The Myth of the NHL Offer Sheet Continues…
Update on Jake Gardiner, three teams that should go the offer-sheet route, and the latest Sabres speculation in today’s NHL rumor mill.
LATEST ON JAKE GARDINER
NBC SPORTS: Former Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner topped Scott Billeck’s list of five potential value unrestricted free agents. Wingers Justin Williams, Michael Ferland, Ryan Dzingel, and Patrick Maroon completed the list.
Reports indicate Gardiner is seeking $7 million per season. Billeck suggests the 28-year-old rearguard is pricing himself out of range of cap-strapped teams (like the Winnipeg Jets) that could benefit from his services. He suggests the New Jersey Devils make a pitch. He and the recent acquisition of P.K. Subban would make the Devils’ blueline more formidable.
YAHOO SPORTS: Justin Cuthbert wonders if the cooling UFA market might make it possible for the Leafs to bring back Gardiner at a reduced rate. It’s assumed the blueliner could accept less than market value to return to Toronto. Given the ongoing uncertainty over Mitch Marner’s new contract, Cuthbert feels the Leafs would have to shed salary via trade to sign Gardiner to a less-expensive contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: There are teams, like the Devils, with sufficient cap space to sign Gardiner. Those who could use him, however, could be hoping to get him for much less than $7-million annually.
As for returning to the Leafs, I don’t see how that’s possible right now. General manager Kyle Dubas has done a fine job this summer making moves to bolster his roster and free up salary-cap room. The Marner situation, however, could make signing Gardiner a bridge too far.
THREE TEAMS THAT SHOULD GO THE OFFER-SHEET ROUTE
THE SCORE: Josh Wegman suggests the Colorado Avalanche, New Jersey Devils, and Carolina Hurricanes should attempt to sign a top restricted free agent to an offer sheet. He points out the Avalanche and Devils have the cap space to sign Toronto’s Mitch Marner to an offer worth an annual average value of $12 million.
The addition of Marner could push the Avalanche into Stanley Cup contender status. Bringing Marner to the Devils could convince Taylor Hall to stay in New Jersey. Given their respective depth in young talent, the two clubs could afford to part with four first-round picks as compensation to the Leafs.
Wegman admits there’s a low possibility of the Hurricanes signing a player to an offer sheet after matching one for Sebastian Aho from the Montreal Canadiens. However, he points out they have sufficient cap payroll room to target someone like Washington’s Jakub Vrana. They also have depth in draft picks to part with second- and third-round picks as compensation.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Interesting suggestions by Wegman, though it remains to be seen if those three clubs will go that route. While Sakic signed an offer sheet as a player, he reportedly isn’t a fan of them as a general manager.
Sakic’s in an enviable cap position and could prefer not tying up too much of his long-term cap space. He also has to re-sign RFA Mikko Rantanen, who could cost over $9 million annually.
Cap Friendly indicates the Devils have over $20-million in cap room. However, they’re trying to re-sign Hall to a long-term deal. Nico Hischier will need a new contract next summer. GM Ray Shero likely wants to ensure he’s got sufficient room for both.
As for the Hurricanes, I don’t see them doing an offer sheet. But if they did, the Canadiens would be their likely target. That move could be two or three years down the road when one of the Habs younger players, like Max Domi and Jersperi Kotkaniemi, become RFAs.
MORE MOVES AHEAD FOR THE SABRES?
THE BUFFALO NEWS: After shipping Alexander Nylander to Chicago for defenseman Henri Jokiharju, Lance Lysowski speculates the Sabres might not be done in the trade market. He points out the Sabres have around $6.6-million in salary-cap space and need scoring help. “With the free-agent market mostly picked over, the Sabres could theoretically trade from their defense corps to add a top-six forward, specifically a second-line center.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen is a frequent topic of trade chatter this off-season. This latest move should stoke that speculation.
Updates on Phil Kessel, four possible offer-sheet targets, and the latest on Andrei Markov in today’s NHL rumor mill.
