There is still a few days left to 2018, however, several hockey insiders are already focusing on NHL players who could become targeted for offer sheets from rival clubs in 2019. And we can understand why, especially when we look at the situation taking place in Toronto with the Maple Leafs facing quite the cap crunch issue moving forward. With 2019 just around the corner, let’s take a look at the five players most likely to be targeted by offer sheets, according to NHL insider Lyle Richardson of Spectors Hockey:
Earlier this month, Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston suggested there’s a “strong belief” inside the industry that Matthews will be a prime offer-sheet target if unsigned by July 1. While Leafs GM Kyle Dubas has been talking to the kid's agent and looking to get a deal done before another chaotic situation ensues - remember William Nylander and his impasse - Dubas remains confident his team won't have to face an offer sheet from a rival club.
The Leafs GM pointed out that his club’s cap situation is set up to defend against offer sheet threats “with no worry at all.” A player of Matthews caliber would be well over the $10.15 million dollar mark that would push compensation on such an offer sheet to four first round draft selections, so no small reward to be sure. That being said the Leafs would obviously prefer keep Matthews on their roster and build a contender around him for years to come.
Still, one team, let's say his hometown Arizona Coyotes, could try to spice things up with an offer sheet.
Johnston also reported that it may not only be Matthews who is the target of such an offer however, adding that his sources are now informing him that Winnipeg Jets star forward Patrik Laine may also be the target of such an offer. The Sporstnet insider believes Laine would spurn a massive offer worth around $15 million annually, and the Jets forward is surely proving that he is worth the numbers.
The Jets are also struggling with quite the financial puzzle... Assuming an $83-million cap for next season as recently projected by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, the Leafs and Jets would each have just over $26 million in cap space.
Earlier this season, Laine became the fourth youngest player in NHL history to tally 100 career goals. So far in 2018-19, Laine has posted 23 goals and 30 points in 36 games and could reach a career high 55 goals by the end of the regular calendar.
When Johnston came out with the belief that both Matthews and Laine could be targeted by offer sheets, his colleague Elliotte Friedman added that offer sheets could be coming for several prime “grade-A candidates” next summer. While he didn’t elaborate who they were, Richardson believed he is referring to Matthews' teammate Mitch Marner and Tampa Bay Lightning center Brayden Point.
If we focused on the latter, Point has surely impressed several people across the league this season. With over $73 million invested in 15 players, the Lightning faces the tightest squeeze and teams will focus on the 22-year-old who has been lighting up the lamp this season.
In 37 games, Point has racked up 21 goals and 47 points. Watch out!
As mentioned just above, Friedman mentioned prime “grade-A candidates” and Marner surely fits the bill. The idea to go after Marner has reportedly come to the mind of San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson. Paul Gackle of The Mercury News believes that Wilsoncould come up with the perfect plan to pry out Marner from the Maple Leafs, especially if Erik Karlsson decides not to re-sign with his club.
Wilson could exploit the situation in which Dubas is finding himself, facing a potential cap crunch next summer with the new deals of both Marner and Matthews. Marner could bring a valuable injection of youth, speed, and playmaking skills to the Sharks’ forward lines and Wilson has more options than anybody else in the league.
If Wilson were to go the offer-sheet route, Gackle makes it clear a precise plan of actions needs to be put in place. He would need to be extremely creative to make all the pieces fit...
Colorado Avalanche winger Mikko Rantanen will also be in line for a big raise next summer. After all, he is the current NHL scoring leader! While the Avs have plenty of cap room, with just $46 million tied up in 11 players, they might have a self-imposed cap lower than the league. If so, Rantanen would become a tempting target for an offer sheet.
There are other honourable mentions as Calgary Flames' Matthew Tkachuk could also face a potential offer sheet this summer. The Canadian team has $67 million committed to 14 players and Tkachuk is due for a hefty pay raise. There is also a question mark when it comes to Boston Bruins' Charlie McAvoy's next deal.
Offer sheets are rarely signed in the NHL (the last one that was signed was back in 2013, the Avalanche matched the Flames' offer sheet for Ryan O'Reilly) and it would be surprising to say the least if a generational player like Matthews signed one or was even offered one by a team.
However, we know you guys will still keep an eye out on these players as 2019 gets underway.