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.

Patrick thinks he can make immediate NHL jump with Flyers

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The New Jersey Devils opted for Nico Hischier over Nolan Patrick, but time will be the ultimate judge in that debate. The Philadelphia Flyers also might see their guy make a more immediate jump to the NHL.

Patrick made it clear: he wants to go straight from the 2017 NHL Draft to training camp to opening night in 2017-18.

“Yeah, I think after a good summer of training, that’s my goal,” Patrick said.

The second pick of the draft noted not just his size, but also his two-way acumen when explaining why he believes he’s ready for the immediate turnaround. Patrick also brings up an interesting point: he’s already experienced three years of junior. He didn’t come out and say it, but the implication would be that his development might stagnate against lesser competition.

MORE: Check out all 31 first-round picks here

CSN Philly’s Tim Panaccio got that same sense from Patrick in a one-on-one interview, and noted that the consensus is that he’ll make a difference from Game 1.

Scouts are unanimous in predicting Patrick will play this season in the NHL. He turns 19 during training camp.

One might read the decision to trade Brayden Schenn to the St. Louis Blues as the Flyers’ way of agreeing that Patrick is probably ready, yet GM Ron Hextall wouldn’t just come out and say it. While praising Patrick, Hextall noted that he’ll need to “get to work” and earn a spot.

The odds seem to be in Patrick’s favor, but perhaps it’s better to see him battle for it.

Either way, don’t expect a long wait.

After major changes, Bowman thinks Blackhawks are in ‘good spot’

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CHICAGO — Stan Bowman received a lot of kudos for getting the old Blackhawks defense together for another kick at the can.

But the way it played out, bringing back two aging veterans in Brian Campbell and Johnny Oduya was a mistake by the general manager. The magic just couldn’t be recreated, and Chicago was swept in the first round by the Nashville Predators.

Then came the offseason changes. Not just on the blue line, either. Brandon Saad is back, while Artemi Panarin is gone. Marian Hossa is gone, too — a huge loss for the ‘Hawks, even if he can be put on LTIR.

So the forward group is going to look quite different next season.

The blue line could look very different, though. Oduya and Campbell are both unrestricted free agents and may not be back. Trevor van Riemsdyk was lost in the expansion draft. And last but not least, Niklas Hjalmarsson is a Coyote now, traded to Arizona for d-man Connor Murphy.

In other words, of the six defensemen who lost to the Predators, only Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are still under contract in Chicago.

“A lot of stuff going on,” Bowman said Friday at United Center. “Sometimes, change is good. You have to make some tough decisions. But at the same time, we’re really excited about our team next year.”

Much will be expected of Murphy, a 24-year-old who’s been toiling in Arizona anonymity since being drafted 20th overall in 2011.

“Connor’s a little bit of a different player (than Hjalmarsson),” said Bowman. “Obviously, he’s a bit bigger, he plays probably a more physical game. But he’s a good skater and he’s six years younger. It’s really hard to find young defensemen like that. He’s got a great contract, too. He’s a guy we’re going to have for a long time.”

Michal Kempny and Gustav Forsling will also be expected to take on bigger roles in 2017-18.

“It’s up to them to take hold of it, but I think the opportunity is going to be there for them,” said Bowman. “It’s time to give these guys a chance to grow and take on bigger responsibilities.”

Speaking of young defensemen, the Blackhawks added another to their stable Friday, drafting Henri Jokiharju with the 29th overall pick.

“Henri’s a player we’ve been high on all year,” said Bowman. “A right-shot defenseman. Those are a commodity in today’s game. It’s hard to find them. He plays a modern style of hockey. Great skill-set, good skater, can handle the puck, make plays. I guess what you would term the modern-day defenseman.”

As for Bowman, he believes his big moves have been made. He promised changes, and changes he delivered.

“I think we’re in a good spot,” he said.

Related: Blackhawks sign Czech defenseman Jan Rutta

Penguins spend big to get bigger, land Reaves from Blues

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Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford said he wanted to add some snarl to protect stars such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. You won’t find many – if any – forces more intimidating than Ryan Reaves.

That’s who the Penguins reportedly acquired in a trade from the St. Louis Blues, who suddenly became very busy toward the end of the 2017 NHL Draft’s first round on Friday.

MORE: Blues acquire Brayden Schenn for Jori Lehtera, picks

Moments ago, Gary Bettman announced the details of the move.

Penguins receive: Reaves, 51st pick of 2017

Blues receive: Oskar Sundqvist, 31st pick of 2017

Penguins’ perspective

Rutherford believed that the NHL was allowing teams to take liberties with star players, particularly Crosby and Malkin. Even after winning consecutive Stanley Cups, it was clearly something important to him.

Rutherford reiterated that thought after the move.

One can debate how much an enforcer such as Reaves really “deters” such behavior, especially since he won’t be on the ice with star players in most close situations. There’s little denying that he’s a fearsome fighter, with six in 2016-17 and as many as 10 in a single season.

Reaves carries a $1.125 million cap hit that expires after 2017-18.

A busy night for Doug Armstrong

Moments ago, the Blues drafted Kim Klostin with the 31st pick, grabbing a player some expected to go much earlier in the first round.

They also acquired Oskar Sundqvist, the 81st pick of the 2012 NHL Draft. The 23-year-old was unable to score a point in 10 games with the Penguins last season, but he was productive in the AHL, scoring 20 goals and 46 points.

Blues GM Doug Armstrong absorbed some serious criticism for protecting Reaves instead of David Perron, but now both players are gone. One would assume that’s likely by design, although it’s also possible that the Penguins simply provided an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Armstrong made another big splash by sending Jori Lehtera and draft picks to the Philadelphia Flyers for Brayden Schenn. Getting the 31st pick was helpful for the Blues after they sent the 27th choice to Philly.

Flyers send Schenn to Blues, take on Lehtera’s contract

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Flyers GM Ron Hextall made a big splash at the end of the draft’s first round on Friday night, sending forward Brayden Schenn to St. Louis in exchange for Jori Lehtera, the 27th overall pick and a conditional first-round pick in 2018.

Schenn, 25, is coming off two pretty productive years with the Flyers, in which he scored 26 and 25 goals. He just wrapped the first of a four-year, $20.5 million deal — one that carries a $5.125M cap hit.

It’s a big get for the Blues, who now boast Schenn, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, Robby Fabbri, Paul Stastny and Alex Steen at forward.

That hit is largely why Lehtera is on his way to Philly. Coming off a “bad” season in which he struggled with injury and healthy scratches, there was speculation he’d be made available at the expansion draft — which he was — and when he wasn’t selected by Vegas, the likelihood of a trade was high.

Lehtera makes $4.7 million annually, through 2019.

With the 27th overall selection, the Flyers took Sault Ste. Marie center Morgan Frost. Frost finished fourth on the Greyhounds in scoring this year and had a strong playoff, with five goals and 11 points in 11 games. It was the second center Philly scored in the first round, having previously selected Nolan Patrick with the No. 2 overall selection.

And here are the conditions around that ’18 pick: