By all accounts there is still plenty of time ahead of the upcoming 2020 - 2021 National Hockey League season for teams in current cap trouble to figure out a solution to their problems, but given the way the offseason has shaken out thus far there are no doubt more than a few NHL general managers that have started to sweat.
There has arguably never been a time in the league's recent history where cap-strapped teams may be more vulnerable to an offer sheet than they are right now given the stagnant salary cap forced onto the league and its players by the pandemic. That very same pandemic however may be the one thing that saves some of the teams in more dire straits from the worst of it, given that teams have also been forced to tighten their wallets due to a considerable decrease in revenue.
That being said this remains a great opportunity for general managers that find themselves in a desperate need of talent to bolster their roster, and with that in mind here are the three best targets that I feel could make sense on an offer sheet.
#1 Mathew Barzal
The easiest and most obvious choice to put on any listen of this nature is Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders, arguably the most important restricted free agent of this year's class. Although the Islanders appear to be in a decent position to sign Barzal given their $8.9 million in projected cap space, that number will diminish considerably in the comings weeks. The Islanders not only have Barzal to sign but also need to get a new deal done with defenseman Ryan Pulock, and after he ate up 22 minutes a night for that team he won't come cheap.
Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello has issued a proclamation stating that he will match any offer sheet that comes Barzal's way, but even with Pulock and Barzal signed the Islanders would still need more bodies to fill out their 23 man roster. At the very least a competitive offer sheet on Barzal would force the Islanders into some more tough decisions.
#2 Pierre Luc Dubois.
I believe that Dubois is by far the longest shot on this list but nonetheless I do believe he makes for an excellent target. You just are not going to find a ton of true #1 centers that are available around the National Hockey League and even fewer when they are just 22 years of age. The Jackets have plenty of cap space to get this done with over $15.9 million in projected cap space for next season and the only way I could see an offer sheet prying Dubois away would be due to the financial struggles imposed by the pandemic.
The Jackets will also want to give defensemen Zach Werenski and Seth Jones new deals, likely after the end of this upcoming season, so that could potentially also impact their decision making if a team were to come forward with a ridiculous offer sheet for Dubois.
#3 Mikhail Sergachev/Anthony Cirelli.
I'm putting both men here because realistically the decision on which player you're going to offer sheet will come down to your needs. Both players shined in the postseason for the Tampa Bay Lightning and both men would be all but guaranteed a long term future in Tampa Bay were it not for the team's salary cap concerns. The Lightning have just $2.9 million in projected cap space and also have another restricted free agent in Erik Cernak that needs a new deal, not exactly a ton of room to get any of these deals done. Add to that the fact that the Lightning have been unable to convince any of their veteran players to waive their trade protections in order to facilitate a cap-saving type of trade and you can easily see they are in quite the pickle.
Lightning GM Julien Brisebois has some of the toughest decisions to make of any GM in the NHL this offseason, and an offer sheet from a rival team could very well make those choices for him.