It’s relatively rare for offer sheets to succeed. Since the introduction of the salary cap in 2005, just two players have been pried away through restricted free agency (RFA). Dustin Penner was the first player to break ranks, swapping life with the Anaheim Ducks for the Edmonton Oilers in 2007. Last season, the Carolina Hurricanes signed Jesperi Kotkaniemi from the Montreal Canadiens and it was acrimonious.
Nevertheless, the Washington Capitals could dip their toes into the RFA market this summer. Nicklas Backstrom will start 2022-23 on long-term injury reserve, creating cap space for general manager (GM) Brian MacLellan to weaponize if the Swede is forced to sit out the entire season.
It’s therefore worth thinking about Washington’s potential offer sheet candidates and how much it will cost to acquire them. Back in May, the NHL released its compensation scale for the upcoming offseason:
- $1,386,490 or below: no compensation.
- $1,386,491 to $2,100,742: third-round pick.
- $2,100,743 to $4,201,488: second-round pick.
- $4,201,489 to $6,302,230: first-round pick and third-round pick.
- $6,302,231 to $8,402,975: first-round pick, second-round pick, third-round pick.
- $8,402,976 to $10,503,720: two first-round picks, a second-round pick and a third-round pick.
- $10,503,720 or above: four first-round picks.
So, if the Capitals offer an RFA a contract with an average annual value (AAV) of $2.5 million, the player’s former club would receive Washington’s second-round pick if they decided not to match.
Also of note: the Capitals traded away their third-round selection for the 2023 NHL Entry Draft, meaning they cannot submit offer sheets that would require them to part with the pick. In other words, MacLellan will be restricted to RFAs set to earn less than $1,386,490, between $2,100,743 to $4,201,488, or $10,503,720 and above.
With that in mind, here are three pending-RFAs the Capitals could target this offseason. It could get spicy.
Noah Dobson, Right-Handed Defenceman, New York Islanders
First, it is worth pointing out that the New York Islanders would be foolish to leave Noah Dobson exposed to an offer sheet. The 22-year-old finished third on the team in scoring (51 points) and led the way in average ice time (21:28) and blocked shots (154).
He enjoyed a breakout season in 2021-22 and looked comfortable alongside whoever he was paired with, including Zdeno Chara – who has lost a step over recent years. Considering the lack of depth in the Islanders’ prospect pool, holding onto Dobson should be a priority for GM Lou Lamoriello, who has $12 million in salary-cap space to play with.
However, that doesn’t detract from the right-shooting defenceman’s appeal, as he would be the perfect replacement for the outgoing Justin Schultz and would add size (he’s 6-foot-4) to Washington’s blue line too.
Although there’s a high chance the Islanders would match an offer sheet for Dobson, there would be no harm in trying to lure him to D.C. if the cost is only a second-round pick.
Kaapo Kakko, Right Wing, New York Rangers
Despite making it to the Eastern Conference Final, a sour atmosphere has surrounded the New York Rangers lately. It all stems from Gerard Gallant’s decision to scratch Kaapo Kakko for Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, which raised doubts over the Finn’s future with the club. Gallant, who refused to explain the decision after his side’s elimination, later clarified that scratching Kakko was a coaching decision. Ouch.
“Trying to win a hockey game and just trying to dress my line-up,” Gallant said at the Rangers’ breakup day media availability. “When we sit down and talk about our line-up, that’s what we do.”
However, Gallant also stressed that the former second overall pick remains a part of his plans, mindful of the fallout from Kakko’s absence.
The 53-year-old added: “We love the kid, he’s a good player. He’s a good, young player, but we just thought [that was] the best line-up for trying to win that game.”
Even so, Kakko’s situation is fluid, as the Rangers haven’t signed him to an extension yet and free agency opens in less than a fortnight. Considering the cap crunch facing GM Chris Drury, the 21-year-old could hit the market – putting plenty of teams, including Washington, on notice.
The 6-foot-3 winger has developed slowly since entering the NHL, registering 58 points (26 goals, 32 assists) in his first 157 games. However, he showed signs of improvement last season, partnering up with Alexis Lafreniere and Filip Chytil to transform the Rangers’ ‘Kid Line’ into an efficient forechecking unit.
He also has lofty expectations of himself. When asked if he felt he was able to perform at his best last season, Kakko said no, referencing injuries that restricted him to just 43 appearances in the regular season.
“Maybe in playoffs,” he said last month. “I think in playoffs, I played maybe the best hockey I’ve ever been playing.”
As a result, the Turku-born forward would be an alluring offer sheet candidate. He is expected to earn between $2.5 million and $4.2 million per season on his next deal, dependent on the contract’s length. If Kakko hits the market, should MacLellan pounce?
Nicolas Roy, Centreman, Vegas Golden Knights
It won’t come as a surprise that the Vegas Golden Knights are vulnerable to offer sheets this summer. GM Kelly McCrimmon has a cap crunch on his hands and a track record of doing everything in his power to add star power to his roster.
As a result, Nicolas Roy is worth keeping tabs on. His stats in the NHL don’t exactly jump off the page (163 games, 64 points) but he has the right skill set to make an impact for an organization that favours size.
The 25-year-old is 6-foot-4 and comfortable playing down the middle or on the wing. Considering the Capitals’ injury concerns, Roy’s versatility could come in handy at a reasonable price for the Capitals.
Huge Offseason Awaits Brian MacLellan
After watching his side fall out of the playoffs in Round 1 for the fifth successive season, MacLellan is under pressure to deliver this offseason. Washington’s roster needs a revamp and testing out the RFA market is one way of going about it.
However, the Capitals also have their own players to worry about, as Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov will be offer-sheet candidates too when free agency opens on July 13, opening the door to upheaval in the crease. All in all, it’s shaping up to be a busy summer in D.C.
Luke is an award-winning sports journalist from London, England. In addition to his work on the Washington Capitals beat for THW, he covers the Elite Ice Hockey League for British Ice Hockey and world soccer for numerous publications, including on Substack. To stay up to date with his content, follow @LukeJames_32 on Twitter.