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Offer-sheet candidates, the top of L.A.'s lineup, and 4 other NHL items

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Next season will be the 20th of the NHL's salary-cap era. Only 10 offer sheets have been signed in that time, eight of them between 2006-2013.

In 2021, Jesperi Kotkaniemi joined the Hurricanes after the Canadiens opted not to match the predatory offer sheet tabled by Carolina. Montreal had tried to pry franchise forward Sebastian Aho out of Carolina with an offer sheet three years earlier, so the Kotkaniemi saga was Part 2 of a two-part feud.

While it seems unlikely we'll get offer-sheet chaos this offseason, all it takes is one bold general manager and one restricted free agent looking for a change to stop the hockey world in its tracks. That in mind, let's dream for a moment. Here are three restricted free agents with decent offer-sheet cases.

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Cole Perfetti, Jets forward: The 2020 10th overall pick was scratched multiple times near the end of the regular season and for the first four contests of Winnipeg's five-game postseason loss to Colorado. The man making those lineup decisions, Rick Bowness, announced his retirement earlier this week. So, Perfetti might be looking at a clean slate with the Jets.

Still, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has only $13.4 million in 2024-25 cap space to fill three-to-five roster spots, while a slew of regulars are set to become unrestricted free agents. Who stays from the list of Tyler Toffoli, Sean Monahan, Dylan DeMelo, Brenden Dillon, Colin Miller, and Laurent Brossoit? A rival executive could try to make Cheveldayoff's life difficult by wooing Perfetti, who's in line to earn $3 million-$4 million per year on a bridge deal. Would $5.5 million do it? The high-IQ forward has produced, recording 75 points over 140 career games despite averaging just 14:10 of ice a night.

Anton Lundell, Panthers forward: The 22-year-old Finn has blossomed into a reliable two-way center since making his NHL debut in 2021-22. While Panthers fans might argue Lundell hasn't fully lived up to the hype offensively, he has untapped potential and also suits coach Paul Maurice's system well.

Where the offer-sheet curiosity comes in: a whopping 11 players on Florida's 27-man playoff roster are pending UFAs. Some are inconsequential. Others, such as Vladimir Tarasenko, Nick Cousins, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and Anthony Stolarz are important but replaceable. Then there's 57-goal scorer Sam Reinhart and top-four defenseman Brandon Montour. Panthers GM Bill Zito has $19.7 million in 2024-25 space and massive calls to make. Lundell's in the same ballpark as Perfetti - $3 million-$4 million a year on a bridge deal.

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Jeremy Swayman, Bruins goalie: OK, before Bruins fans freak out, yes, I know Swayman's a stud; in the middle of a stellar postseason; and, in all likelihood, Boston's starter for the next handful of seasons. But maybe - just maybe - Swayman would entertain a Godfather offer (such as a yearly salary 50% higher than his actual market value) from a desperate GM salivating at the Conn Smythe Trophy-caliber goaltending he's watching on TV right now.

If the money's undeniable and Swayman believes the prospective club can provide a long-term home, the door creaks open. Bruins GM Don Sweeney would then have a decision to make: overpay Swayman, or receive significant draft-pick compensation and ride Linus Ullmark as the No. 1 moving forward.

It's a wild scenario. But if a rival really wants to make a splash, this is it.

Stars need D-man solution ASAP

The Stars are apparently conducting two experiments in the second round.

How many times can a team tempt fate by earning a big early lead before allowing the high-octane Avalanche to claw back? Dallas failed the test in Game 1 and lost 4-3 in overtime. It succeeded in Game 2 with a 5-3 victory.

The second experiment: Can a team advance to the conference finals while essentially playing just five defensemen? Nils Lundkvist, who's drawn into the lineup because of Jani Hakanpaa's indefinite absence, is logging 4:35 a night through nine playoff games. The least he's played so far is 1:09. The most he's played is 10 minutes.

"It's a gauntlet of great teams and there's nowhere to hide," Dallas coach Pete DeBoer said of Lundkvist and his low usage while addressing reporters ahead of Round 2.

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DeBoer's concerns about Lundkvist's defensive play are reasonable. The offensive blue-liner is unreliable off the puck, and if any team will expose a weaker defender, it's the Avs, who are a nightmare in transition.

Yet it's unsustainable to rely so heavily on five blue-liners. The top four guys - Miro Heiskanen, Thomas Harley, Chris Tanev, and Esa Lindell - can shoulder a heavier workload, but Ryan Suter, Lundkvist's partner on the third pair, is another story. He can't handle 19 hard minutes this deep into his career.

