2022 NHL Free Agency: Best Restricted Free Agents Remaining

Given the circus that was the opening of 2022 NHL Free Agency, many could be excused for thinking that the dust had settled for the summer. Even though a number of significant unrestricted free agents (UFA) are still available, attention should be shifted to the plethora of talented restricted free agents (RFA) still unsigned for next season. Although both UFAs and RFAs can sign contracts with any team, an RFA’s rights remain under team control which gives their previous club the right to match any deals tendered by opposing teams, also known as offer sheets.

Although offer sheets are exceedingly rare within the NHL – only 10 have ever been signed in the salary cap era – the threat of one introduces an interesting wrinkle and dynamic into contract negotiations. Of those 10, only two have ever gone unmatched (Dustin Penner, 2007; Jesperi Kotkaniemi, 2021). Even so, the fact that many teams find themselves at the mercy of a flat cap could increase the likelihood of one, as teams with ample cap space could capitalize on the opportunity to force another team to have to navigate a tricky cap situation. Two factors – draft pick compensation and salary arbitration – also figure heavily into discussions around RFAs, so let’s dive in.

2022 Offer Sheet Compensation and Arbitration

If players sign an offer sheet with an opposing team and their previous club elects not to match, they could be entitled to compensation in the form of one or more draft picks, depending on the player’s new salary. According to CapFriendly, here are the updated offer sheet compensation tiers for this season:

Notably, players who have filed for arbitration are not eligible to receive offer sheets from other clubs, but those elected by their team can be tendered one. As of July 17, the following players elected for arbitration, and teams had until 5 p.m. ET on July 18 to elect players for team arbitration. With that, here are the most notable RFAs still without a contract as of July 19, divided by position.

Forwards

Looking at the RFA class of 2022, most of the top players still available are forwards and include a number of top-six talents, especially at left- and right-wing.

Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames

Age (as of July 17): 24

2021-22 Statistics: 82 GP – 42 G – 62 A – 104 PTS – 17:54 ATOI

After the bombshell that was Johnny Gaudreau opting to sign with the Columbus Blue Jackets over returning to the Calgary Flames, the Albertan club could see Matthew Tkachuk – their other superstar – leave within the next 12 months. After the team elected for salary arbitration, he is ineligible to be tendered an offer sheet, locking him into either negotiating a long-term commitment with the Flames, or seeing his rights be traded to another team.

Matthew Tkachuk Calgary Flames
Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames (Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

For general manager (GM) Brad Treliving, committing the franchise to a specific direction dictates how the organization – and Tkachuk – view any potential contract discussions. Tkachuk might not be interested in a rebuild and as the 15th-highest forward by points since 2019-20, he could garner an enormous return in a trade if he comes with a contract agreement.

Jason Robertson, Dallas Stars

Age: 22

2021-22 Statistics: 74 GP – 41 G – 38 A – 79 PTS – 18:07 ATOI

Sophomore slump? Not for Jason Robertson. After producing 45 points in 51 games in a stellar rookie season, the American winger combined with Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski to score 41 goals as part of one of the NHL’s best-attacking triumvirates. An elite shot generator who leverages his long 6-foot-3 frame to create space in the offensive zone, his transformation into a bona fide star was unexpected but welcome for an offensively stunted Dallas Stars’ outfit. With only $11 million to sign Robertson and goaltender Jake Oettinger, the Stars could face a cap crunch if their young stars opt to skip the team-friendly bridge deals.

Patrik Laine, Columbus Blue Jackets

Age: 24

2021-22 Statistics: 56 GP – 26 G – 30 A – 56 PTS – 18:50 ATOI

There might not be a more polarizing player in the NHL than Patrik Laine when it comes to talent vs. effort. Even after several high-profile scoring slumps, headbutting with coaches, and swapping the Winnipeg Jets for the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Finnish winger still possesses one of the most feared shots in the NHL.

Related: Top 25 Free Agents of 2022

Since joining the league as a rookie ahead of the 2016-17 season, only 13 players have scored more than his 176 career goals. Given that the Blue Jackets managed to collect the signature of this offseason’s most prized free agent in Gaudreau, Laine would do well to stick around and reap the rewards of riding shotgun with an elite playmaker.

Kailer Yamamoto, Edmonton Oilers

Age: 23

2021-22 Statistics: 81 GP – 20 G – 21 A – 41 PTS – 16:52 ATOI

With 20 goals last season, Kailer Yamamoto provided some much-needed depth behind the Edmonton Oilers’ two mega-stars. His microstat profile doesn’t scream someone who can drive play on their own, but he can function as a solid complementary player within a top-six forward group.

