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For years, the NHL's collective bargaining agreement allowed its teams the option of signing restricted free agents. But for a long time, such signing attempts only happened once in a blue moon.

Most teams don't want to risk shelling out valuable first-round picks as compensation, while NHL general managers - a close-knit group for the most part - quietly thought it was an unwritten rule that you didn't sign Group II players.

But with three attempts (Ryan Kesler, Thomas Vanek, Dustin Penner) to sign restricted free agents over the last two summers and an NHL game that is increasingly geared towards building with young and budding talent, the league could be on the verge of a new offseason frenzy that goes beyond the usual menu of trades and UFA signings.

That being said, check out TSN.ca's Most Wanted - a list of high-profile Group II players that any NHL general manager may want to take a chance on.

Pierre-Marc Bouchard

P-M BOUCHARD

Why you would want to hand him an offer sheet: Bouchard has improved his play and his statistics each season since entering the league in 2002 and has established himself as a great playmaker. But with 13 regulars signed for about $32 million, Brian Rolston and Pavol Demitra hitting the open market and forward Marian Gaborik possibly testing the free agent frenzy next summer, the team could be in a payroll bind. Bear in mind, the cap is a ceiling and even if it reaches $56 million next season a team doesn't have to meet it as long as it reaches the salary floor. The Wild won't have an issue with the floor, but the team, like most others in the league, could still have a spending budget below the ceiling.

Not So Fast: As it stands, Bouchard is the Wild's No. 1 centre going into next season and GM Doug Riseborough is intent on locking him up as he hits his prime. Getting Bouchard under contract could come at the expense of losing Demitra or Rolston, but it would be worth the risk if he builds on his already-solid numbers.


Jay Bouwmeester

JAY BOUWMEESTER

Why you would want to hand him an offer sheet: A big, puck-moving defenceman that plays well at both ends of the ice is always a premium in the NHL, and Bouwmeester is already a complete player in that regard. The Alberta native could be poised to land a bigger deal than those of teammates Nathan Horton and Stephen Weiss, and any outside offer at an obscene price could have GM Jacques Martin thinking twice.

Not So Fast: Bouwmeester is not only the best defenceman on his team, but also arguably the best player not named Tomas Vokoun. Simply put, the Panthers can't afford to lose him from their young roster. Also, Martin has done very well signing key players like Horton (six-year deal), Weiss (six-year deal) and Bryan Allen (five-year deal) so there's no reason to believe he won't beat another GM to the punch in signing his top blueliner.


Valtteri Filppula

VALTTERI FILPPULA

Why you would want to hand him an offer sheet: Filppula could be the Dustin Penner of the offseason - a young, Stanley Cup-seasoned forward with a lot of upside. While he doesn't score the way Penner does (at least not right now), he was Detroit's most dangerous player on some nights, scoring big goals and playing a strong defensive game against forward Evgeni Malkin in the final.

Not So Fast: With an impressive 2008 playoff run, the good news keeps coming for the Wings next season. All their core players are locked up for puck drop in October, with defenceman Brad Stuart being the only prominent UFA to consider. It's also tough to sign a player like Filppula (with just 19 goals and 36 points this past season) and try to predict how he'll progress over the next few seasons. His overall game is very impressive, but the stats make it tough to put a firm dollar amount on him. If a potential offer comes in low, the Wings should have no issue matching it. Also, Filppula helped a bit in Detroit's effort to sign free-agent centre Ville Leino, bringing in another Finn and signifying Filppula's willingness to stay.


Mike Green

MIKE GREEN

Why you would want to hand him an offer sheet: How much would you offer a third-year defenceman who went from 12 points and minus-10 in 2006-07 to 56 points (7th in the league) in 2007-08? That's a very tough question for general manager George McPhee as he goes to the bargaining table, and it would be an easy for another team to jump in and provide the answer for him.

Not So Fast: With 16 regulars locked up for next season at about $31 million, McPhee has room to move. Also, no blueliner on the roster provided nearly as much offence from the point as Green did this past season. Case in point: Tom Poti was the next most productive defenceman with 29 points, followed by Jeff Schultz with 18. The Capitals got a great taste of the postseason in 2008, and needs Green in their lineup if they want to improve towards building a contender around Alexander Ovechkin.


Andrei Kostitsyn

ANDREI KOSTITSYN

Why you would want to hand him an offer sheet: Kostitsyn enjoyed a breakout year in 2007-08, playing on Montreal's No. 1 line with Alex Kovalev and Tomas Plekanec. He was a human highlight reel on most nights, dazzling even the most fickle Hab fans with his skating and stick work. With 29 goals and 53 points in his first full NHL season, he has the potential to be an elite scorer.