NBC SPORTS: Adam Gretz is puzzled by Minnesota Wild general manager Paul Fenton’s attempt to acquire Phil Kessel. Fenton reportedly offered up forwards Jason Zucker and Victor Rask to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Kessel and defenseman Jack Johnson. Kessel, however, declined to waive his no-trade clause, in part because he doesn’t consider the Wild a Stanley Cup contender.
Gretz believed Fenton’s proposed deal runs counter to the moves the Wild GM made during the season. He shipped out veterans Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, and Mikael Granlund for younger, affordable players. His effort to acquire Kessel would be shipping out younger players for aging veterans.
TRIBLIVE.COM: NBC Sports analyst Jeremy Roenick claims Kessel will waive his no-trade clause for only one team. “I know where he wants to go and we’ll see if he gets that option,” Roenick told 550 AM in Buffalo. “He does want to go west. There is one team that he does want to go play for, and I don’t think he’ll stand for anything less.”
Roenick didn’t name that team, only hinting it’s in the American southwest. That appears to be the Arizona Coyotes, who’ve been linked to Kessel in the rumor mill.
SPORTSDAY: Josh Lile wonders if Kessel would make sense for the Dallas Stars. He believes they should at least look into that possibility. They can afford his $6.8-million salary-cap hit and he could provide them with some much-needed scoring depth. The return, however, could be a problem. Lile points out the Stars lack a player like Minnesota’s Jason Zucker to offer up to the Penguins.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: If social media is anything to go by, most Wild fans are relieved that Kessel put the kibosh on that proposed deal. Gretz wasn’t the only person perplexed by Fenton’s supposed pitch for Kessel. If the Wild was one veteran scorer away from winning the Stanley Cup, it would’ve made sense. But they’re nowhere near that status.
Core forwards Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, and Eric Staal are in their mid-thirties and their best years are behind them. Taking on the 31-year-old Kessel and the three years remaining on his contract would’ve made them older and wouldn’t have led to any significant cap savings.
As Roenick suggests, the Coyotes could be Kessel’s preferred destination. However, I think the Penguins would want a good young forward (hello there, Clayton Keller) in return. Kessel’s cap hit could also be a concern for the Coyotes.
The Stars could use Kessel’s scoring punch. However, there’s no indication they’re on his eight-team trade list.
TOP OFFER-SHEET TARGETS
THE HOCKEY NEWS: Jared Clinton lists Toronto Maple Leafs forwards Mitch Marner and Kasperi Kapanen, Tampa Bay Lightning center Brayden Points, and Vegas Golden Knights center William Karlsson as prime offer-sheet targets. They play for teams with limited salary-cap space for 2019-20.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Clubs with plenty of cap room next season, like the Carolina Hurricanes, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, and Philadelphia Flyers could make a pitch for one of those four this summer. Nevertheless, it remains to be seen if somebody will go that route. Every summer, we hear conjecture about offer sheets but such deals never materialize.
As Leafs super-fan Steve Dangle observes, if an offer sheet signing is going to happen, this is the best time to do it. If it doesn’t happen, however, he believes we should all agree to never, ever, talk about them again. I can get behind that.
Former #Habs defenceman Andrei Markov has received contract offers from three NHL teams and one KHL team.
— Andrew Zadarnowski (@AZadarski) May 28, 2019
Latest Erik Karlsson speculation, possible free-agent targets for the Avalanche, and seven clubs that could threaten an offer sheet in today’s NHL rumor mill.
LATEST KARLSSON SPECULATION
SPORTSNET 960: Chris Johnston last week suggested San Jose Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson could be “this year’s John Tavares”. In other words, he could garner as much attention in this year’s free-agent market as Tavares did a year ago. Johnston doubts Karlsson will re-sign with the Sharks, though he might fall in love with the area and wish to stay.
Johnston suggests the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning as potential suitors. The latter, however, must shed considerable salary to fit him under their cap. Before this season, it was assumed Karlsson would get a deal comparable to Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings. The blueliner’s recent injury history, however, could affect his value.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Karlsson’s health prompted Frank Seravalli to rank him second among this season’s UFA class, behind Columbus’ Artemi Panarin.
