NHL Rumor Mill – March 8, 2019
Could offer sheets become a genuine concern this summer for teams with restricted free agent stars? Find out in today’s NHL rumor mill.
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required) Pierre LeBrun recently examined the possibility that a restricted free agent could sign an offer sheet this summer. The last one occurred in 2013 when then-Colorado Avalanche center Ryan O’Reilly inked one with the Calgary Flames, which the Avs quickly matched.
LeBrun points out this summer’s crop of restricted free agents includes young stars such as Carolina’s Sebastian Aho, Tampa Bay’s Brayden Point, Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine, Colorado’s Mikko Rantanen, Toronto’s Mitch Marner, Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk, and Vancouver’s Brock Boeser. He also noted clubs like Lightning, Maple Leafs, and Jets could be squeezed for salary-cap space for 2019-20, though their respective managements indicate they’re prepared to match any offer.
LeBrun reminds us teams must have sufficient depth in draft picks and salary-cap space to pitch an offer sheet, while the targeted player must be willing to sign one. He wondered if a team like the Arizona Coyotes or New York Islanders might take the plunge. LeBrun also suggested that, instead of targetting the top-tier RFAs, perhaps a second-tier talent like Toronto’s Kasperi Kapanen becomes singled out for an offer sheet.
TSN: cited Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin told LeBrun he believes teams at risk of missing the playoffs are unwilling to risk parting with non-lottery protected draft picks to sign a restricted free agent. “Maybe one of the reasons it hasn’t been done in a long time is because with the draft lottery the way it is now, the bubble teams, those could be lottery picks,’’ Bergevin said. “That player makes you better but does it make you that much better where you know you’re going to be a shoo-in to make the playoffs?”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Each summer brings speculation suggesting a top restricted free agent could sign an offer sheet. This year’s big crop of RFA talent certainly provides tempting targets.
However, there’s no certainty most of those players will be available before the free-agent market opens in July. Some teams with RFA talent, such as Carolina, Colorado, and Vancouver, have plenty of cap space to match any offer. Those with limited cap space could take that player to arbitration solely to prevent him from receiving an offer sheet, with the two sides then agreeing to a new contract before the scheduled arbitration hearing.
Some suggest a club could target a team with limited cap space for an offer sheet to force them to match and screw up their salary-cap payroll. However, I don’t see any NHL GM being that cunning. Most are like Bergevin, who said he doesn’t believe in pitching an offer sheet simply for the sake of doing so.
While I don’t doubt the sincerity of the general managers with limited cap space when they say they’ll match any offer, there’s no guarantee that threat will be an effective deterrent. A rival with the cap space and available draft picks could test them. Still, the fact we haven’t seen an offer sheet since 2013 suggests those with cap restraints aren’t feeling threatened by that tactic.
It still comes down to the player. Most prefer re-signing with their current teams and don’t want any unnecessary distractions during contract negotiations. For all the talk of how much influence player agents have over their clients, they certainly haven’t held much sway regarding offer sheets.
An offer sheet is always a possibility and would certainly make the free-agent market more interesting, especially when the frenzy of early-July UFA signings have passed. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t get my hopes up expecting to see one this summer.