There's no easy solution here (eighth defenseman Derrick Pouliot isn't a great alternative). However, Lundkvist's confidence should be in a healthy place after a strong Game 2 that featured a nifty assist on the Stars' second goal. This may be DeBoer's best chance to give him a longer leash, even through gritted teeth.

Kings' top-of-lineup issue

The Kings lost to the Oilers in the first round for the third year in a row, this time in five games. The fact that Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty remain the club's best players at their respective positions makes the early exit worse.

To be clear, it's a good thing that Kopitar, 36, and Doughty, 34, are still playing at near-elite levels. Bucking the aging curve is a feature of this roster, not a bug.

The duo's standout play underlines the Kings' lack of difference-makers and how GM Rob Blake has failed to build a robust young core around them despite being unafraid of pursuing notable names on the trade market.

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Kevin Fiala and Pierre-Luc Dubois were acquired in separate trades over the past two years. Both forwards had star potential but haven't lived up to expectations. The main pieces moved by L.A. in those deals - defenseman Brock Faber, who's now in Minnesota, and forward Gabe Vilardi, now in Winnipeg - are the ones with the high ceilings. Meanwhile, 2019 No. 5 overall pick Alex Turcotte is flirting with being a bust if he doesn't break out next season.

Again, where are the stars? (And, no, Adrian Kempe doesn't quite qualify.)

It's possible Quinton Byfield and Brandt Clarke, both 21, blossom into full-fledged stars. (Byfield's already an impact NHLer.) But the chances are slim that their primes will overlap with the final productive years for Kopitar and Doughty. In the end, Byfield and Clarke might simply replace the veterans in the hierarchy and be the ones without enough help at the top of the lineup.

In other words, Blake and the Kings could be stuck in a vicious cycle.

Parting shots

Elusive greatness: A colleague recently made an observation about the 2010 draft: Unlike most others, there isn't a single pick with a bulletproof case to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. No. 1 Taylor Hall won the 2018 Hart Trophy. No. 2 Tyler Seguin leads the class in assists and points. Jeff Skinner leads in games played and goals. Cam Fowler and Frederik Andersen have enjoyed the best careers among the defensemen and goalies (which is not a compliment!). And … that's about it - for now, anyway. There's still runway for these 32-year-olds. Mark Stone's the biggest "what if." While he's looked like a future Hall of Famer for stretches, Stone's been limited to 640 games due to injuries, and he's missed out on winning the Selke Trophy in part due to the bias against wingers. The 2011 draft produced Nikita Kucherov; 2009 produced Victor Hedman; 2008 produced Steven Stamkos, Drew Doughty, and Erik Karlsson; 2007 produced Patrick Kane. Yeah, you get the point.

VGK O.G.: From undrafted to Conn Smythe winner and owner of numerous franchise records, Jonathan Marchessault is one of the NHL's all-time success stories. It won't be easy for the cap-strapped Golden Knights to re-sign the pending unrestricted free agent, who's fresh off a 42-goal season. AFP Analytics projects a three-year deal carrying an average annual value of $6.3 million for Marchessault. Evolving Hockey projects the same term but a slightly higher AAV - $6.9 million. If Marchessault and Vegas can't get on the same page, I like the idea of the Quebec City native playing for Martin St. Louis in Montreal. Marchessault, 33, was one of five original Golden Knights on this year's roster (six if you include Zach Whitecloud, who appeared in one game for the 2017-18 squad). The other VGK originals: William Karlsson, Shea Theodore, Brayden McNabb, and another pending UFA, William Carrier.

Pinto watch: The IIHF world championship, which begins Friday in Czechia, should do a better job capturing the attention of NHL fans than in years past. The Canadian and U.S. rosters are filled with youngsters, including teenagers Connor Bedard, Will Smith, and Ryan Leonard. Shane Pinto, 23, isn't the biggest name on Team USA, yet he may benefit the most from the tournament. The right-handed center, who put up 27 points in 41 games for the Senators after returning from a suspension for violating the NHL's gambling policies, could use the extra ice time against pros. Pinto, an RFA, generates a ton of scoring chances off the forecheck. International play doesn't technically factor into negotiations, but if Pinto performs well, the Sens will feel a little more confident about a medium- or long-term extension.

Takes, Thoughts, and Trends is theScore's biweekly hockey grab bag.

John Matisz is theScore's senior NHL writer. Follow John on Twitter (@MatiszJohn) or contact him via email (

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