More than a few observers have been puzzled by the fact superstar restricted free agents haven’t received offer sheets from rival clubs this summer.
Prior to center Steven Stamkos’ recent re-signing with the Tampa Bay Lightning, rumors abounded he could receive an offer sheet, yet Stamkos and his agent claimed none were sent their way.
Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, who has yet to be re-signed, was also considered an offer sheet target this summer, but so far, one has failed to materialize.
That led Kevin Paul Dupont of the Boston Globe and Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun to suggest the possibility of collusion amongst NHL GMs. Dupont wondered if there isn’t a “the wink-wink, nudge-nudge gentlemen’s agreement that mysteriously has general managers unwilling to raid their competitors’ rosters.”
It is easy to float the rumor of collusion, but far more difficult to prove it.
Dupont pointed out NHL Players’ Association director Donald Fehr was able to prove collusion existed in Major League Baseball in the late-1980s and wondered “if it could be time to forge a similar case in hockey?”
The difference, however, was the MLB owners had, for the most part, agreed not to sign their rivals’ free agents. The surprisingly low number of free agents changing teams between 1985 and 1988 made it easy for Fehr to prove his case.
As for why Stamkos and Doughty didn’t receive offer sheets, there are other obvious factors at work.
One is the high cost of signing either player. Stamkos re-signed for five years with a cap hit of $7.5-million per season, which was what most observers expected he’d receive.
To have a realistic chance of signing Stamkos, a rival club would’ve had to make a far more expensive offer and, even then, the Lightning could’ve matched the offer.
In his column, Simmons wrote he was told Stamkos “would have seriously considered signing a one-year, $12-million contract,” but the problem was the Lightning would’ve matched the offer sheet. Simmons believes if a club like the Toronto Maple Leafs wanted to sign away Stamkos, it would’ve taken a 10-year, $100-million contract. But Simmons claims Leafs management didn’t want to go that route.
And probably for good reason. Ten years at $100 million is a lot of money to invest in a single player under a salary cap.
Without a cap, Stamkos and Doughty likely would’ve received offer sheets within days of becoming restricted free agents. But under the cap, GMs have to be careful or risk tying up too much money in too few players, thus adversely affecting their roster depth and forcing them to dump salary. That’s what happened to the 2010 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks last summer.
Another factor is the high cost of compensation. Had a rival club made an “unmatchable” offer for Stamkos, they would’ve given up their next four first round picks as compensation to the Lightning.
Signing a player of Stamkos’ caliber to a multi-year deal worth $10 to $12 million per season is expensive enough, but sacrificing the future by also parting with four first round selections is too much for most GMs to swallow.
Lastly, and perhaps most important, is the low success rate in signing away players with offer sheets.
In the 16 years since the creation of the current NHL free agency system, 14 players have received offer sheets and only four went unmatched.
Under the current CBA, only one player was successfully signed to an offer sheet. That was Dustin Penner, who in July 2007 went from the Anaheim Ducks to the Edmonton Oilers via a five-year, $21.25-million contract.
Penner’s signing fractured the relationship between then-Anaheim GM Brian Burke and then-Edmonton GM Kevin Lowe, setting off a nasty public feud that eventually resulted in league commissioner Gary Bettman stepping in to silence the two.
It’s also hard to believe collusion exists when some GMs are very public in warning off their rivals against targeting their RFAs.
Two years ago, Kings GM Dean Lombardi publicly dared his peers to send offer sheets to his players, threatening he’d not only match their offers, but would target their top RFA players in the future.
Lightning GM Steve Yzerman repeatedly stated he’d match any offer for Stamkos and while he didn’t use the same tone as Lombardi, it’s clear he was publicly telling his rivals not to waste their time.
Offer sheets are scarce, not because of collusion, but because they’re expensive, rarely successful and can spark bad blood amongst GMs, setting the stage for potential retaliatory moves.
NO MORE ‘D’ FOR CBJ
The Columbus Blue Jackets found their replacement for injured left winger Kristian Huselius, inking former Ranger Vinny Prospal to a one-year contract with a base salary of $1.75 million and performances bonuses that could take him up to $2.6 million.
Speculation persists they could add another defenseman, but Tom Reed of The Columbus Dispatch recently “tweeted” his doubts, as they currently have six blueliners on one-way contracts for next season.
That means they’ll likely take a long look at their blueline prospects in training camp, hoping one or two might crack the lineup.
RANGER CAP DANGER
The New York Daily News recently reported the Rangers had just more than $6.4 million in available cap space remaining to re-sign RFA right winger Ryan Callahan and a sixth defenseman, which is likely to be free agent Steve Eminger. (Eminger signed Monday morning.)
That could also lead to the Rangers cutting some salary, advancing rumors left wing Wojtek Wolski is a possible candidate for a contract buyout.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey News.