An Early Look at the 2022 RFA Class.  Is Another Offer Sheet Possibly in the Works Next Offseason?

After an offseason of change, Flyers fans are (for the most part) clamoring for the 2021-2022 hockey season to get underway.

Will the Flyers rebound and get back to playoffs after making a myriad of changes this offseason?  We won’t know the answer until the Flyers make some headway into their upcoming season; but there is no doubt that the changes made by Chuck Fletcher were initiated to surround Carter Hart and Ivan Provorov with players that should assist them in living up to their grand expectations, to address woeful special teams play, and to fundamentally change the attitude and culture of the Flyers dressing room.

There have been skeptics about how well the new look Flyers will perform this coming season, but undoubtedly the club has re-energized excitement that has been lacking amongst the fan base.

This offseason was dubbed as ‘the most important offseason’ since 2007 when the Flyers added Danny Briere, Kimmo Timonen, and Scott Hartnell. While it remains to be seen what the results will be for the Flyers adding Ryan Ellis, Rasmus Ristolainen, Cam Atkinson, Keith Yandle and others; the 2022 offseason is shaping up to be a very important one as well for the Philadelphia Flyers.

From a leaguewide perspective, the pursuit of UFA’s still remains the tool of choice to initiate change in an organization.  But what about the much talked about but hardly ever used threat of an Offer Sheet to a Restricted Free Agent (RFA)?  Despite the greatest RFA class in NHL history coming off their entry level deals in the 2019-2020 offseason, things were very quiet until Marc Bergevin of the Montreal Canadiens shocked everyone by attempting to lure Sebastian Aho away from the Carolina Hurricanes.  Not to be outdone, the Hurricanes exacted a modicum of revenge by offer-sheeting Jesperi Kotkaniemi from the Montreal Canadiens last week to a 1-year $6.1 million deal.  While the Aho Offer Sheet was seen as a half-hearted attempt to land a quality young Center in the league, the Kotkaniemi Offer Sheet has serious implications for both the Hurricanes and the Canadiens.  Since I began writing this piece, the Habs have since refused to match the offer, and traded instead for Arizona’s Christian Dvorak to fill their void at Center.

After two straight seasons of seeing an Offer Sheet used; are we witnessing a possible return to its usage, or are we just in the middle of a spat between two franchises over it being used in the first place?

Lets check out the list of interesting RFA’s that will be coming off their entry-level contracts in 2022 and will be tempting to other NHL teams should there be a snag in their contract negotiations.

Charlie McAvoy (Boston Bruins) – Defense

While Cale Makar, Miro Heiskanen, and Quinn Hughes get all the plaudits for being among the best young defensemen in the game, anyone who watches the Bruins regularly will tell you that McAvoy easily belongs on that list.  While he doesn’t have the overall offensive flair that those other young defensemen possess, McAvoy is arguably more important to the success of his team than any of the players mentioned above.  While he scored 5 goals and 25 assists for 30 points in 51 games, he was the undisputed top defenseman in Boston that drove play and was used in all game situations.  Many who follow the Bruins also thought McAvoy was the team’s MVP this season based on his poise and performance as a young player in a position that was seen as a weakness from a team perspective.  Defensemen were paid handsomely this offseason, and McAvoy will see a substantial raise likely attached to a long-term deal.  There is little doubt that the team and player should be able to navigate a deal, but the interesting part will be to see if the notoriously hard bargaining Bruins will be able to get a team friendly deal with McAvoy’s camp obviously using the young talent listed above as a comparable.  McAvoy is also eligible for arbitration should there be an unforeseen snag in negotiations.

Matthew Tkachuk (Calgary Flames) – Left Wing

Despite being the best player on the Calgary Flames, many would say that Tkachuk had a disappointing 20-21 season.  While he managed 16 goals and 27 assists for 43 points in 56 games, the decline in success is more indicative of the disappointment of the Flames overall.  While the numbers are not what fans may be used to, they are mostly attributable to the organization as Calgary continues to keep the same core of players and travel in the same direction that has gotten them nowhere.  With an underwhelming offseason that saw the departure of Mark Giordano to Seattle in the Expansion Draft and their marquis free agent addition of Blake Coleman; it would take a daring gambler to bet on a return to the postseason for Calgary.  Regardless, the combination of skill, snarl, tenacity, and leadership is tantalizing.  Another failure of a season with the construction of a new arena in the works may make this the absolute last chance for GM Brad Treliving and the core group of players.  While an offer sheet is highly unlikely for Tkachuk’s services, a trade would be the far likelier scenario.  There were rumored whispers of interest from the St. Louis Blues, and other parties would be sure to be interested if Calgary were finally interested in tearing down the current group and embracing a full rebuild.  The chances of a shorter-term deal seem more likely here, which could make the chances of a trade higher especially considering that Tkachuk is arbitration eligible.

