Poacher's delight: This summer's best targets for offer sheets

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grossmanandryan.jpgSigning a player to an offer sheet is a risky, flawed endeavor. For one thing, the opposing team could match the offer sheet, like the Chicago Blackhawks did when the San Jose Sharks went after defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson. It can be a mistake even if a team lands the player, as the more money you hand out, the more draft picks your team loses. So, it makes sense that offer sheets are a rare occurrence in the NHL.

Still, there’s so much talent out there – and so many cash-strapped teams – that I’m surprised general managers don’t roll the dice with offer sheets more often. With that thought in mind, I thought I’d take a look at the best possible options for potential poachers. Keep in mind that being a restricted free agent doesn’t guarantee that a player is susceptible to offer sheets; players like Antti Niemi who filed for salary arbitration aren’t available for such deals.

This isn’t a comprehensive list of restricted free agents (click here for that), either. Instead, it’s a list of the players I think could be worth a try, offer sheet-wise. I’ll provide a blurb for each player, but we might expand on some of the bigger names and/or most interesting options.

jamesneal18.jpgForwards
Bobby RyanThe Ducks are shooting down rumors of Ryan being traded for a reason; he’s a crucial player for Anaheim.
Bryan Little – He’d have more bargaining power if he scored 31 goals in 09-10, but instead he did so in 08-09.
Peter Mueller – Concussion issues cut his nice run in Colorado short, but Mueller showed some of the potential people were waiting for during his struggles with the Coyotes.
Chris Stewart – The budding power forward had a breakthrough sophomore season, with 28 goals and 64 points overall.
James Neal – He already has two 20-plus seasons in two NHL seasons so far. With the Stars’ money troubles, Neal could be an interesting target for opportunistic teams.
Justin Abdelkader – The man known as “Afrogator” doesn’t put up big numbers, but could be interesting.
Darren Helm – Helm is a classic hard-worker with questionable finishing ability. At the right price he could be a very useful player.
Sam Gagner – He’s fallen a bit short of his potential so far, but Gagner has loads of offensive talent.
Patric Hornqvist – Scored 30 goals under the radar in Nashville last season. He might be the league’s most underrated scorer.
Nick Foligno – He’s a lot like Abdelkader: a nice player without big numbers.
Darroll Powe – Another solid, scrappy player.
Martin Hanzal – While his career-high 35 points is far from amazing, his 6-5 frame impresses many.
Devin Setoguchi – A lot like Little, Setoguchi saw a big drop from 08-09 (65 points) to 09-10 (36).
David Perron – His career is coming along nicely, putting up 50 and 47 points the last two years.
Steve Downie – Bonehead or not, he proved to be more than a cheap shot artist with a 24 goal output in 09-10.

Erik Johnson.jpgDefensemen
Nicklas Grossman – He’s far from flashy, but Grossman is a solid, rugged blueliner.
Marc Staal – The Rangers are really struggling to sign the defensively sound member of the Staal clan.
Paul Ranger – Is he in Steve Yzerman’s plans? If not he could be a decent offensive defenseman somewhere else.
Erik Johnson – The No. 1 pick of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft has had his highs and lows, but he’s clearly a promising (and gifted) young defenseman. Edit: Ol Goaler states that Johnson won’t qualify for an offer sheet thanks to his golf cart injury-related lost season.
Cody Franson – He’s a bit before his prime, but Franson has some definite promise.

Goalies
Ondrej Pavelec – He had a decent mini-run this season, but my guess is demand will be low for him.
Josh Harding – One of the best backup goalies in the league, Harding would probably get more attention if it wasn’t such a horrible market for goalies this summer.
Carey Price – The Habs seem more or less forced to sign him, but you never know with that odd Montreal franchise.

A challenging offseason awaits Dean Lombardi

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For the 23rd time this season — the most in the NHL — the Los Angeles Kings lost a game where they outshot an opponent.