Cap Friendly indicates the Sharks have over $58.2 million invested in 15 players. Karlsson, Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Gustav Nyquist, and Joonas Donskoi are their noteworthy unrestricted free agents. Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc are their notable restricted free agents.
I anticipate the Sharks will re-sign Pavelski, Thornton, Meier, and Labanc. That won’t leave much for Karlsson, especially if he seeks top dollar this summer.
Karlsson’s spate of injuries dates back to 2017 when he had offseason heel surgery. This season, a nagging groin injury sidelined the 28-year-old defenseman for 29 games in the regular season. It’s also hindered his play in the Western Conference Final. If he hits the open market there will still be plenty of interest in him. However, the suitors could prefer a short-term deal for less than $11 million per season.
Maybe the Rangers kick the tires on Karlsson but their interest could be in younger, more affordable options like Winnipeg’s Jacob Trouba. The Lightning had serious interest in Karlsson last summer. But with center Brayden Point in line for a big raise and over $74 million already tied up in 17 players, the Bolts lack the room for Karlsson now.
POSSIBLE AVALANCHE FREE-AGENT TARGETS
SPORTSNET: Rory Boylen noted Colorado Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic intends to be aggressive in this year’s free-agent market. Boylen lists Dallas’s Mats Zuccarello, San Jose’s Gustav Nyquist, and the Islanders’ Anders Lee as possible UFA targets.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Avs have over $45.9 million committed to 13 players for 2019-20. Several players, including Mikko Rantanen, Alex Kerfoot, and Nikita Zadorov, are restricted free agents due for raises this summer. After re-signing those RFAs, Sakic will still have plenty of cap space to invest in the UFA market.
Lee would be the best of the bunch but I expect he’ll re-sign with the Isles. Same for Zuccarello with the Stars. Nyquist, however, could be available.
SPORTSNET: Luke Fox recently listed the New York Islanders, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils, Carolina Hurricanes, Arizona Coyotes, and Buffalo Sabres as seven clubs that could offer-sheet a superstar this summer. He indicates they all have plenty of salary-cap space to make such a move.
Fox noted Isles GM Lou Lamoriello is ruthless. He wondered if new Wings GM Steve Yzerman might consider an offer sheet as a means to quickly put his stamp on the team. Given the Canadiens’ difficulty in attracting top UFA talent to Montreal, Fox believes the offer sheet must be considered.
Devils GM Ray Shero could make a splash this summer after failing to do so last year. Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon is seen as a wild card. The Coyotes are in dire need of scoring punch. If the Sabres fail to re-sign Jeff Skinner they’ll need a new winger for center Jack Eichel.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Lamoriello is ruthless but he’s never gone the offer-sheet route before. Given his cap space, I expect he’ll stick to the trade and UFA markets to bolster his roster. Yzerman has a reputation for bold moves but he’s also never attempted to sign a player to an offer sheet. He could take this season to evaluate the Wings roster before deciding on a major deal.
Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin doesn’t rule out using an offer sheet. However, he’s on record that you only go that way if you’re sure you’ll get the player you want. There’s no certainty Bergevin will find that player this summer. I expect Shero, Coyotes GM John Chayka, and Sabres GM Jason Botterill will also stick to trades and UFA signings.
Dundon favors aggressive moves but I’m not convinced he’s going to push GM Don Waddell to pursue a player with an offer sheet. Waddell did a good job since last summer going the trade route, bringing in Dougie Hamilton, Nino Niederreiter, and Micheal Ferland. He could stick to trades and free agency this year.
Offer sheets have become a rare occurrence in the National Hockey League.
For those unaware of what an offer sheet is, a restricted free agent (RFA) can, after receiving a qualifying offer from their team, sign an offer from another club for a salary greater than their qualifier. His team has seven days from the date the player signed the offer to match it. If they don’t, they receive compensatory draft picks based on the amount of the annual average salary the player will receive for that season.
