When covering the Devils Restricted Free Agents, I did a brief clarification on a few of the important terms that apply to the RFAs. In that explanation I briefly touched on the idea of qualifying offers and offer sheets.
The “Restricted” part of the RFA title comes from the fact that the team which owns the player is given exclusive rights to make the initial contract offer, the minimum allowable value of which is determined by “Qualifying Offer” (QO) rules. If they do so, then the only mechanism other teams have to sign the player are the seldom-used offer sheets. If another team decides to offer sheet an RFA that’s been QO’d, the owning team has the right to either match the offer and sign the player at that price, or allow the player to walk and receive compensation in the form of draft picks determined by the AAV of the contract.
Being “restricted” does really tip the scales in favor of the re-signing team and against those of all other teams. However, there is no defense in this process against the potential for the re-signing team to exceed the cap. In other words, if a team has a high payroll, the most pressing issue — fitting the player under the cap — is made no less difficult by the benefits of the RFA rules. They’re still screwed.
So, in looking for potential offer sheets, we should look to expensive players on teams with high cap hits. Just as a jumping-off point, here are the 20 players who, assuming Evolving-Wild’s contract projection, would leave their team with the least cap space left, according to Capfriendly. I’ve also included what the draft pick compensation would be if they were signed at that price.
You can see that all of the guys at the top of the list are from Vegas who, after signing Mark Stone, are already over the cap. Pittsburgh, Nashville, Toronoto, and Tampa all make multiple appearances as well. The final two of those is where we start our dive. Towards the top of the list, you’ll see the two players that everyone’s been talking about — Mitch Marner and Brayden Point. Marner is coming off a monstrous, team-leading, 94-point season with Toronto and has never put up less than 60 points. Point, in his short career, has received Calder, Byng, and Selke votes and has been talked about in the same breath as teammates Stamkos and Kucherov (examples: one, two) as a current or future MVP. Let’s look what offer-sheeting these guys would get us, and what it would cost us.
Mitch Marner, RW, Toronto
Projected Contract: 8-years/$9.8M AAV
Projected Compensation (2 firsts, 1 second, 1 third)
2019 stats: 26 Goals, 68 Assists, -0.02 CF% Rel, +2.94 xGF% Rel, 18.1 GAR
Mitch Marner was picked two spots before Pavel Zacha in the now-infamous 2015 draft. Since then, he has been one of the Leafs best players, and one of the best players in the NHL. Depending on what corner of Toronto twitter you’re in, he is occasionally viewed as their obvious MVP — more valuable, even, than Auston Matthews. I don’t buy that at all, but he’s still an excellent player and a top-30 forward.
This does a pretty good job of explaining Marner’s impact. He is an offensive dynamo when it comes to creating goals, ESPECIALLY on the powerplay where he breaks the chart as a key cog of one of the most potent powerplays in the NHL.
If you want a dive into the value Marner should command, check out work from Ian Tulloch and from Jeff Veillette. For my money, they are the two most lucid thinkers in an otherwise fairly cacophonous Leafs twitter community. Both of them seem to think Marner warrants about 7 years at $9.0M - $9.5M. Now, it is believed that he’s targetting a Matthews-esque deal which would take him over $10M towards $11M and into the Four (4) 1st-rounders compensation bracket. This is an non-starter with regards to offer sheeting. Marner is a very good first round pick — he’s not worth 4 plus an 8-figure salary though.
As to if he’s worth a tier lower ... I still say “no.” Some people rightly have in our other recent articles this offseason that the Devils typically build via trade since UFA contracts are often bad deals. Well, RFA deals are UFA deals on steroids. You are still competing against another team, and if you win, you have to pay the player ($) AND the team (picks).
Brayden Point, C, Tampa Bay
Projected Contract: 5-years/$8.2M AAV
Projected Compensation (1 first, 1 second, 1 third)
2019 stats: 41 Goals, 51 Assists, +0.04 CF% Rel, +0.19 xGF% Rel, 21.9 GAR
Point is has is similar to Marner in that his powerplay production is among the best in the NHL, and part of the reason that his team is so potent in that area. However, Point’s even-strength production and overall game, is even better than Marner’s.
Among the 377 skaters with 2000+ minutes over the last two years, Point is 6th in GAR and 6th in GAR/60. He does this with value all over the ice.
He’s 19th in the NHL over the past two years in penalty differential with a +22, he’s led the NHL in PP goals this past season with 20, and he garnered 27 Selke votes in 2018 thanks in part to 3 SHG and 2 SHA. He’s one of the best players alive.
If the contract projection is right, and he warrants Tier 3 RFA salary (less than $8.45M AAV), then you are getting an elite forward at a reasonable deal and it would only cost one 1st rounder (and a 2nd and 3rd, but they’re much less important).
William Karlsson, C, Vegas
Projected Contract: 5-years/$6.5M AAV
Projected Compensation (1 first, 1 second, 1 third)
2018 stats: 41 Goals, 51 Assists, -1.64 CF% Rel, -1.08 xGF% Rel, 9.5 GAR
Less discussed, but perhaps more available and comparably valuable is William Karlsson who, in 2018, won the Byng trophy and got Hart and Selke votes in his 43-goal season. In this season, after the magic wore off the Golden Knights Cinderella start, Karlsson was merely “very good.” In comparison, he was one of the best players in the NHL in 2018.
