Lost in a summer that has kept us entertained with the ongoing Ilya Kovalchuk saga, the plethora of veteran unrestricted free agents still available and the salary cap rearing its ugly head in Chicago is another story that merits attention in the hockey world.
There are still several well-known restricted free agents who remain left wide open for teams to swoop in and sign to an offer sheet. Handing out offer sheets to other teams' restricted free agents isn't done cavalierly in the NHL, but it is a practice that has been tried in the past.
For instance, there is the infamous case of the Oilers' giving Dustin Penner an offer sheet of five years and a reported $21.25 million in the summer of 2007. It infuriated then-Anaheim GM Brian Burke, who chose not to match it, thus letting Penner walk to Edmonton.
Let's not forget also that just last month San Jose GM Doug Wilson drove up the price of Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson by signing him to an offer sheet reportedly worth four years and $14 million. The Hawks did match it to keep Hjalmarsson on their roster, but that contract could also be the reason that Cup-winning goalie Antti Niemi was not retained.
Nobody is predicting that any of the 9 players we're about to mention will sign with another team, but there's always a chance and then we would have a much bigger story. Either way, here is a list of restricted free agents that are young, talented, marketable and waiting.
Carey Price, Montreal -- This one is interesting on so many levels. For one, the Canadiens gave up some of their negotiating power when they traded Jaroslav Halak to St. Louis, thereby making Price the man in La Belle Province. However, Price hasn't done enough yet in the League (60-48-18, 2.73 GAA) to warrant a mega-deal. He has also shown a lack of maturity at times, such as in the playoffs last season against Washington. However, Price is only 22 years old and he's clearly the goalie of the future in Montreal, a city that hangs on everything the Habs do.
Marc Staal, New York Rangers -- GM Glen Sather doesn't seem the least bit concerned about the guy many believe will be or already is the Blueshirts' cornerstone defenseman. Sather has said publicly that he will match any offer sheet Staal signs, so there really is no rush to get him under contract. Staal told the TBnewswatch.com in his hometown of Thunder Bay, Ont., that "there hasn't really been too much going on. There's nothing really to report on." He's waiting patiently, but he definitely wants a raise and he'll likely get it.
Bobby Ryan, Anaheim -- This one has gone public. Ducks GM Bob Murray in late June told the Orange County Register that they initially offered Ryan "a pretty good five-year offer between $20-25 million." A week later, Murray went public again, saying the offer was increased to five years at $5 million per. Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register said Ryan turned down that deal. It's been quiet since, which has obviously led to some speculation that he's unhappy and open to an offer sheet. Then again, the Ducks may be waiting for just that so they can match it and finally get Ryan under contract. He is coming off back-to-back 30-goal seasons.
Steve Downie, Tampa Bay -- Downie had 22 goals, 46 points and 208 penalty minutes in 79 games last season after compiling only 18 points in his first 65 NHL games from 2007-09. He benefitted greatly by playing on the same line as Rocket Richard co-winner Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. He should be a part of the Bolts' scary-looking top six again as GM Steve Yzerman told the St. Petersburg Times that he has reached out to Downie's agent, Rick Curran, to begin contract talks. "My intention is to get him signed as soon as possible," Yzerman said.
Chris Stewart, Colorado -- Stewart was a big part of the Avalanche's resurgence this past season, as he put up 28 goals and 64 points along with a plus-4 rating in 77 games after scoring only 19 points with a minus-18 rating in 53 games as a rookie in '08-09. Colorado will want to keep a good thing going, so it's unlikely they're going to let the dance with Stewart go on for too long, resulting in a possible hold-out in training camp. There are no problems with the salary cap either, as according to capgeek.com the Avs still have to spend to get to the floor.
James Neal, Dallas -- Neal experienced a bump in his production from his rookie season to his second season as he went from 24 to 27 goals and from 13 to 28 assists. He played in only one more game (78 vs. 77). Clearly he got better, but how much are the Stars willing to shell out in cash for him? Neal had comparable numbers to Moulson, Fleischmann and Raymond. Those are likely three contracts that GM Joe Nieuwendyk will be looking at in the negotiations with Neal.
Peter Mueller, Colorado -- Mueller went from a disappointment in Phoenix to a major part of Colorado's young core when he was shipped to Denver on March 3. He put up 20 points in only 15 games with the Avs after producing 17 points in 54 games for the Coyotes. Mueller wasn't available in the playoffs due to a concussion, the second in his short career. He's a promising player, a former first-round pick, and someone the Avalanche are looking to for big contributions. The price, though, remains to be seen.
Sam Gagner, Edmonton -- He's only 20 years old and already he has put up three straight seasons of 40-plus points. This past season, Gagner duplicated his 41-point performance from 2008-09, but he did so in eight fewer games. Because he's so young you don't hear the clamoring for him to really put a bump in that production to upwards of 60-plus points. However, with youth being the optimal word around Edmonton, Gagner fits right in. From the '07 Draft, only Patrick Kane has more points than Gagner's 131.
Niclas Bergfors, Atlanta -- It took a trade to Atlanta to get Bergfors' NHL career steaming in the right direction. He was solid for the Devils with 27 points in 54 games, but coach Jacques Lemaire wasn't a big fan. Bergfors was part of the Ilya Kovalchuk trade in February and he finished with 17 points in 27 games for Atlanta. The 23-year-old Swede is a former first-round pick who oozes potential, but he's still a few good years away from getting his big contract.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl