Why Hasn’t An NHL Club Gone The Offer Sheet Route Yet?
Hurricanes sweep the Islanders, Stars push the Blues to the brink of elimination, an updated NHL offer sheet compensation list, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: The Carolina Hurricanes swept the New York Islanders with a 5-2 victory in Game 4 of their second-round series. Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen each had a goal and an assist while teammate Justin Williams collected his 100th career playoff point. The Hurricanes advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they await the winner of the Boston Bruins-Columbus Blue Jackets series.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: As with every game in this series, the injury-depleted Hurricanes did a fine job nullifying the Islanders’ offense and withstanding the physical play. They also had solid goaltending from Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney and cashed in on their offensive opportunities.
The Isles just couldn’t maintain any sustained offensive pressure on the banged-up Hurricanes in this series. Goalie Robin Lehner was pulled in Game 4 after the Hurricanes went up 3-1. He couldn’t be faulted for those goals as his defense let him down in this contest. Backup Thomas Greiss didn’t fare any better.
I’ll have more on what the offseason could have in store for the Isles in the rumors section.
Dallas Stars goaltender Ben Bishop made 38 saves (14 in the third period) backstopping his club to a 2-1 win over the St. Louis Blues. Jason Spezza and Esa Lindell scored for the Stars while Jaden Schwartz tallied for the Blues. The series returns to Dallas on Sunday with the Stars holding a 3-2 series lead.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Bishop was the star of this game for Dallas. Despite a costly giveaway resulting in Schwartz’s goal, he was otherwise flawless. He’s their playoff MVP thus far.
VANCOUVER SUN: Canucks winger Loui Eriksson recently told a Swedish publication he and head coach Travis Green “don’t get on 100 percent.” Eriksson’s tenure in Vancouver has been disappointing. He suggests Green isn’t giving him the same trust compared to other coaches in his career.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: That could provide fuel to recent speculation suggesting the Canucks swap Eriksson for Edmonton’s Milan Lucic. Bear in mind both players carry expensive contracts with no-trade protection.
From a roster standpoint, this move would be akin to swapping deck chairs on a sinking ship. Sure, both players could use a change but at this point in their careers, it’ll do little to improve their respective performances.
TAMPA BAY TIMES: The Lightning re-signed defenseman Jan Rutta to a one-year, one-way contract worth $1.3 million. Rutta was slated to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
TSN: Former NHL defenseman John Erskine was seriously injured in a car accident near Napanee, Ontario early Wednesday morning. Erskine “played 491 games in the NHL with the Dallas Stars, New York Islanders and Washington Capitals between 2001 and 2014.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Best wishes for a speedy recovery.
Offer sheet compensation has been set for 2019/20
$1,395,053 or below: None
$4,227,438-$6,341,152: 1st, 3rd
$6,341,153-$8,454,871: 1st, 2nd, 3rd
2 1sts , 2nd, 3rd
$10,568,590+: 4 1sts
— Gord Miller (@GMillerTSN) May 3, 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.
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.
More offer-sheet speculation, latest on the Flyers’ search for a goaltender and an update on Duncan Keith in today’s NHL rumor roundup.
RFAs “INTRIGUED” BY OFFER SHEETS?
SPORTSNET: Nick Kypreos reports many of next summer’s restricted free agents are “certainly intrigued” by offer sheets. While general managers, such as the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Kyle Dubas, believe that’s “white noise”, Kypreos believes behind the scenes there’s a number of teams talking to agents saying they’re willing to offer sheet their player. He adds that there’s a big difference between saying that at Christmas time and being brave enough to do so in July.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Kypreos was referring to Dubas after colleague Chris Johnston talked about the Leafs GM’s ongoing meetings with the agent for Mitch Marner. Johnston said Marner might prefer waiting until the offseason to talk contract, as well as wait and see what happens with fellow RFA Austin Matthews.
In recent weeks, Marner and Matthews have become the subject of growing media conjecture suggesting one or both could be offer-sheeted if still unsigned come July. While it’s certainly possible, it’s also far too early to start speculating about it. We don’t know what Dubas has in store for both guys but we do know he’s unconcerned about an offer-sheet scenario, pointing to how his salary-cap structure is set up to defend against that threat. He also has sufficient cap space to re-sign both before July 1, rendering all of this chatter meaningless.
It’s also worth remembering offer sheets are increasingly rare, with the last one signed in 2013 (Ryan O’Reilly) and the last successful signing (Dustin Penner) taking place in 2007. As Kypreos suggests, all of this offer-sheet talk now could come to nothing by next summer.
FLYERS GOALIE SEARCH
SPORTSNET: Nick Kypreos reports it’s no secret the Philadelphia Flyers are shopping around for a veteran goaltender. He said there’s “some link” between the Flyers and Los Angeles Kings netminder Jonathan Quick. He doesn’t believe they’re in contract talks but thinks there’s been “a conversation”. He adds he wouldn’t be surprised if those links heat up in the new year.
