5 Big Name RFAs on Cap-Strapped Teams

Every summer, fans speculate about whether their team could throw an offer sheet at a good young RFA that a team has left unsigned by the start of the free agency period. 95% of the time, nothing comes of the speculation, as most NHL GMs have an aversion to them.

However, there have been some high profile names signed to offer sheets. Thomas Vanek, Shea Weber, Ryan Kesler, and Ryan O’Reilly are just a few to sign offer sheets over the years.

This offseason could be different, because all of the top RFAs are property of teams that are very close to the salary cap ceiling heading into 2015-16. There have not been this many teams in a cap crunch that have key RFAs to re-sign in recent memory.

Below is the draft pick compensation teams would owe, should they sign a player to an offer sheet and the team does not match:

Gary Bettman recently announced the 2015-16 is expected to be around $71 million, so all below figures will be based on that estimate.

Derek Stepan

NYR 2015-16 Cap Commitments: $62.35M (7F, 6D, 2G) [Cap Space: $8.65M]

Derek Stepan [photo: Amy Irvin]
Derek Stepan [photo: Amy Irvin]
Coming off yet another strong season, Stepan has cemented himself as a passable #1 center, or extremely good 2nd line center. He played 68 games this year, and was able to put up 55 points. Stepan is a responsible two-way player that is useful at even strength, and both special teams units.

Over the last three years, no Ranger has more points than Stepan. He was paid $3.85M this year, and is in line for a pretty hefty raise. He can easily demand $5M/year, which would put New York in quite a pickle. If Stepan receives $5M/year (that’s on the low end), that would leave just $3.65M for the Rangers to sign 4 more forwards.

That doesn’t even get into the fact that they need a 13th forward and 7th defenseman as well. A team could offer up to $7.3M/year, and would owe a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd round pick, which Stepan is certainly worth.

Brandon Saad

CHI 2015-16 Cap Commitments: $63.46M (7F, 4D, 2G) [Cap Space: $7.54M]

Chicago Blackhawks left wing Brandon Saad - Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr
Chicago Blackhawks left wing Brandon Saad – Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr

Needing seven more skaters just to field an 18 man team, Blackhawks’ GM Stan Bowman is going to have to get very creative this offseason.

Patrick Sharp ($5.9M) and Bryan Bickell ($4M) are two names that have frequently been mentioned as trade targets to open up cap space, but even more maneuvering may be necessary.

Saad is coming off a career year where he had 52 points in 82 games, playing chiefly on a line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. A speedy winger with good size and hands, Saad should be a consistent 50-60 point forward in the future.

Bowman will be looking to take as little salary in return as possible in trades for Sharp and Bickell in order to keep enough cap space open to re-sign Saad, and fill out the rest of their roster with competent NHLers. An offer sheet of $5M/year to Saad would not be unreasonable for a player of his skill, and would put the Blackhawks in some trouble.

Vladimir Tarasenko

STL 2015-16 Cap Commitments: $56.49M (10F, 4D, 1G) [Cap Space: $14.51M]

Tarasenko is the lone Blues Russian player (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)
Vladimir Tarasenko (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

Tarasenko’s 2014-15 campaign was a true breakout one in which he asserted himself as a top end offensive talent. His 37 goals and 73 points were good for 5th and 10th in the league, respectively. Just 23 years old, Tarasenko’s best years are ahead of him, and he’s in for a big payday this offseason.

Of all the teams mentioned in this article, St. Louis is in the best shape to effectively retain their star youngster. I would expect a contract in the ballpark of $7M/year for Tarasenko, but if he gets an offer sheet, the number will likely be a good bit higher.

$7M/year would give Doug Armstrong $7.51M to sign two more forwards, three more defensemen, and re-sign Jake Allen. It doesn’t leave much room to improve the roster, but it’s enough to fill it out with average players.

Dougie Hamilton

BOS 2015-16 Cap Commitments: $62.85M (9F, 4D, 1G) [Cap Space: $12.15M*]

*Cap space number includes Marc Savard’s salary, which will go on LTIR and open up $4.007M in cap space

Dougie Hamilton Bruins
Dougie Hamilton (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

When the complete Norris Trophy voting for 2014-15 is released, it will likely mark the first time in eight years that Zdeno Chara did not finish in the top 10 in voting. At 38 years old, Chara is starting to show signs of wear and decline.

Hamilton is the future stud #1 of the Bruins’ blueline and they need to do everything they can to keep him. His 42 point breakout campaign this season put him 23rd among all blueliners. The sky is the limit for smooth-skating, 6’5″ blueliner.

Every team in the league should be salivating at the chance to add Hamilton to their roster. In negotiations with the Bruins, Hamilton could reasonably demand $4-5M/year. But with an offer sheet, a team would be willing to pay much more because of Hamilton’s sky high potential, and the fact that it would put the Bruins in a real bind.

If Hamilton signs an offer sheet, the Bruins basically have to match it and figure out the cap later because the future of their blueline would look dreadful without Hamilton.

Tyler Toffoli

LA 2015-16 Cap Commitments: $64.11M (10F, 6D, 1G) [Cap Space: $6.89M]

Toffoli Kings
Tyler Toffoli (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

2014-15 was Toffoli’s strongest year to date, in which he potted 23 goals and 49 points over 76 games. He was the Kings’ most productive ES scorer this season, scoring 2.53 ESP per 60 minutes. It’s a small miracle that Toffoli was able to reach 49 points considering he had the 6th most PP time among forwards on the team, and was 7th in overall TOI among forwards.

With more ice time, especially on the power play, Toffoli’s numbers will certainly continue to improve. Toffoli will likely receive a contract of $3.5-4M, which leaves very little for the Kings to fit in two more forwards, a 7th defenseman, and to re-sign Martin Jones.

It also makes it highly unlikely that the Kings will be able to retain Justin Williams or Jarret Stoll, who both played the last seven years in Los Angeles.