Most of the attention heading into the offseason free agency period is centered around unrestricted free agent Steven Stamkos. The opportunity to acquire talented players via free agency is a tempting option for desperate teams and Stamkos is arguably the most talented free agent of the salary cap era.

Stamkos is due a considerable raise from his $7.5 million cap hit and could see offers pushing $12 million per year. If that price seems too high for your favorite team to pay, the next best option might be prying away a restricted free agent (RFA) from a rival via offer sheet.

Offer sheets aren’t common in the NHL because of the political ill will they create and the likelihood for most teams to match the terms presented in the offer sheet. Every summer we hear about threats of an offer sheet for [insert unsigned RFA name here] that never materialize, but a handful of teams could be facing tough decisions as a result of the cap ceiling only rising $1.4M for next year.

Big RFA names still in need of contract extensions include Seth Jones (Columbus), Chris Kreider (NY Rangers), and Jacob Trouba (Winnipeg). Columbus sits uncomfortably close to the 2016-17 cap ceiling of $73M while New York wants to preserve space for a massive Stamkos offer and Winnipeg has been struggling for months to find common ground with Trouba.

Offer sheets for any of these three players — or a few more on this all-inclusive RFA list at GeneralFanager.com — could make their current teams squirm.

Here’s a quick rundown of the relevant rules with respect to the RFA offer sheet process:

  • In order to maintain the right to match an offer sheet or receive draft pick compensation, teams must extend qualifying offers to their RFA’s by 5pm on June 27. This list from NHL.com contains all players who received qualifying offers yet remained unsigned as of that time.
  • If a team fails to tender a qualifying offer (or elect salary arbitration) the RFA immediately becomes a UFA and is free to accept any offer from any team. That option also includes returning to the original team at a lower amount than the qualifying offer would have been.
  • Qualifying offers are not open for acceptance prior to July 1. They expire at 5pm on July 15 unless a team requests that the deadline be extended for a particular RFA player.
  • RFA’s can make contact with all teams, including their own, regarding potential interest on June 28. They can’t sign new contracts or offer sheets until July 1 at 12pm.
  • If an RFA wants to accept an offer from another team after July 1, paperwork must be submitted to the league outlining the terms of the proposed contract. The original team has 7 days to exercise their right to match the terms of the offer sheet. During this time, they are not allowed to trade the RFA player.
  • If the original team chooses to accept the terms of the offer sheet, they are also not allowed to trade the player for one year from the date of exercising their right to match.
  • If the original team declines to match the terms of the offer sheet, the player and his new team enter into a contract under the proposed terms. The original team is then entitled to draft pick compensation based on the following table:
 Calculated Offer Sheet Amount  Draft Pick Compensation
$1,239,226 or below  None
Over $1,239,226 to $1,877,615  Third Round
Over $1,877,615 to $3,755,233  Second Round
Over $3,755,233 to $5,632,847  First Round & Third Round
Over $5,632,847 to $7,510,464  First Round, Second Round, and Third Round
Over $7,510,464 to $9,388,080  Two First Rounds, Second Round, and Third Round
Over $9,388,080  Four First Rounds

 
The offer sheet amount, for purposes of the draft pick compensation table above, is calculated by dividing total compensation by the lesser of the number of years of the offer sheet or five. This discourages offer sheets beyond five seasons as the compensation requirements will increase dramatically.

There are a number of additional rules when it comes to draft pick compensation. Here are a few key highlights (please see CBA Article 10.4 for full details):

  • Teams must use their own original draft picks for purposes of offer sheet compensation. They cannot acquire picks from other teams, however, they can trade away their own picks and then re-acquire them at a later date.
  • Teams owing picks for amounts up to $7,510,464 must have those picks available in next year’s draft (2017).
  • Teams owing two picks in the same round must have them available in the next three drafts (or three picks in the next four drafts, etc)