Will the NHL’s Top 2021 Restricted Free Agents Get Offer Sheets?

  • The 2021 NHL free-agent market is scheduled to begin at noon ET on July 28
  • Cale Makar, Miro Heiskanen, and Quinn Hughes are just three of the star defensemen who are restricted free agents this summer
  • If a player signs an offer sheet from another club, their original team has seven days to either match the deal or concede the player

Back in 2007, Edmonton made a $21.25-million, five-year offer sheet to restricted free agent Dustin Penner. Ducks general manager Brian Burke called the move “gutless” and went after Oilers GM Kevin Lowe in the media, saying, “I think it’s an act of desperation for a general manager who is fighting to keep his job.”

Ahh, the good ol’ days… in the 14 years since the Oilers stole Penner from Anaheim, there hasn’t been one successful offer sheet. But that won’t stop speculation that an NHL team will try to take advantage of the flat cap environment and steal a player away from a cap-strapped club this summer.

Before we look at the league’s best available 2021 restricted free agents, we’ll break down how the process works. You can also check out our NHL betting tips page for advice on how to wager on hockey.

Restricted Free Agency and Offer Sheets

A player becomes an unrestricted free agent (UFA) when he reaches age 27 or accrues seven NHL seasons. Otherwise, he is a restricted free agent (RFA). Starting on July 28th this year, clubs can offer contracts to RFAs, however, the team with the rights to the RFA in question can choose to match the offer sheet.

If they don’t, the team loses the player and receives draft pick compensation, which fluctuates based on the dollar value of the deal.

For instance, if a team offers star defenseman Cale Makar more than $10.6 million per year and the Avalanche decide not to match, Colorado would be owed four first-round picks. Another draft-pick compensation isn’t quite as stiff, but it’s roughly: $4.2-$6.3M = 1st and 3rd rounder; $6.3-$8.5M = 1st, 2nd, and 3rd rounder; $8.5-$10.6M: two 1sts and a 3rd.

Top 2021 RFAs

While Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin offer-sheeted Carolina’s Sebastian Aho in the summer of 2019, the maneuver is rarely attempted anymore. In addition to the pick compensation and potentially eliciting a Burke-like tirade from a fellow GM, clubs avoid sending out offer sheets because they basically have to overpay a player in order to entice the other team not to match.

That said, there is a cornucopia of young, franchise-changing blueliners on the market this summer, headlined by the aforementioned Cale Makar, Miro Heiskanen of the Stars, and the Canucks’ Quinn Hughes. The forwards aren’t too shabby themselves with Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson, Minnesota’s Kirill Kaprizov, Ottawa’s Brady Tkachuk, Carolina’s Andrei Svechnikov, and Columbus Patrik Laine all eligible for offer sheets.

Will we see any offer sheets?

Recent history says we won’t see an offer sheet signed and not matched, but the expansion team Seattle Kraken could make things interesting if they decide to use their wealth of available cap space on an RFA. Clubs that are tight against the cap, like the New York Islanders and the two-time Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, could be especially vulnerable.

While we’ll believe it when we see it at this point, let’s hope for entertainment sake that NHL GMs aren’t scared to ruffle a few feathers this summer by hitting send on a couple of juicy offer sheets.

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Steve Dominey

Steve has almost 15 years of experience in marketing, PR and sports television. After acquiring a Journalism degree from Carleton University, he assembled highlight packs for Canada's most-watched sports network (TSN) before transitioning to a career in communications. He describes himself as a good father, great dog owner, and mediocre gambler and husband.