gem of the Montreal Canadiens blue line, Alexander Romanov was flipped to the Islanders on draft day as part of a three-way deal which brought Kirby Dach to Montreal. The left-sided defenseman hasn’t shown much on the offensive side yet, but his physical play will be welcome on Long Island.
Rasmus Sandin, Toronto Maple Leafs
2021-22 Statistics: 51 GP – 5 G – 11 A – 16 PTS – 16:58 ATOI
After long being heralded as the future of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ defensive core, the team has struggled to find a regular spot for the Swedish blueliner. Rasmus Sandin has shown flashes of top-four potential but has often been relegated to bottom-pair duty.
The Maple Leafs’ tight cap situation makes him a prime candidate for an offer sheet, and their left side of Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, and Mark Giordano has shut Sandin out of increased deployment. How the organization proceeds should provide a read on how they view him as part of their future.
Mario Ferraro, San Jose Sharks
2021-22 Statistics: 63 GP – 2 G – 12 A – 14 PTS – 23:00 ATOI
Although he doesn’t pack much of an offensive punch, Mario Ferraro displayed poise beyond his years while playing 23 minutes a night in all situations on the San Jose Sharks blue line, third behind only Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson. Top-pair usage might be too much for him to handle at the moment, but he projects to at least be a formidable top-four defender in the future.
Erik Brannstrom, Ottawa Senators
2021-22 Statistics: 53 GP – 0 G – 14 A – 14 PTS – 19:46 ATOI
The centrepiece of the Mark Stone trade, Erik Brannstrom has yet to fully deliver on the potential which made him so highly touted just a few seasons ago. His underlying numbers and micro-stat profile point to a young blueliner still learning the trade, but a full season on an NHL blue line should do wonders for his development.
The RFA goaltending market is much more sparse than that of the other positions, but one notable name stands out above the rest.
Jake Oettinger, Dallas Stars
2021-22 Statistics: 48 GP – 30 W – 15 L – 1 OTL – .914 SV% – 2.53 GAA
Although Oettinger’s pedigree is well-established as a first-round draft pick, he announced himself to the wider public with a spectacular playoff performance in the Stars’ first-round exit at the hands of the Flames. His plus-12.78 goals saved above expected (GSAx) was the 11th-highest playoff total of the analytics era (post-2008) even though he played at least six games fewer than the 10 performances ahead of him.
The Stars can argue that the American netminder hasn’t done enough to earn a huge extension – yet – but the threat of an offer sheet looms large given the team’s potential cap concerns.
2022 NHL Free Agency is Far From Over
Even after the initial frenzied wave of free-agent signings, many significant names remain unsigned for next season. Unlike UFAs, the potential for offer sheets and heated arbitration discussions add a different twist to RFA negotiations. Will any prominent RFAs set the market alight and join another team via an offer sheet? We will just have to wait and find out.
Updated 8/01/2022: 3:30 PM
Marko is an aspiring sportswriter with a passion for crafting stories while using a combination of the eye-test and (shudder) analytics, which is complemented by an academic background in criminology and political science.
When not covering the Colorado Avalanche and Pittsburgh Penguins for The Hockey Writers, he can also be found pouring countless hours into various sports video games franchises, indulging in science fiction novels, and taking long runs around his neighbourhood.