In his out-of-nowhere 2018 season, his goal-scoring was what got the most attention, but what should be more exciting is his overall game. With 5594 career minutes played, and only 44 PIMs, he’s one of the most responsible forwards in the game — he’s the reigning Byng Trophy winner. This past year he had the 2nd highest SH_GAR (shorthanded value) in the league — remarkably, he and teammate Reilly Smith controlled a league-high 43% of high-danger chances when on the penalty kill this season.
According to Evolving-Hockey, Karlsson’s shooting talent alone has been worth 22 goals (13th in the NHL). For reference, NJ-leader Kyle Palmieri’s shooting is worth 11 goals (45th in the NHL) over that span. That is the cushion Karlsson is playing with. Even if he wasn’t valuable all over the ice — which he is — he has a weapon that will keep him valuable for years to come.
Now, I do not think he’s as valuable as Brayden Point or Mitch Marner (though the latter one is close IMO) and I’m somewhat hesitant to spent a 1st rounder in compensation for a 27-year-old with only 2 years of productive hockey under his belt. If he would stay under $6.34M AAV and become a Tier 4 RFA (1 first, 1 third) it would ease the pain a bit. The Knights can’t really afford him at any price so I’d consider making an offer in that tier.
If you look at Ian Tulloch’s artcile from The Athletic (Paywall) linked above, he talks briefly about how Marner (and Point and Karlsson for that matter) may be insulated from the offer sheet process somewhat since it is really built to prevent teams from losing marquee players like we’ve described here. Tulloch comments that the offer sheet is really more a tool designed to target mid-tier players, specifically those under $4.2M — the threshold at which the signing team is no longer required to sacrifice a 1st round pick. Here are some quick examples worth mulling.
Kasperi Kapanen / Andreas Johnsson, W, Tor
These guys were mentioned as examples in Ian’s piece and I think they are excellent candidates for offer sheets. Even if the Leafs are able to off-load some of their cumbersome contracts, they’ll still be in a crunch. They seem to want to re-sign Marner, the hometown kid and fan-favorite. Take what they give you — if they want to overpay Marner, take the bargain bin guys that will help contribute. Both of these guys had 20 goals and 40+ points this season. Kapanen also helps on the penalty kill and is 2 years younger, Johnsson has better shot impacts, and has been a more efficient per-minute producer. They are both lefties, but Kapanen plays is off-wing on the right side. The Devils aren’t flush on either wing, but they’re especially starved on the right and so I’d go for the younger, more versatile guy in Kapanen.
Travis Sanheim, RD, Phi
Sanheim played alongside Ivan Provorov this year on Philly’s top pairing and. The Flyers have $33M in cap space headed into next season and so, unless the value is severly disproportionate to how they value him, they’ll likely match. But with a projected contract of $2.9M AAV, I’d push him right up to the end of that teir and offer $4.2M. Best case — the Devils get a 1st pairing d-man for only slightly over market value in exchange for a 2nd-rounder. Worst case — we made Philly spend $1M+ that they didn’t need to. I see a win-win.
Christian Djoos, LD, WSH
The Capitals have a few contracts that are more important than Djoos that need to get done such as Vrana and Burakovsky and perhaps Hagelin and/or Connelly. Djoos was underused by Washington, but profiles as having a very similar game to Damon Severson — particularly with his offensive zone shot creation. With the Capitals salary situation, they can’t afford to be overpaying non-essentials and so Djoos could probably be had for the 3rd round pick compensation in the $1.5M range. I would definitely suggest this if he were a righty. But with Butcher, Greene, and incoming Ty Smith, the left side is a bit crowded.
The Devils “needs” will likely factor into this discussion, unfortunately. Karlsson and Point are centers and, assuming the Devils select Jack Hughes in the draft, Hischier/Hughes is locked in as the 1C/2C forever, basically. Now, Karlsson is a shooter, Point plays in a very open system, and some say Hughes profiles as a winger at the NHL-level, and it’s still possible that winger Kaapo Kakko is the 1st selection — so it’s very possible that, of the draftee and the potential offer-sheet guy, one is a wing and one is a center. But if everything holds as it is now, the Devils are handcuffed by that system.
Marner is likely going to price into the area that it won’t be worth it to add him. Toronto is trying to move the Zaitsev and Marleau contracts to make room for Marner and it seems that they may be able to do it. The premier winger available through this process is rapidly becoming a less and less shrewd move to make. I do think going for Kapanen would be a smart move, but it’s difficult to see that moving the needle a whole lot from where we’re at now.
Djoos would be a pretty smart add as a guy who could sneakily grow into a middle pairing role, but he plays the left, where the Devils best analytical defender (Butcher), strongest prospect (Smith), and team captain (Greene) all play. I could see Djoos as a 7D cycling in with Smith who is just 20 years old, and Greene who’s on his way out. But, we could re-sign Mueller in that spot right now, and he’s stronger defensively which would be necessary if the PK is to survive the transition.
In short, regardless of what you may read in the forums, offer sheets are not likely to be a particularly helpful avenue for team-building for this incarnation of the Devils. Many of this year’s RFAs are either on teams that can and would afford them, are priced out of being worth it, or play a position that would offer diminishing returns. I’d offer sheet one of the Leafs’s non-Marner guys, but if you’re looking to add focal points, look elsewhere, Devils fans.
How do you feel about offer sheeting any of the top three guys? What about any of the others? What’s your opinion on offer sheeting players in general? Is it something the Devils should explore?
Thanks as always for reading, and leave your thoughts in the comments below.