Will We Ever See Another NHL Offer Sheet?

Will We Ever See Another NHL Offer Sheet?

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.

Ryan O’Reilly is the last NHL player to receive an offer sheet. (Photo via NHL Images)

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.


NHL Rumor Mill – May 16, 2018

NHL Rumor Mill – May 16, 2018

Latest on P.K. Subban, Kris Letang and more in your NHL rumor mill.


THE TENNESSEAN: Joe Rexrode doubts we’ll see any major offseason moves by the Nashville Predators. Short of either a major trade offer or defenseman Ryan Ellis’ contract extension talks going south, Predators general manager David Poile isn’t expected to shake things up. If Poile makes a move or two, Rexrode speculates it’ll likely be for a depth free agent, someone like Vegas’ Ryan Reaves or New Jersey’s Patrick Maroon. He also feels the club’s fortunes next season could depend upon promising forwards Eeli Tolvanen and Ryan Hartman.

Rexrode also dismissed recent speculation out of Canada suggesting the Predators could trade defenseman P.K. Subban. The club isn’t actively seeking to move the Norris Trophy finalist. During the season-ending interview with the media, head coach Peter Laviolette sang Subban’s praises.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Subban’s not going anywhere. The recent speculation hinting that he rubs some of his Predators teammates the wrong way appears to be a carry-over from his days with the Canadiens. Rexrode, however, points out the Predators voted for Subban as a finalist for the King Clancy Trophy. “Diabolical, pretending to respect him like that!”, sneered Rexrode.

There’s also some speculation floating around suggesting the Predators could move Pekka Rinne, who’s entering the final season of his contract and eligible to become an unrestricted free agent next July. Poile does have a recent history of making bold moves, but I believe he’ll retain the Vezina Trophy Finalist for one more run at the Stanley Cup next year.

Don’t expect Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang to be traded this summer (Photo via NHL Images).


THE ATHLETIC: Josh Yohe reports Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said he’s not actively shopping defenseman Kris Letang, who struggled at time this season after missing the second half of 2016-17 recovering from neck surgery. While Rutherford said he can’t project the future, he still considers Letang a great player and expects he’ll be part of their roster next season.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Rutherford might be willing to listen to offers for Letang, but it’ll take one helluva pitch to convince him to part with his top defenseman.  I don’t expect any club will be able to make a  proposal that’ll sway the Penguins GM. He’ll keep his core intact in hopes of another Cup run next season. Letang, 31, is signed through 2021-22 with a $7.25-million cap hit and a modified no-trade clause. He’s not going anywhere. 


STLTODAY.COM: Jeff Gordon recently addressed some offseason speculation about the St. Louis Blues from his readers during a recent live chat. He suggests Pittsburgh Penguins center Derick Brassard could be a trade option, noting the center didn’t shine with the Penguins following a trade from Ottawa in February. He could become a salary-cap casualty. 

Gordon also thinks former Blues center Paul Stastny could seek $5 million annually on a three-year deal, making it difficult for the Winnipeg Jets to re-sign him. He also doesn’t see many goaltending options available that would be better than current Blues starter Jake Allen. He also speculates the Blues might look at bringing back gritty winger Ryan Reaves, now playing with the Vegas Golden Knights.

Asked if New Jersey Devils winger Patrick Maroon might be a piece that could help the Blues, Gordon projects him as a third-line winger.

Gordon believes landing Ryan O’Reilly from the Buffalo Sabres would be expensive. He’s not sure if the Blues have sufficient depth in prospects to land him. While Montreal’s Alex Galchenyuk would be a buy-low possibility, Gordon speculates Blues GM Doug Armstrong might prefer a more proven option. 

Asked if the Blues could move Patrick Berglund or Vladimir Sobotka, Gordon would be surprised if both were dealt. However, Sobotka could be the more likely trade candidates as he lacks no-trade protection. 

SPECTOR’S NOTE: I expect Blues GM Doug Armstrong will attempt to bolster his club’s scoring punch this summer, preferably by adding a center via trade or free agency. He could consider bringing back Stastny but I feel he has other options in mind.

With over $62 million invested in 18 players, the Blues have room to pursue New York Islanders center John Tavares via free agency. Still, that would be a very expensive addition for Armstrong. More affordable options could be revisiting his rumored interest in Montreal’s Max Pacioretty or Ottawa’s Mike Hoffman. If the Penguins decide to dump Brassard, Armstrong could come calling.  O’Reilly would be a great fit but the cost of acquiring him is likely too high.