NBC SPORTS: Tom Dougherty took note of Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky’s performance during a 4-3 win over the Flyers on Saturday. He cited recent rumors claiming the Flyers could pursue Bobrovsky next summer if he tests the unrestricted free agent market. While bringing the former Flyer back to Philadelphia would be expensive, Dougherty believes Bobrovsky would be a worthwhile bridge to Carter Hart, taking the pressure off the youngster while allowing him time to develop his game.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Quick, who turns 33 next month, is signed through 2022-23 with a $5.8-million annual average value and lacking no-trade protection, so I’m not sure what Kypreos was referring to regarding “contract talks”. Maybe he’s talking about the Kings picking up part of Quick’s annual cap hit?
Quick would be cheaper than Bobrovsky but he’s also older and has a long history of lower-body injuries. While I understand the Flyers’ need for an experienced starter to allow Hart more time to develop his game, Quick could become yet another in a long line of risky quick-fix options.
Bobrovsky, 30, is healthier than Quick but could be much more expensive to acquire. He will certainly seek top dollar next summer as the league’s only active multiple Vezina Trophy winner. His playoff record, however, leaves something to be desired.
KEITH DISILLUSIONED IN CHICAGO?
TORONTO SUN: Steve Simmons reports a source close to Duncan Keith claims the long-time Blackhawks defenseman is “disillusioned” in Chicago. Simmons wonders if the 34-year-old would be a perfect fit on the Maple Leafs blueline. “He’s got lots left,” the source said. Would you try to get him if you were the Leafs, I asked. “In a second,” was the answer.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: No word of Keith’s supposed disillusionment in the Blackhawks has surfaced in the Chicago media this season. He’d have to waive his no-movement clause for any club to acquire him via trade.
Will the Blackhawks make another notable move this summer? Will there be an end to the offer-sheet drought? Find out in today’s installment of your NHL rumor mill.
NO BIG MOVES COMING THIS SUMMER FOR THE BLACKHAWKS?
CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Mark Lazerus reports help might not be coming to the Chicago Blackhawks this summer. Despite freeing up salary-cap room by shipping Marian Hossa’s contract last week to the Arizona Coyotes, general manager Stan Bowman “sounded as though he has come up empty-handed” in making bigger moves while speaking with the local press yesterday. He did leave the door open for a late-summer or early-fall deal once teams have evaluated their rosters during preseason play.
Lazerus believes Bowman would love to land a winger for Patrick Kane’s line or a defense partner for Duncan Keith. However, he’s not going to part with promising young forwards Nick Schmaltz and Alex DeBrincat to do so. The recent return of Marcus Kruger could make center Artem Anisimov expendable but Lazerus doubts they’ll get much for him except more cap space, which they already have.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Rumors linked the Blackhawks to Carolina Hurricanes left wing Jeff Skinner and defenseman Justin Faulk, as well as Montreal Canadiens left wing Max Pacioretty. Lazerus ponders the possibility of the asking price for one of those players dropping later on in 2018-19.
It’s obvious Bowman doesn’t want to part with key pieces of his club’s future (Schmaltz or DeBrincat) to bring in a veteran forward (Skinner or Pacioretty) who could depart via free agency next summer or a defenseman such as Faulk, even though he’s signed through 2019-20. It would be best to wait and see if the asking prices drop for those guys, but Bowman cannot sacrifice his good young players for quick fixes.
The Blackhawks must restock their roster with young talent capable of eventually replacing their veteran core players down the road. If that means missing the playoffs or becoming a marginal postseason contender for the next two or three years, so be it.
NHL OFFER SHEET DROUGHT LIKELY TO CONTINUE
THE ATHLETIC: Craig Custance reports the recent drought of NHL offer sheets isn’t likely to end this summer. In an informal straw poll of nine NHL general managers, none believed we’ll see an offer sheet this summer. “I just don’t see where a team could get a player without the team matching,” said one Western Conference GM.
“In the NHL’s salary cap era, there have been eight offer sheets. All but one (Dustin Penner) was matched,” observed Custance. The last offer sheet came in 2013, when the Colorado Avalanche matched one signed by Ryan O’Reilly with the Calgary Flames.
Custance noted a list compiled by colleague Jonathan Willis of attractive offer sheet targets, such as “Calgary’s Noah Hanifin, Detroit’s Dylan Larkin, Winnipeg’s Nic Petan, Edmonton’s Darnell Nurse and Toronto’s William Nylander.” However, he believes we shouldn’t hold our breath expecting any of those players to sign one this summer.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Custance pointed out general managers don’t like them because they drive up salaries without actually landing the player, team owners aren’t comfortable going that route, and players often instruct their agents to get a deal done with their respective teams.
He noted there are several theories that could improve the odds (better compensation, targeting teams that don’t offer signing bonuses or young players looking for opportunities elsewhere). Even those, however, aren’t likely to considerable increase the number of offer sheets.