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Saad, Tarasenko among top restricted free agents

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com

In many respects, the players set to become restricted free agents Wednesday are more intriguing than those expected to become unrestricted free agents, because they're younger and flush with potential.

The difference is they're not available on the open market. That doesn't mean they can't change teams, leading us to the dilemma of the contract offer sheet.

Many people wonder why offer sheets aren't used more frequently by general managers. It's a fair question, considering only eight have been signed in the past 10 years and only one player, Dustin Penner in 2007, actually changed teams because of it.

Offer sheets are prohibitive because of the draft pick compensation necessary.

For example, it would cost a team a first-round pick and a third-round pick plus the actual salary involved to sign a player to an offer sheet that carries with it a $5 million annual salary-cap charge this year, according to Sportsnet. The draft pick compensation goes up the higher the average annual value of the offer sheet.

Many teams A) don't want to pay that price, and B) don't have the picks available.

Offer sheets are also usually matched, which makes general managers leery of using them because it essentially means they're doing the negotiating for the other team.

Offer sheets can be used as a tool to drive up the price of a player for a team that is already operating close to the salary-cap ceiling, but there is a risk-reward in that because it could cause bad blood between two teams and thus impact the potential for future trades.

All of that means the odds are slim that a restricted free agent will receive an offer sheet this year, but it's not totally out of the question.

Here is NHL.com's list of the top 10 restricted free agents this year (in alphabetical order):

NOTE: All cap charge figures come from war-on-ice.com.

JAKE ALLEN, ST. LOUIS BLUES

Position: G

Previous cap charge: $800,000

Allen should enter next season as the favorite to be the Blues' No. 1 goalie even though Brian Elliott is still there, but that doesn't mean he has all the leverage in contract negotiations. He still has a lot to prove. He did well for himself last season, going 22-7-4 with a 2.28 goals-against average, .913 save percentage and four shutouts in 37 appearances, including 32 starts. But the Blues were knocked out in the Western Conference First Round, when Allen had a .904 save percentage. A two-year contract would give St. Louis the Allen-Elliott combination for the next two seasons. If Allen emerges as the No. 1 after that, a bigger payday would be in order.

JONATHAN BERNIER, TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

Position: G

Previous cap charge: $2.9 million

Bernier is one year away from the chance to become an unrestricted free agent, which is an intriguing possibility if he has questions about the Maple Leafs' future. Toronto is rebuilding, but it has made strides this offseason to show players that it should be a choice destination. The Maple Leafs have a top coach (Mike Babcock), excellent facilities and amenities, and a lot of money and marketability potential for a star player. Bernier is likely weighing all those factors, plus the chance to win, against the potential of becoming a UFA. He had a 21-28-7 record with a 2.87 GAA and .912 save percentage for the Maple Leafs last season.

ALEX GALCHENYUK, MONTREAL CANADIENS

Position: LW/C

Previous cap charge: $1.35 million

Galchenyuk is coming off his first 20-goal season in the NHL. His future in Montreal isn't in doubt. Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin said they were going to sign him, according to ESPN.com. Galchenyuk has agent Pat Brisson representing him now, according to Sportsnet. The bigger question is what position will Galchenyuk play next season, center or wing? Montreal could use a big No. 1 center, but Bergevin outwardly questioned after last season if Galchenyuk will ever be a full-time center in the NHL.

MIKAEL GRANLUND, MINNESOTA WILD

Position: C

Previous cap charge: $1.325 million

Granlund had 39 points in 68 games last season after scoring 41 points in 63 games in 2013-14. He also went from being a minus-3 in 2013-14 to a plus-17. His possession numbers also went up to 52.45 shot-attempts percentage (SAT) last season from 48.45 percent in 2013-14. It's fair to assume his production will continue to rise along with his prominence on the Wild. He's expected to be Minnesota's No. 1 center on a line with Zach Parise.

BRADEN HOLTBY, WASHINGTON CAPITALS

Position: G

Previous cap charge: $1.85 million

Holtby's cap charge will go up significantly in his next contract after the way he played last season. He is the unquestioned No. 1 goaltender in Washington and one of the top goalies in the League. His next contract will reflect that. He had 41 wins, a 2.22 GAA, .923 save percentage and nine shutouts last season.

EVGENY KUZNETSOV, WASHINGTON CAPITALS

Position: C

Previous cap charge: $1.082 million

Kuznetsov appears to be the Capitals' No. 2 center of the present and future, at least for now. It is a fluid position, especially considering Washington had been searching for a center to play behind Nicklas Backstrom for several seasons. Kuznetsov, though, might have solidified himself in that spot with how he played down the stretch of the regular season and into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He had 13 points in his final 17 regular-season games and seven points, including five goals, in 14 games in the playoffs. Kuznetsov finished the season with 37 points in 80 games.

GUSTAV NYQUIST, DETROIT RED WINGS

Position: RW

Previous cap charge: $950,000

Nyquist had 54 points, including 27 goals on a 13.8 shooting percentage, in 82 games last season with the Red Wings. It's likely a better indication of the player he is than the previous season, when he scored 28 goals in 54 games on an 18.3 shooting percentage. There is no reason why Nyquist's production can't continue to climb. He's 25 years old, centers Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg can still play at elite levels, and the Red Wings' systems won't change too much under coach Jeff Blashill from what they were under Babcock.

BRANDON SAADCOLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

Position: LW

Previous cap charge: $764,167

Saad was traded to the Blue Jackets in a seven-player trade with the Blackhawks on Tuesday, but he could receive contract offers from other teams if he does not sign with Columbus by noon ET on Wednesday. Saad had 52 points, including 23 goals, in 82 games last season, then had 11 points, including eight goals, in 23 playoff games. He is 22 years old and already a two-time Stanley Cup champion.

DEREK STEPAN, NEW YORK RANGERS

Position: C

Previous cap charge: $3.075 million

Stepan is entrenched with Derick Brassard as the Rangers' top two centers. Brassard signed a five-year, $25 million contract last summer. That's a good barometer for Stepan's next contract. The difference is Stepan, unlike Brassard, is one of the Rangers' top penalty-killing forwards. That could be good for a minor bump from what Brassard is making. Stepan had 55 points in 68 games last season, and Brassard had 60 in 80.

VLADIMIR TARASENKO, ST. LOUIS BLUES

Position: RW

Previous cap charge: $1.75 million

The Blues won't let Tarasenko get away, not for an offer sheet, not for anything. He's too important to them. He's their top priority, as GM Doug Armstrong said after the season. He could be the NHL's next 50-goal scorer. He had 37 in 77 games last season, and followed it up with six goals in six games in the playoffs. He's 23 years old.

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