Jack Hughes (New Jersey Devils) – Center

While his underlying numbers are strong and he is very visible and creative cog to the Devils offense, Hughes has not seen the results translate onto the scoring sheet…yet.  After putting up 11 goals and 20 assists for 31 points in 56 games for a clearly rebuilding Devils team, there seems to be nowhere to go but up for Hughes who is almost a lock to see statistical improvement that mirrors his team’s ascent to competitiveness.  While the jury is still out on if the Devils make the playoffs this season, Hughes should see a rise in his goal and assist totals this season.  With the addition of the experienced Dougie Hamilton via free agency, a lot of pressure will be off Hughes to be the main driver of offense with the man advantage as Hamilton is one of the best powerplay quarterbacks in the league.  If some of the Devils young winger prospects make the jump to the NHL (Alexander Holtz, Nolan Foote), Hughes could really help make the Devils more of a threat in the Metropolitan Division sooner rather than later.  It is likely that Hughes performance this season will determine whether his next contract will be of the long term or bridge deal variety, and that should make it easy to come to an agreeable deal.  The rumors of Vladimir Tarasenko playing in New Jersey is intriguing in terms of establishing a partnership with Hughes because the Devils still have just over $12 million in cap space.  Whether that deal ever materializes or not, money will not be an object for the Devils next offseason as PK Subban’s massive contract is expiring at the end of the season.

Kirby Dach (Chicago Blackhawks) – Center

After seeing the Offer Sheet of Kotkaniemi by the Carolina Hurricanes, Dach would seem to be a prime candidate to be lured away from the Chicago Blackhawks.  He is coming off a season that was shortened due to fracturing his wrist during the IIHF World Junior tournament that ruled him out of NHL action for the remainder of the shortened season.  He had put up 2 goals and 8 assists for 10 points in 18 NHL games prior to the tournament in which he was named as Captain of the Canadian team.  With the additions of Seth Jones and Marc-Andre Fleury to go along with the expected return of Jonathan Toews, the Blackhawks should be improved and in contention for a playoff spot.  A resurgence for the Blackhawks and slotting in to the 2C role may lead to a huge bounce-back season for a player that will be 21 by the time he becomes an RFA.  Chicago spent large this offseason and Dach may be a player that is targeted with a large raise in the hopes that Chicago cannot match.

Adam Fox (New York Rangers) – Defense

Adam Fox will be in for a hefty raise when his entry level deal expires at the end of the season.  It kind of goes with the territory of adding a Norris Trophy win as a 23-year-old who turned heads around the league.  As mentioned above with McAvoy, Fox will be benefit from the large contracts doled out by clubs and should see an AAV that puts him in the same neighborhood with Jacob Trouba who is the highest salaried defenseman with an $8 million AAV.  Looking for an encore will not be much of a stretch as the youngsters on the Rangers will continue to develop as the club works its way to a potential playoff birth in a highly competitive Metropolitan division.  Matching his 5 goals and 42 assists for 47 points in 55 games should be manageable this season.  No way the Rangers don’t push to get a long-term deal here, and the only way that things could get complicated is if the Rangers acquire a big ticket player like Jack Eichel.       

Nick Suzuki (Montreal Canadiens) – Center

“Fool me once, that’s your fault.  Fool me twice, that’s my fault”.  There is no way that the Montreal Canadiens will be caught on an offer sheet with Nick Suzuki next offseason.  For one thing, Suzuki has shown tremendous strides in his development as the top-line Center for the Habs as his 15 goals and 26 assists for 41 points in 56 games will attest.  7 goals and 16 points during the postseason enroute to the Stanley Cup Finals with rising star Cole Caufield riding shotgun will ensure that Suzuki gets locked up most likely to a longer term deal.  Suzuki will hold a bit of leverage here though, and the Habs will respond to whichever type of deal Suzuki and his representation will push for.  Two things are absolutely certain:  Montreal holds Suzuki in much higher regard than Kotkaniemi, and Suzuki will get more money and a longer term.  No theatrics or drama will be in store and this should be a relatively easy deal to make for Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin.

Other Notable RFA’s: 

Josh Norris (OTT), Brock Boeser (VAN), Pierre-Luc Dubois (WPG), Ilya Samsonov (WAS), Rasmus Sandin (TOR), Patrik Laine (CBJ)

***

Is there anyone else I forgot that would be an interesting RFA to keep tabs on?

Feel free to leave any comments or feedback via twitter or at www.brotherlypuck.com.

Until next time from BrotherlyPuck.com,

I remain,

Manny Benevides

@mannybenevides

photo credit: sportnet.ca

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