Andrew Mangiapane, Calgary Flames

Age: 26

2021-22 Statistics: 82 GP – 35 G – 20 A – 55 PTS – 15:44 ATOI

One of the favourites of the NHL’s analytics scene, Andrew Mangiapane broke out in a big way with 35 goals last season. According to MoneyPuck, he formed one-third of the NHL’s second-best forward line by expected goals share (xGF%) at 5v5, capitalizing on the efforts of linemates Mikael Backlund and Blake Coleman.

Andrew Mangiapane Calgary Flames
Andrew Mangiapane, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Despite his diminutive size, the 26-year-old winger is canny enough offensively to find empty pockets of space and finish open chances. One point to be aware of is his sky-high shooting percentage (SH%) of over 17 percent at 5v5, although his individual chance creation (ixG/60) came in among the top-40 of forwards last season.

Jesper Bratt, New Jersey Devils

Age: 23

2021-22 Statistics: 76 GP – 26 G – 47 A – 73 PTS – 17:26 ATOI

After failing to eclipse 35 points in his first four NHL seasons, winger Jesper Bratt erupted with a near-point-per-game campaign in 2021-22. His development into an elite dual-threat gives the New Jersey Devils yet another promising offensive talent, but the two parties have yet to reach an agreement despite the Devils’ ample cap space. His previous deal paid him $2.75 million per year, so he could look to command almost triple that amount on a long-term pact.

Nicolas Roy, Vegas Golden Knights

Age: 25

2021-22 Statistics: 78 GP – 15 G – 24 A – 39 PTS – 16:15 ATOI

Despite being stashed at the bottom of the Vegas Golden Knights’ lineup, 6-foot-4 center Nicolas Roy is a potential breakout candidate if he can wriggle his way into greater usage. He produces high rates of expected goals and scoring chances at 5v5 in sheltered deployment (both within the top-70 among forwards last season) and a well-placed offer sheet could force the cap-strapped Golden Knights to relinquish his services.

Pierre-Luc Dubois, Winnipeg Jets

Age: 24

2021-22 Statistics: 81 GP – 28 G – 32 A – 60 PTS – 18:55 ATOI

The Winnipeg Jets are in a difficult situation with Pierre-Luc Dubois proclaiming both his desire to play for the Montreal Canadiens and his intentions to hit unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2024. If the Canadiens pass on acquiring the Quebec native and other teams refrain from adding a player with sights on free agency, the Jets could lose him for nothing. After swapping him for Laine just last season, they could easily end up with nothing to show for their second-overall selection in the 2016 Draft.

Pierre-Luc Dubois Winnipeg Jets
Pierre-Luc Dubois, Winnipeg Jets (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Dubois was able to put a miserable 2020-21 campaign behind him and set a new career-high in goals last season, but it’s difficult to see how he enters camp motivated after publically voicing his desire to leave. Even after potentially joining his third team before the age of 25, he remains a potent shot-creator who can wreak havoc on the forecheck. Regardless of where he ends up, he should provide a steady presence down the middle.

Pavel Zacha, Boston Bruins

Age: 25

2021-22 Statistics: 70 GP – 15 G – 21 A – 36 PTS – 16:51 ATOI

In finding his potential arbitration ask unappetizing, the Devils sent Pavel Zacha to the Boston Bruins, with whom he is set to enter said arbitration. After three years of earning $2.25 million annually against the cap, the Czech forward likely believes he has done enough to earn a raise going forward. He grades out as an excellent puck-carrier who generates a solid rate of shot attempts, but posted a 7.92 SH% at 5v5 in 2021-22, 10th among Devils’ forwards.

Kasperi Kapanen, Pittsburgh Penguins

Age: 25

2021-22 Statistics: 79 GP – 11 G – 21 A – 32 PTS – 14:32 ATOI

Perhaps best known as the piece traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Phil Kessel, Kasperi Kapanen struggled to emulate his strong 2020-21 season in which he tallied 30 points in 40 games. He remains a capable shot generator who can carry the puck through the neutral zone. His 11 goals in 79 games this past season were the product of an abysmal 8.53 SH%, the second-lowest conversion rate of his career.