It happened last night in Edmonton, where the Kings outshot the Oilers, 35-29, but lost on the scoreboard, 2-1.

Afterwards, captain Anze Kopitar could only express his frustration.

“It seems like we’re beating the dead horse every night,” Kopitar said, per LA Kings Insider. “We outshoot teams, we out-chance teams yet we’re on the other side of the winning part so bottom line it’s just not good enough. Whether that’s offensively or defensively, we’ve got to be better in both areas.”

It’s mostly offensively. For whatever reason, the Kings have the second-worst shooting percentage (7.6) in the NHL, with only Colorado’s (7.2) being lower.

Perhaps the Kings aren’t getting enough quality shots. Perhaps they don’t have enough quality shooters.

Probably a bit of both.

But it’s something that GM Dean Lombardi will need to address this offseason — assuming he can.

Roster-wise, the big problem for Lombardi is that the Kings have a pair of veteran wingers, Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik, whose contracts look a lot like anchors.

Brown, 32, and Gaborik, 35, have combined for just 21 goals this season. Meanwhile, their combined cap hit is north of $10 million, and there’s plenty term left on each deal.

Not helping? Both Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson are pending RFAs, and they’re in line for raises.

Oh, and there’s not much in the way of top prospects, either. In the past four drafts, only once have the Kings made a first-round pick. (Adrian Kempe went 29th overall in 2014.)

Eleven points back of the second wild-card spot in the West, the Kings are all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. They’re in Calgary tonight to take on the Flames.

Related: Kings give another kid a look, recall AHL All-Star Brodzinski

Glendening done for year with fractured ankle, may need surgery

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What began as a promising season for Detroit’s Luke Glendening has ended on a sour note.

Glendening — signed in the offseason to a four-year, $7.2 million extension — suffered a fractured ankle in last night’s loss to Carolina, and is done for the year.

Wings GM Ken Holland announced the news on Wednesday, adding that the club wasn’t sure if Glendening would require surgery or not.

Glendening, 27, earned his extension after putting up a career-high 21 points in 81 games during the ’15-16 campaign. This year proved to be a frustrating one, though, at least in terms of offense — Glendening found the back of the net just three times in 74 games, and went nearly three months between tallies during the season.

His ice time also took a hit. After averaging over 14 minutes per night in each of the last two seasons, Glendening received just 12:55 TOI per.

 

Report: Wild land Gophers captain Kloos, in on Hobey Baker finalist Vecchione

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Minnesota could soon have a couple more additions to its impressive prospect pool.

Per the Star-Tribune’s Mike Russo, the club has agreed to terms with University of Minnesota senior Justin Kloos on a two-year, $1.4 million entry-level deal. Kloos — like another prospect that just left school, former first-round pick Luke Kunin — will report to AHL Iowa on an amateur tryout, and his ELC will kick in next year.

Kloos, 23, captained the Gophers to the NCAA championships this year, racking up 43 points in 38 games. Russo reported the undrafted free agent had “a bunch of offers” from NHL clubs including Calgary, Vancouver and San Jose.

And the Wild might not be done there.

In the same report, Russo also notes the Wild are “heavily in” on Union’s Mike Vecchione, widely regarded as one of the top UDFAs available in this year’s collegiate class.

Vecchione, a senior, finished third in the country this year with 62 points in 36 games en route to a Hobey Baker nomination. He’s captained Union in each of the last two seasons and is the reigning ECAC player of the year. The 24-year-old has been tied to the Flyers, given he has some familiarity with the organization and attended the club’s prospect development camp last summer.

These have to be exciting times for the Wild (if you ignore the fact they’re mired in an awful slump). Landing Kloos and the potential of getting Vecchione would, as mentioned above, add to a stable that includes Kunin, Russian Kirill Kaprizov, Sweden’s Joel Eriksson-Ek and Kunin’s U.S. junior teammate, Jordan Greenway, who all showed extremely well at the world juniors.