Since 1986, 35 players have signed offer sheets. Among them were eventual Hall of Famers such as Scott Stevens (who signed one in 1990 and again in 1994), Brendan Shanahan and Michel Goulet (both in 1991), Teemu Selanne (1992), Joe Sakic (1997) and Sergei Fedorov (1998).
Of those 35 offers sheets, 20 were matched, 13 were accepted, one was dropped and another invalidated.
The last player to sign an offer sheet was Ryan O’Reilly in February 2013. This came just over a month following a lockout that wiped out half of the 2012-13 NHL season.
O’Reilly, who was embroiled in a contract impasse with the Colorado Avalanche, signed a two-year deal worth $10 million (with a $2 million signing bonus) with the Calgary Flames on Feb. 28, 2013. The following day, the Avalanche matched the offer.
The implementation of the salary-cap system in 2005 was expected to make it easier for teams to sign players to offer sheets, particularly those on clubs with limited cap space.
Since 2005-06, however, only eight players – O’Reilly, Ryan Kesler, Thomas Vanek, Dustin Penner, David Backes, Steve Bernier, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Shea Weber – signed offer sheets. All but Penner’s were matched.
The dearth of offer sheets in recent years could be tied to an overall reluctance among team owners and general managers to employ that tactic. It’s almost as though they have a “gentlemen’s agreement” to make poaching another club’s RFAs out of bounds.
That would smack of collusion but proving it is easier said than done. There’s no indication that the owners and general managers have any kind of formal arrangement in place preventing the pursuit of rival players with offer sheets. Meanwhile, the NHL Players Association doesn’t appear to have any concern over the absence of these offers since 2013.
Perhaps the general managers want to avoid anything that would raise ill will among their ranks. The last thing they want is a GM publicly declaring outrage over a rival attempting to sign away a player, as was the case in 2007 when then-Anaheim Ducks GM Brian Burke expressed his fury through the media with then-Edmonton Oilers GM Kevin Lowe for successfully signing away Penner from the Ducks.
Some pundits suggest the GMs want to avoid a tit-for-tat scenario whereby a team successfully signs away an RFA from a cap-strapped rival, only to find themselves targeted down the road when they have limited cap payroll.
Offer sheets also contribute to driving up the market value for comparable players. It’s bad enough the general managers are already doing that by re-signing some RFAs to overinflated deals. They don’t need a rival swooping in with an unmatchable offer.
The players could also be unwilling to sign an offer sheet. While they’re restricted free agents, a rival GM can contact a player’s agent to determine if his client is open to accepting an offer. If the past five years are anything to go by, RFAs seem disinterested in that option.
Of course, the possibility always exists that a desperate GM or one who thinks “outside the box” will one day sign a big-name RFA to an offer sheet. Given the factors currently in play nowadays, the chances of that appear slim.
That raises the question of whether the offer sheet will remain part of the next collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and NHLPA. Most likely it will, as the team owners see it as a mostly harmless device while the players probably prefer keeping that option in place.
As the start of each new free-agent period approaches, we’ll keep seeing speculation over which players could become offer-sheet targets or which clubs could take the plunge. Barring a major change in current attitudes among the teams or a shift in the rules governing restricted free agent signings, the offer sheet will remain a rarity in today’s NHL.
Latest on Matt Duchene, Phil Kessel, Jordan Staal and more in your NHL rumor mill.
SPORTSNET: In his latest “30 Thoughts” column, Elliott Friedman reports one thing several NHL executives agree on is offer sheets are coming this summer. With the depth among next summer’s unrestricted free agents already shrinking, one of them believes the offer sheet is the best option to quickly improve a team.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: There’s certainly some tempting targets among this summer’s restricted free agents, such as Nashville’s Ryan Johansen, Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl and Boston’s David Pastrnak. However, those clubs already served notice they’ll match any offer. Just because a player can receive an offer sheet doesn’t mean they’re wiling to sign one. Meanwhile, several other notable RFAs, such as Tampa Bay’s Ondrej Palat, St. Louis’ Colton Parayko and Nashville’s Viktor Arvidsson, filed for arbitration and are ineligible to receive offer sheets.