Lawson Crouse, Arizona Coyotes

Age: 25

2021-22 Statistics: 65 GP – 20 G – 14 A – 34 PTS – 17:26 ATOI

The big-bodied Lawson Crouse finally tapped into the offensive potential which made him the 11th-overall selection in the 2015 Entry Draft, scoring at a 25-goal rate last season. He loves to throw hits (41st in the NHL in 2021-22) and can find his way into opportune scoring areas with his muscle, but struggles to drive play in the right direction.

Jesse Puljujarvi, Edmonton Oilers

Age: 24

2021-22 Statistics: 65 GP – 14 G – 22 A – 36 PTS – 16:14 ATOI

After returning for a second stint with the Edmonton Oilers, it appears as though Jesse Puljujarvi‘s time in Alberta could be drawing to a close for good. Questions about his offensive upside have clouded his otherwise robust contributions through forechecking and responsible defensive play.

Jesse Puljujarvi Edmonton Oilers
Jesse Puljujarvi, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

GM Ken Holland has yet to find a new landing spot for the big Finnish winger, but it shouldn’t cost too much by way of assets to procure the fourth-overall pick from the 2016 Draft. Could he be the next Valeri Nichushkin?

Mathieu Joseph, Ottawa Senators

Age: 25

2021-22 Statistics: 69 GP – 12 G – 18 A – 30 PTS – 14:12 ATOI

Mathieu Joseph’s ice time jumped to nearly 17 minutes a night after joining the Ottawa Senators in the Nick Paul trade, three minutes more on average than during the first part of the season spent with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He is a dependable shot contributor and excels at carrying the puck into the offensive zone. He finished the 2021-22 season ranked 194th among forwards in 5v5 points per 60 minutes, just outside of a top-six-calibre rate.

Isac Lundestrom, Anaheim Ducks

Age: 22

2021-22 Statistics: 80 GP – 16 G – 13 A – 29 PTS

The Anaheim Ducks’ first-round pick from 2018 became an NHL regular in 2021-22, potting a respectable 16 goals in his sophomore season. While not much of an offensive force just yet, Isac Lundestrom looked confident in propelling his team’s attack through the neutral zone, suggesting further skill training could help him unlock the next stage in his development. Interestingly, his plus-13 penalty differential (drawn minus taken) ranked 25th among forwards last season.

Defensemen

Compared to the calibre of RFA forwards still left unsigned, the available defensemen pale in comparison. Still, the group includes several young talents who could take a big step in their development in 2022-23.

Noah Dobson, New York Islanders

Age: 22

2021-22 Statistics: 80 GP – 13 G – 38 A – 51 PTS – 21:28 ATOI

After a spectacular breakout season in which the hulking young defender eclipsed 50 points and took on a greater workload in all situations, Noah Dobson is a large part of one of the NHL’s top defencemen on the right side. With few other puck-movers on the New York Islanders’ blue line, he carried the brunt of the workload in transition, with Adam Pelech the only other defenseman on the team to complete more successful defensive zone exits last season.

Noah Dobson New York Islanders
Noah Dobson, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Given that his shot- and chance-share numbers were regularly sub-50 percent, there are sure to be growing pains with a player literally and figuratively growing into a bigger role. Still, the poise he showed despite an unsuccessful campaign at the team level is extremely promising, and Dobson should see a mammoth payday sooner rather than later.

Oliver Kylington, Calgary Flames

Age: 25

2021-22 Statistics: 73 GP – 9 G – 22 A – 31 PTS – 18:10 ATOI

According to Natural Stat Trick, the Flames’ defensive pairing of Oliver Kylington and Chris Tanev was one of the NHL’s most effective in terms of driving play and suppressing scoring chances. The mobility and puck-carrying abilities of Kylington meshed well with the veteran Tanev’s poise and defensive awareness, bolstering one of the top defensive groups last season. After only playing in 95 NHL games from 2015 to 2021, the Swedish rearguard made 73 appearances in 2021-22 while looking much more comfortable at both ends of the ice. If the Flames look to retool in the aftermath of Gaudreau’s decision, Kylington could quickly become a face of the future.

Ethan Bear, Carolina Hurricanes

Age: 25

2021-22 Statistics: 58 GP – 5 G – 9 A – 14 PTS – 16:05 ATOI

After moving from the Edmonton Oilers to the Carolina Hurricanes last offseason, the 25-year-old Ethan Bear looks to be on his way to a new market once more. Despite his inability to stick in his first two NHL stops, the right-handed defender boasts strong rates of shots on goal and playmaking from the blue line, albeit in sheltered usage. For a team looking to shore up their bottom pair, they could do a lot worse than Bear.

