Since the Edmonton Oilers signed left winger Dustin Penner away from the Anaheim Ducks in August 2007 (following their failed attempt to do the same with Buffalo Sabres left winger Thomas Vanek), the spectre of offer sheets to top restricted free agent players has hung over the NHL off-season.
Since that summer, however, it’s apparent the threat of an offer sheet is largely an empty one.
Over the course of the current CBA, Penner was the only player successfully signed to an offer sheet.
In 2006, the Philadelphia Flyers attempted to sign away center Ryan Kesler from Vancouver, but the Canucks matched the offer.
During the summer of 2008, the Canucks and St. Louis Blues played “duelling offer sheets,” starting with the Canucks’ attempt to sign away David Backes and ending with the Blues’ pitch for Steve Bernier. Both clubs, of course, matched the offers.
The last offer sheet attempt was made by the San Jose Sharks in July 2010, when they failed to pry away defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson from the cap-strapped Chicago Blackhawks with a four-year, $14-million contract.
When Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos and Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty became restricted free agents last summer, there was widespread speculation the two superstars would receive lucrative, possibly unmatchable, offer sheets. Neither, however, received a single offer and both ultimately signed to long-term deals by their current clubs.
One reason GMs have shied away from offer sheets is the compensation in draft picks they must pay if the other team doesn’t match. The higher the average salary of the offer sheet, the more draft picks – especially first round picks – a team has to give up as compensation.
Another reason for reticence is teams sometimes take a pending RFA player to arbitration solely for the purpose of making him ineligible to receive an offer sheet.
The tactic was famously used by New York Rangers GM Glen Sather in July 2007 with goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. The two sides ultimately avoided arbitration by agreeing on a one-year contract and the Rangers re-signed Lundqvist midway through that season to a multi-year deal.
The main reason these are rare, of course, is it’s become an exercise in pointlessness, since the offers are almost always matched.
In the wake of Tim Thomas’ decision to sit out next season, it’s been suggested a rival club might try to take advantage of the Bruins’ limited cap space by sending an offer sheet to RFA goaltender Tuukka Rask.
Given the aforementioned factors, combined with a new CBA on the horizon and the uncertainty over its impact on payrolls, it’s unlikely Rask – or any other notable restricted free agent this summer – will receive an offer sheet.
A more likely tactic would have GMs targeting the exclusive negotiating rights of pending unrestricted free agents who were unable, for whatever reason, to re-sign with their current teams prior to July 1.
ESPN.com’s Craig Custance observed the Columbus Blue Jackets employed that strategy last June when they acquired defenseman James Wisniewski from the Montreal Canadiens for a seventh round pick, then signed him to a lucrative, long-term contract before his eligibility for UFA status.
The New York Islanders did the same with defenseman Christian Ehrhoff by shipping a fourth round draft pick to the Vancouver Canucks to acquire his rights. When the Isles weren’t able to work out a deal, they shipped his rights again, this time to the Buffalo Sabres, who successfully signed him to a long-term contract.
Custance suggested rival clubs could target New Jersey left winger Zach Parise or Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter if their respective teams aren’t able to get pen on paper.
It’s a shrewd move for the GM acquiring those pending UFAs, because it costs very little and gives them an opportunity to sign a star player without engaging in a bidding war with rival teams. If they’re successful, they get that player – if they fail, it didn’t cost much.
It’s far more likely teams will pursue the negotiating rights of pending UFAs in late June, rather than waste time in July pitching offer sheets to RFAs.
Rumor Roundup appears Monday-Friday only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News, Kukla’s Korner and The Guardian, Charlottetown.