It’s possible Matt Duchene, a frequent subject of trade speculation since the middle of last season, could start next season with the Colorado Avalanche. However, Friedman isn’t ruling out the possibility of a trade later this summer. While the Avalanche are receiving criticism for their handling of this situation, he feels they have to win this trade after the Ryan O’Reilly trade didn’t work out for them. Duchene has two seasons left on his contract, which is a problem for some clubs, such as the Carolina Hurricanes.
Friedman feels the Avalanche still want to trade Duchene, who needs a fresh start elsewhere. He believes shipping him to a team where he could be the number two center, such as the New York Islanders or Los Angeles Kings, would be a good fit for the 26-year-old center. He thinks there’s a chance he would share the No. 1 center duties with Alex Wennberg if he were dealt to the Columbus Blue Jackets. He also feels the Pittsburgh Penguins are on the fringe of this.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Friedman isn’t saying the Islanders and Kings are pursuing Duchene. He’s merely suggesting he could be a good fit with those clubs. While Duchene could certainly be a good fit with the Isles, Kings or Penguins, the Avs high asking price likely ensures he won’t land with those clubs before 2017-18.
In a recent live chat with his readers, The Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline expressed doubt over Duchene potentially landing with the Blue Jackets. Though he admits that could change, he doesn’t get the sense that Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen is actively searching for a first-line center.
Friedman believes there is something to the suggestion by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ron Cook that the Penguins could look into trading Phil Kessel. He notes the difficulty in moving Kessel’s $6.8 million cap hit (the Toronto Maple Leafs carry the rest), which the Pens would likely have to pick up part of in order for a deal to take place. Still, he thinks the Penguins may have investigated the possibility. Saying it was merely conjecture on his part, Friedman suggested the Arizona Coyotes (where former Pens assistant coach Rick Tocchet is now the head coach) as a destination for Kessel.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: In an interview yesterday with a Pittsburgh sports radio station, Rutherford dismissed the notion of trading Kessel. “He’s an important part. I don’t want to sit here and say that a certain player’s not going to get traded at some point in his career. I mean, Phil already did. But that’s not something that I foresee happening right now.”
Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill could be laying the groundwork for a move that eases a potential roster/salary cap jam.
Friedman recently speculated about a swap between the LA Kings and Ottawa Senators involving Kings forward Dustin Brown and Senators defenseman Dion Phaneuf “because the money is almost even”. However, he thinks they were discussing Marian Gaborik, rather than Brown.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Gaborik is even worse from the Senators point of view. Though he carries a lesser annual cap hit ($4.875 million through 2020-21) than Brown, the 35-year-old winger is often hampered by injury and his last best season (41 goals, 76 points) came in 2011-12 with the New York Rangers. They’re better off sticking with Phaneuf.
TRIBLIVE.COM: Jonathan Bombulie reports a trade for a third-line center to replace the departed Nick Bonino remains on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ summer agenda. GM Jim Rutherford doesn’t expect the acquisition to be costly to their salary cap payroll. He projects they’ll have around $2 million in cap space after re-signing RFAs Brian Dumoulin and Conor Sheary.
To Rutherford’s knowledge, Carolina Hurricanes center (and former Penguin) Jordan Staal isn’t available. Bombulie also observes Colorado’s Matt Duchene carries a $6 million annual cap hit and Toronto’s Tyler Bozak $4.2 million.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Hey, maybe Rutherford can trade Kessel to Carolina for Staal. I’m kidding, of course. But as Bombulie observes, if Rutherford wants someone like Staal, Duchene or Bozak, he’ll have to part with significant cap space to free up sufficient room. Sounds like Rutherford’s in the market for more affordable options. No idea yet who he’s targeting as all the recent speculation is upon those bigger names.