Sean Durzi, Los Angeles Kings

Age: 23

2021-22 Statistics: 64 GP – 3 G – 24 A – 27 PTS

During a season in which the Los Angles Kings’ blue line was often in flux due to injuries, Sean Durzi provided a youthful spark from the backend. His 27 points were a welcome development in the absence of franchise cornerstone Drew Doughty, and he enjoyed a strong postseason showing against the Oilers. He displayed a willingness to collect the puck and move it out of his own zone, even if it sometimes ended in untimely turnovers. Still, his confidence bodes well for future development where some refining could turn him into a robust engine in transition.

Rasmus Sandin, Toronto Maple Leafs

Age: 22

2021-22 Statistics: 51 GP – 5 G – 11 A – 16 PTS – 16:58 ATOI

After long being heralded as the future of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ defensive core, the team has struggled to find a regular spot for the Swedish blueliner. Rasmus Sandin has shown flashes of top-four potential but has often been relegated to bottom-pair duty.

Rasmus Sandin Toronto Maple Leafs
Rasmus Sandin, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Maple Leafs’ tight cap situation makes him a prime candidate for an offer sheet, and their left side of Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, and Mark Giordano has shut Sandin out of increased deployment. How the organization proceeds should provide a read on how they view him as part of their future.

Nicolas Hague, Vegas Golden Knights

Age: 23

2021-22 Statistics: 52 GP – 4 G – 10 A – 14 PTS – 18:40 ATOI

At 6-foot-6, Nicolas Hague is an imposing force on a formidable – when healthy – Golden Knights’ group on the backend. Like his teammates, he is unafraid to join in the attack and pepper opposing netminders with shots on the rush or out of the cycle. Unsurprisingly, he struggles with defending the blue line and could stand to improve his skating and mobility to better handle rush opportunities against.

Alexander Romanov, New York Islanders

Age: 22

2021-22 Statistics: 79 GP – 3 G – 10 A – 13 PTS

Once touted as the gem of the Montreal Canadiens’ blue line, Alexander Romanov was flipped to the Islanders on draft day as part of a three-way deal which brought Kirby Dach to Montreal. The left-sided defenseman hasn’t shown much on the offensive side yet, but his physical play will be welcome on Long Island.

Mario Ferraro, San Jose Sharks

Age: 23

2021-22 Statistics: 63 GP – 2 G – 12 A – 14 PTS – 23:00 ATOI

Although he doesn’t pack much of an offensive punch, Mario Ferraro displayed poise beyond his years while playing 23 minutes a night in all situations on the San Jose Sharks’ blue line, third behind only Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson. Top-pair usage might be too much for him to handle at the moment, but he projects to at least be a formidable top-four defender in the future.

Erik Brannstrom, Ottawa Senators

Age: 22

2021-22 Statistics: 53 GP – 0 G – 14 A – 14 PTS – 19:46 ATOI

The centerpiece of the Mark Stone trade, Erik Brannstrom has yet to fully deliver on the potential which made him so highly touted just a few season ago. His underlying numbers and microstat profile point to a young blueliner still learning the trade, but a full season on an NHL blue line should do wonders for his development.

Goalies

The RFA goaltending market is much more sparse than that of the other positions, but one notable name stands out above the rest.

Jake Oettinger, Dallas Stars

Age: 23

2021-22 Statistics: 48 GP – 30 W – 15 L – 1 OTL – .914 SV% – 2.53 GAA

Although Jake Oettinger‘s pedigree is well-established as a first-round draft pick, he announced himself to the wider public with a spectacular playoff performance in the Stars’ first-round exit at the hands of the Flames. His plus-12.78 goals saved above expected (GSAx) was the 11th-highest playoff total of the analytics era (post-2008) even though he played at least six games fewer than the 10 performances ahead of him.

Jake Oettinger Dallas Stars
Jake Oettinger, Dallas Stars (Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Stars can argue that the American netminder hasn’t done enough to earn a huge extension – yet – but the threat of an offer sheet looms large given the team’s potential cap concerns.

2022 NHL Free Agency is Far From Over

Even after the initial frenzied wave of free-agent signings, many significant names remain unsigned for next season. Unlike UFAs, the potential for offer sheets and heated arbitration discussions add a different twist to RFA negotiations. Will any prominent RFAs set the market alight and join another team via an offer sheet? We will just have to wait and find out.

Data courtesy of CapFriendly, Evolving Hockey, Natural Stat Trick, and the NHL.


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