Are NHL Offer Sheets Coming in 2019?
The calendar hasn’t yet flipped to 2019 but already some pundits are speculating over which NHL players could become targeted for offer sheets from rival clubs.
Earlier this month, Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston claimed there’s a “strong belief” inside the industry that Matthews will be a prime offer-sheet target if unsigned by July 1. He also suggested Winnipeg Jets sniper Patrik Laine could receive one as well.
Johnston acknowledged Matthews and Laine would first have to agree to sign an offer sheet and there’s no certainty either guy will want to leave a contending team. Still, he considers it unlikely they would spurn a massive offer worth around $15 million annually.
His colleague Elliotte Friedman subsequently expressed his belief that offer sheets could be coming for several prime “grade-A candidates” next summer. While he didn’t elaborate who they were, he’s likely referring to guys like Matthews. Laine, Matthews’ teammate Mitch Marner and Tampa Bay Lightning center Brayden Point.
Limited salary-cap space for several teams carrying superstar RFAs is fuelling that speculation. Assuming an $83-million cap for next season as recently projected by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, the Leafs and Jets would each have over $26 million in cap space. While that seems like plenty of room, re-signing those young stars could take a big bite out of that cap space, leaving considerably less for other signings or roster additions.
With over $73 million invested in 15 players, the Lightning faces the tightest squeeze. Same goes for the Calgary Flames ($67 million committed to 14 players), who have a power forward in young Matthew Tkachuk due for a hefty pay bump.
Colorado Avalanche winger (and current NHL scoring leader) Mikko Rantanen will also be in line for a big raise next summer. While the Avs have plenty of cap room ($46 million tied up in 11 players) they might have a self-imposed cap lower than the league. If so, Rantanen would become a tempting target for an offer sheet.
Not everyone, however, believes we’ll see an offer-sheet signing next summer. TSN’s Bob McKenzie recently said he’ll believe it when he sees it because of so much previous talk on the subject that came to nothing.
McKenzie felt Ottawa Senators winger Mark Stone was a prime candidate last summer to get an offer sheet. Had Stone received a one-year offer and the Senators matched it, McKenzie pointed out they wouldn’t be allowed to trade him this season, thus risking Stone’s departure via free agency next July.
McKenzie said some teams are believed to have considered signing Stone but ultimately no one tried it.
In the NHL’s salary-cap era, offer sheets are rare occurrences. The last successful signing took place in 2007 when Dustin Penner left the Anaheim Ducks for the Edmonton Oilers. The last player to receive an offer sheet was then-Colorado Avalanche center Ryan O’Reilly in February 2013, inking a deal with the Calgary Flames that was quickly matched by the Avs.
Nearly two months ago, I examined the reasons why offer sheets seem to have gone the way of the dodo. An apparent reluctance to employ that tactic by management, fuelled by fear over having their own best players targeted, seems the main reason. Many players also appear disinterested in such deals.
In a recent interview, Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas said he’s not concerned about the issue. He pointed out that his club’s cap situation is set up to defend against offer sheet threats “with no worry at all.”
Dubas could intend to get Matthews and Marner re-signed before July 1. Or perhaps he’ll put his other re-signings on hold until he’s got both players under contract, ensuring sufficient cap space to match any offer. Or perhaps Dubas could shed a contract or two next summer to free up extra space.
Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, meanwhile, only has one young superstar to re-sign in Laine. Granted, re-upping Kyle Connor, Jacob Trouba and Tyler Myers won’t be cheap, but they’re not on the same level as Laine. If push came to shove, Cheveldayoff could pass on Trouba or Myers, or perhaps consider dumping a contract or two via trade.
Lighting GM Julien BriseBois will probably attempt to channel former GM Steve Yzerman’s wizardry at getting their top players to accept less than market value on Point. He’ll remind the youngster that Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Victor Hedman all passed up the opportunity to make bigger bucks elsewhere to remain in Tampa Bay.
If Matthews, Laine, Marner, and Point are unavailable, Tkachuk could become a more attractive offer-sheet option. Still, it’s unlikely a rival club will pony up over $10 million annually for him.
The threat of an offer sheet remains a possibility next summer but that doesn’t mean it’ll happen. All of those pending RFAs could be re-signed before July 1, or they could simply be uninterested in accepting offers from other clubs, or the general managers could maintain their unspoken “gentleman’s agreement” not to try poaching away each other’s best young talent.
As a wise man recently said, I’ll believe it when I see it.