The whirlwind offseason is underway, with the first round of the draft complete and teams looking ahead to the admittedly uncertain 2020-21 campaign.
There is an unspoken pact among general managers not to target other teams’ players in free agency but this courtesy should go out the window. Last summer, despite Brayden Point, Mitch Marner and Mikko Rantanen all sitting vulnerable, the Canadiens were the only team to pull the trigger, submitting a five-year, $42-million offer for Sebastian Aho.
Carolina matched the offer in hilarious fashion, taunting Montreal for the audacity of the proposed deal. All banter aside, however, this is the year where teams ought to strike and capitalize upon a talented core of players, most of whom have yet to hit their peak.
Via Pension Plan Puppets, here is the offer sheet scale for the 2020-21 season:
Average Annual Value (AAV)
$1,439,820 or lower
1st and 3rd-round picks
1st, 2nd and 3rd-round picks
Two 1st-round picks, 2nd-round pick, 3rd-round pick
$10,907,736 or more
Four 1st-round picks
All draft picks offered as compensation must be the team’s original selections.
Below are our top offer sheet candidates:
Anthony Cirelli, Mikhail Sergachev, Lightning
We’ve grouped Cirelli and Sergachev together for a few reasons, namely that opposing general managers should do anything to weaken the cap-strapped defending champions. Tampa Bay’s core of Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman, Steven Stamkos, Andrei Vasilevskiy and Ryan McDonagh is the envy of the league. Both Cirelli and Sergachev elevated their game during the Cup run and allowing Tampa Bay to lock up two of its studs to what we assume will be below-market deals, without any interference, is almost malpractice for the 30 other teams, especially with Tampa holding just $5.77 million in available cap space.
Let’s start with Cirelli. The 23-year-old rightfully earned consideration for the Selke Trophy and few would be surprised if he eventually is named the NHL’s best defensive forward. He’s capable of playing consistent top-six minutes and was the best player on his line, flanked by Alex Killorn and Tyler Johnson. With 44 points in 68 games during his second full NHL season, Cirelli is improving offensively and few players his age have such a complete game. He’d certainly be worth parting with a first and third-round pick, so projecting a six-year, $36-million offer for Cirelli doesn’t seem unfathomable.
Sergachev would be a top-pairing defenseman on lesser teams and can perhaps grow into that role for the Lightning. He’s capable of manning the power play when Hedman’s out, has an accurate slap shot, and isn’t afraid to throw his body around when needed. He hasn’t had to face top-quality lines because of the Lightning’s current depth, but he just turned 22 in June and is rapidly improving. It’s understandable if teams are reticent to pay him top dollar based on future projections but Sergachev would be a clever bet. Capable young defensemen with offensive upside is a scarce resource, and like Cirelli, he’s earned a pay day upwards of $6 million AAV.
It’s also worth noting that Erik Cernak is an RFA and he’s proven more than capable, but Cirelli and Sergachev are the priorities here, especially with the Lightning showing a willingness to move almost everyone but the superstars to keep them.
Mathew Barzal, Islanders
Barzal is the marquee RFA available this summer but it’ll be compelling to see what type of offer he receives, if he receives one at all. Although Ryan Pulock (who quietly had an excellent postseason) and Devon Toews are both RFAs, Barzal is the clear priority for the Islanders who have most of their core locked up long-term, with just under $9 million in projected cap space.
One of the NHL’s emerging stars, Barzal was one of the catalysts for the Islanders’ surprise run to the Eastern Conference final, with 17 points in 22 games. If the Islanders are intent on proving their success in the bubble was no fluke, retaining Barzal will be of paramount importance and they’ve extended the qualifying offer as expected, which equates to a one-year deal at $832,500 per season. Barzal will demand more from the Islanders and teams will be looking to pry him away.
So, what’s the appropriate valuation for Barzal? A game-breaking talent with world-class speed at 23, Barzal is worth upwards of $8 million per year, which would warrant 1st, 2nd, and 3rd-round picks. If you’re a team that feels like you’re one player away and can make life difficult for the Islanders, fire over the offer sheet. Lou Lamoriello said he’d match any offer sheet, so it’s worth putting him to the test.
Vince Dunn, Blues
Max Domi was originally pencilled in here before he was traded to the Blue Jackets, along with a third-round pick for Josh Anderson on Tuesday. Instead, we’ll focus on one of the NHL’s more underrated defensemen.
As negotiations between Alex Pietrangelo and the Blues are reportedly breaking down, Dunn ideally would figure to be a larger part of their long-term picture. For whatever reason, the Blues don’t appear to value Dunn as much as his market value would suggest. He’s a left-handed shot with strong skating and puck-moving abilities, excelled during the 2019 Stanley Cup Final and at 23, has plenty of room to improve. Dunn held a 53 percent share of expected goals at 5-on-5 in 2020, according to Natural Stat Trick, and is ready for a promotion. Perhaps the Blues take for granted how easy it is to find left-shot defensemen with championship pedigree and upside, but Dunn could perhaps be enticed by a team willing to give him more playing time and opportunities.
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