Speaking of Eriksson Ek, he’s up with the Wild now after being brought over from the Swedish League. Wild GM Chuck Fletcher is hopeful the 20-year-old — taken in the first round of the ’15 draft — can provide Minnesota with “a little shot in the arm.”

Hobbled Penguins hoping to be ‘healed up right around playoff time’

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PITTSBURGH (AP) Ron Hainsey arrived in Pittsburgh from Carolina a month ago on the verge of reaching the playoffs for the first time in his 14-year career.

The durable defenseman found an odd but perhaps apt way to fit in with his new team: He got hurt. Ten games into his tenure with the Penguins, Hainsey went down with an upper-body injury to join an increasingly long line of familiar faces watching in suits from the press box rather than wearing sweaters on the bench.

“Injuries happen,” Hainsey said on Tuesday after skating with his teammates, an important step toward his hopeful return before the postseason begins next month. “Obviously, this team we have a lot of them.”

So many to so many bold-faced names — from Hainsey and fellow defensemen Olli Maatta, Trevor Daley and Kris Letang to star center Evgeni Malkin and energetic young forwards Jake Guentzel and Conor Sheary — that it’s remarkable the defending Stanley Cup champions have been able to hang around in the chase for the Metropolitan Division and the Presidents’ Trophy.

“It’s been crazy around here,” said defenseman Justin Schultz, one of only five players to miss fewer than five games so far. “You see so many guys walking around, it’s wild.”

The wear and tear from trying to keep it together with a threadbare lineup, however, is beginning to show.

Pittsburgh’s hopes of catching first-place Washington took a hit during a third-period implosion on Sunday night at home against Philadelphia as the Flyers poured in four goals over the final 20 minutes of a 6-2 win that left the Penguins three points behind the Capitals with seven games to go.

It was a rare forgettable night in a season that’s showcased both the brilliance of center Sidney Crosby (who’s 42 goals lead the league) and the laser focus preached by coach Mike Sullivan.

There have been few signs of a Stanley Cup hangover. The Penguins have the fewest home losses in the league and they’ve kept Washington and Columbus within arm’s reach despite the kind of health issues their two rivals have largely avoided.

The key now, even with players on the verge of returning, will be keeping it going. While the odds of Pittsburgh emerging from the three-way race – and avoiding a first-round matchup against the other runner-up – are iffy at best, don’t expect the Penguins to ease up in an effort to rest for the playoffs.

“Our experience has been that you just don’t flip a switch and turn it on,” Sullivan said. “We’re going to have to go into each game with a mindset of trying to win.”

Pittsburgh went 8-2 over its final 10 games of the regular season last spring then rolled to the franchise’s fourth championship. Putting together another surge will be difficult, though there were promising signs during a crowded post-practice dressing room.

Sheary, who left the loss to the Flyers with a lower-body injury, practiced on Tuesday and should play on Wednesday when Chicago visits. Jake Guentzel, who suffered a concussion last week after getting hit illegally by Buffalo’s Rasmus Ristolainen, skated but no timetable has been set for his return.

The rookie, who struggled getting off the ice after being leveled by Ristolainen, called the hit “just a hockey play,” though it ended with Ristolainen receiving a three-game suspension.

The line of Guentzel, Sheary and Crosby had almost single-handedly kept Pittsburgh’s offense going with Malkin out. They’re optimistic they’ll get a chance to recreate the mojo before the regular season ends.

“You don’t want to limp into the playoffs, losing a few games,” Sheary said. “I think momentum is a huge thing in this game. If you’re playing well going into the playoffs, I think that carries over big time.”

Getting familiar faces back in the lineup before mid-April is critical.

On that front at least, the Penguins appear to have been spared. It seems everyone has a chance to be in uniform when things get going for real.

“It seems like all the injuries are supposed to be healed up right around playoff time,” Sheary said.

“Hopefully we can get those guys back and use it to our advantage.”