The Anaheim Ducks look set to take on some bad contracts in exchange for draft capital and young prospects. However, that isn’t the only way they can leverage their cap space and abundance of draft picks. One other, whispered of only in the dark recesses of the interweb and shunned by the greater powers of the NHL, is the fabled offer sheet.
Offer sheets can be given on the first day of free agency, which in 2022 is the 13th of July. A week after the draft. At the present time, the Ducks have all of the picks they would require to present an offer sheet at any bracket of compensation.
That is to say that the Ducks own all of their own picks in the 2023 NHL entry draft. The Ducks have also acquired a number of picks in coming drafts, which despite not being able to be used to offer sheet a player, may soothe any pain that would come by using their own draft selections.
Despite this, the Ducks should not delve deeply into the offer sheet scenario. Offering cheap contracts of less than $2.1 million will most likely be matched by the owning team and are hardly worth mentioning. For others, it’s worth considering that the 2023 draft is likely to be a strong one and that the Ducks will likely have a high selection in that draft. They would not want to give away the chance of drafting a young star with that pick.
This leaves only a single band of compensation that seems to be worthwhile for the Ducks. $2,100,742 – $4,201,488, which would cost them the equivalent of a second-round pick. To my mind, there are a few interesting options that could be looked at in the former band. Namely, Kaapo Kakko, Jesse Puljujarvi, and according to Frank Seravalli, Rasmus Sandin. With that said, Sandin doesn’t seem to fit the Duck’s needs and is unlikely to come under consideration. Kakko and Puljujarvi, however, could be exactly what the Ducks need.
No surprises coming from me that there is a Finn on the list. Nonetheless, Kakko could be a legitimate target for a shrewd team. His play to date largely suggests he would be due to get a short bridge deal. He hasn’t been an incredible scorer at the NHL level, however, he has been effective in the past season. With New York’s rising costs, a bridge deal works for the team and the player gets a chance to show that he’s worth much more in the future.
However, the Ducks could step in and attempt to push that timeline a little earlier than expected. Healthy scratched for the final game of the Ranger’s playoff series, and now potentially offered a short, low-paying, contract, may open the former second overall pick to trying to find greener pastures. With a hot new star in Trevor Zegras and more talent coming, Kakko could see the Ducks as a place to grow his brand at the place fellow countryman Teemu Selanne made home.
The question then is what would be the price that would help him move teams and prevent the Rangers from matching? I would suggest a $4,000,000, 4-year deal, would be an interesting gamble for the Ducks to take. With Adam Fox and Mika Zibanejad needing extensions, and the Rangers needing to find a second-line pivot, $4 million dollars may be a bridge too far for the New York team to cross.
Conversely to the Rangers, the cost of a second-round pick to acquire a recent second-overall draft pick who is only now coming into his own seems like a strong gamble for the Ducks to make. There would be some concerns about whether the player would be able to live up to the dollar figure as the player’s current value would be closer to $2.5-$3 million per season.
That is to say that this contract would be an overpayment in the short term. With that said, much would depend on the development of the player and how the Ducks coaching staff could work with him. Two statistical comparables to Kakko are Max Pacioretty and Roope Hintz, and if he can reach those lofty heights then $4,000,000 and a second-round pick will both be considered steals.
Buyer beware, however, as with the rewards comes great risks. One of Kakko’s other comparable players is one Duck fans will be familiar with. Max Jones. Jones has been a nice complementary player for the Ducks, predominantly playing in the bottom-6 when healthy. Even given that, I can’t imagine anyone imagining him being a $4,000,000 player at this stage of his career. The Ducks already have one version of Jones, acquiring another isn’t necessarily an attractive proposition.
Still, the upside for a small initial outlay could be worth the gamble. A second-round pick in a draft that the Ducks have an additional first-round selection is a cost that is not worth worrying about too much. It is also worth considering that the Ducks will likely not be needing a tremendous amount of cap space this coming season or next. Thus, even should Kakko not pan out as desired, his cap hit is likely to only be of any concern in the final year of the 4-year deal. At that point, the ways to move an expiring contract are many.
Many of the same things said about Kakko can be said about Puljujarvi, even down to their former top of the draft status and superior country of origin. One point of difference is that Puljujarvi presented with some very strong underlying statistics this past season, showing that he truly can hang with the best players in the league when necessary. Kakko has been good and improving, but he didn’t present as strongly playing with Artemi Panarin as Puljujarvi did playing with Connor McDavid.
Also like Kakko, there would be questions as to whether Puljujarvi could meet the expectations of a $4,000,000 dollar deal, given that is also the deal I would expect him to get. Nonetheless, he was able to play as a top-6 winger in the NHL and that shows some promise. He may never be the high-end point producer he was drafted to be, but Valeri Nichushkin has shown the league how effective supporting players can be. Puljujarvi presents very similarly to Nichushkin, and I believe many would be happy to have him on their team.
While Nichuskin is a UFA who will command a lot of money, Puljujarvi has the benefit of being far younger and fitting in with the age group of the Duck’s new core. A second-round pick to acquire a long-term steady middle-6 forward is a reasonable price to pay. $4,000,000 is a reasonable gamble for a young player who could potentially be a big-time scorer in the league if things break his way.
Like Kakko, it’s an interesting opportunity to explore, and I believe the Ducks should consider one of these forwards at the expense of their 2023 second-round pick. Although it may be possible to make a trade with the Oilers to acquire Puljujarvi by other means. Doing so would likely alter the terms of the deal to decrease the money given to him, but also increase the payment to acquire him – depending on the deal of course.
Nonetheless, an external deal to acquire Puljujarvi would open the door to acquiring him and presenting an offer sheet to Kaapo Kakko. It may be living in a fantasy land, but the potential is clear and possible. Nabbing two young strong wings with upside to go with Zegras and McTavish would push along a rebuild in a significant way should all players develop to their potential.
Just one final thought
One additional aside is that Matthew Tkachuk is currently available to be given an offer sheet. A $10,600,000 deal is not out of the expected range he might command, and at 24 years old, he’s very likely to be worth that amount. It’s even arguable that he would be worth the four first-round picks it would take to get him as the chances of the four players selected are unlikely to reach his talent level.
This holds more true for the further back the team presenting the offer sheet is drafting. If the Ducks are in the mix for the lottery, then the deal is a bad one, but if they can add a few more pieces and contend for the playoffs then the deal looks a lot more attractive. This would lock up a left-wing star in his prime years.
Players like Tkachuk aren’t made available often and are damn hard to find in the draft. With Trevor Zegras in the fold and Mason McTavish coming soon, the Ducks could use an elite wing to play with them. Tkachuk could go a long way to fixing that problem.
If the Flames matched the offer, as they might, then that only pushes a division rival into a dangerous salary cap territory. It’s a potential win-win scenario for the Ducks team. High risk and high reward. A gambler’s decision. Your move Pat Verbeek.