Not So Fast: The Canadiens have about $31 million committed to 14 regulars next year, with Kostitsyn being the 'toughest' of their RFA's to sign. Josh Gorges, Mikhail Grabovski, Maxim Lapierre, Ryan O'Byrne and Jaroslav Halak aren't cornerstones the way Kostitsyn is just yet, and aside from unrestricted free agent Mark Streit, the team shouldn't have any big problems keeping their core together. Kostitsyn has already stated that he's happy playing in Montreal and wants to stay, and having younger brother Sergei around is a big incentive to do so.


Pascal Leclaire

PASCAL LECLAIRE

Why you would want to hand him an offer sheet: After years of development and growing pains, Leclaire has emerged as the bonafide starter the Jackets expected him to be when they took him eighth overall in the 2001 draft. The 25-year-old went 24-17-6 this season and tied for the NHL lead with nine shutouts with a struggling Columbus team that has yet to make the playoffs. A big, fat offer sheet for Leclaire could be a head scratcher for GM Scott Howson and make him think long and hard about Fredrik Norrena taking the reins.

Not So Fast: Howson has refuted reports that negotiations aren't going well between the two sides. As of late May, he already sent a few contract scenarios for Leclaire and his agent Don Meehan to consider so the offer sheet process likely won't happen. The team also has about 15 regulars locked up for next season at about $22 million, with Rick Nash being the only 'big money' player with a $5.4 million cap hit. Not only will the team have no problem signing Leclaire, but they'll also have room - if the budget allows it - to add a good free agent or two.


Andrej Meszaros

ANDREJ MESZAROS

Why you would want to hand him an offer sheet: Meszaros has been solid on the Senators' blueline for the last three years, with an impressive plus-34 in his rookie campaign and averaging just over 36 points a season. The 23-year-old puts in Top 4 minutes and even logged in 'No. 1' minutes during this past season. That being said, another team could gamble on a giant offer sheet and give GM Bryan Murray a tough time juggling a payroll weighted heavily towards the Big Three of Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza.

Not So Fast: With roughly $20 million committed to the Big Three forwards next season, the Senators' saving grace could come if a) soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Wade Redden signs for less money to stay in Ottawa, or b) Redden signs a lucrative deal with another team. Some money has also been freed up with the departure of goaltender Ray Emery. Either way, it's difficult imagining the Sens letting him go. Meszaros is arguably the team's best all-around blueliner.


Corey Perry

COREY PERRY

Why you would want to hand him an offer sheet: Perry has been a prime time contributor everywhere he's played over the last three years. He won a gold medal with Canada's world juniors and a Memorial Cup with London in 2005, a Stanley Cup with the Ducks last year, and led Anaheim in goals and power play goals this past season despite missing 12 games. You normally can't buy experience like this, but you can this summer.

Not So Fast: Thanks to the CBA's 'tagging' rule, the Ducks have a bit of a cushion for next season's payroll to fit Perry under the assumed $56 million cap. They also gave Scott Niedermayer and soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Teemu Selanne an end-of-June deadline on whether or not they'll stick around for another year. If they don't, that opens even more room for Anaheim to lock up their young star. And after what happened with Dustin Penner last season, do you want to be written into Brian Burke's bad book?


Joni Pitkanen

JONI PITKANEN

Why you would want to hand him an offer sheet: Drop the speculation of a two-on-one revenge match with Darcy Regier and Brian Burke taking on Kevin Lowe. Pitkanen didn't exactly have a banner year in 2007-08, missing 19 games with injuries and scoring a career-low 26 points. Budding blueliner Tom Gilbert recently signed a six-year, $24 million deal, and the Finnish defenceman won't be getting that kind of money from the Oilers. If another team is willing to give Pitkanen a big offer and bank on the chance that the 24-year-old will blossom, Lowe might just settle for a draft pick and use the cap room to focus on Marty Reasoner, Jarret Stoll and Curtis Glencross.

Not So Fast: Pitkanen is still young, full of potential and has plenty of time to develop. If an offer sheet-scenario comes up, the Oilers could end up matching it if the price is right. If Gilbert pulls in $24 million for six years, it could be tough for a rival GM to offer Pitkanen anything close to that.


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Western Conference

(1) COL 2, (WC) MIN 0 (1) ANA 2, (WC) DAL 0
(2) STL 2, (3) CHI 0 (2) SJ 1, (3) LA 0


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(2) TAM 0, (3) MON 2 (2) NYR 1, (3) PHI 0


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