By Ryan Lambert
Trending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you're only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?
It's been a long time since an offer sheet was both advanced and accepted in the NHL.
More than two years, to be exact. Shea Weber accepted Philadelphia's 10-year offer sheet two years and 10 days after the Sharks signed Niklas Hjalmarsson to one worth four years and $14 million. The Blackhawks matched that and, shockingly, are now desperately trying to get out from under it.
In fact, for all the talk about offer sheets we see every summer — "why didn't Steven Stamkos get, like, 29 of them?" and so forth — only two have been accepted since 1997, and just 11 have been extended. Two out of 11 in 15 years, and we act as if these are some sort of scourge around the league.
Make no mistake, though: The lack of offer sheets over the last decade and a half is entirely the result of what must be a tacit agreement among the league's general managers to generally not extend them despite these provisions being built into the collective bargaining agreement. It artifically depresses players' earning power and makes sure that guys stay with their teams. Now, from an organizational perspective, that's a good thing. You can build around and market young stars and keep them for long periods of time without the threat of them jumping to a rival team. But it also, as Gary Bettman would say, "violates the spirit" of the CBA.
The failure of GMs to use offer sheets can be traced back to Kevin Lowe giving out two very silly ones — to Tom Vanek and Dustin Penner — the summer after the lockout, and Brian Burke's barn-fightin' reaction to it. The latter's argument that these efforts eliminated something that used to be known as the "second contract" in the NHL (that is, the post-entry-level deal that was a sort of stepping stone to big money later in their careers) is certainly credible, but that in itself seems inherently unfair to players who should be paid what they're worth.
What the Weber situation ultimately taught us is that offer sheets are, at their heart, pretty fun to watch. A week of fretting and what-if scenarios, fraught with schandenfreude, all because a player had the temerity to sign a deal with a team willing to pay him what he was worth, because he thought the organization for which he was currently playing wouldn't be willing to do so. He was wrong (and according to his agent, that much to his chagrin), but hey, that's how the CBA is supposed to work.
Honestly, the league would be much better, and the summers considerably more fun, if offer sheets were a regular thing, and not a reason for some GMs to stomp up and down and threaten each other with physical violence. I follow the NBA as little as humanly possible but seem to recall there being more than a few offer sheets extended to restricted free agents, including the Houston Rockets signing the New York Knicks' ultra-popular Jeremy Lin. And Rockets GM Daryl Morey didn't even have to go 138 bare-knuckle rounds with Knicks GM Glen Grunwald in an abandoned grain silo. What wonders the NBA holds.
My hope was that, as with the retaliatory offer sheet St. Louis gave to Steve Bernier after Vancouver tried to sign David Backes to one, the Predators would try to take down the Flyers' remaining impact RFA (Jakub Voracek) with a similar deal, but it didn't happen. Not that Paul Holmgren didn't go ahead and give his guy a little too much money anyway, but that's how things seem to go in Philadelphia.
Even with Voracek locked up for the next four years, there still remains a number of high-quality restricted free agents that are as yet unsigned by their teams. Do you think your favorite team would like a guy like Jamie Benn? John Carlson? P.K. Subban? Ryan O'Reilly? Michael Del Zotto? Evander Kane? They're all right there for the taking. All it will cost your team is cash, cap space and draft picks. Probably a few high ones.
But the likelihood that any of those picks pan out to be as good as any of those players is low. That's why Philadelphia was willing to give up four probably-late first-round picks for Weber, who's the best defenseman of his generation. It's certainty rather than taking a guy for what has been called "the premise of promise." When you're running a hockey team, that's a good thing.
Give Holmgren and Ed Snider this: They'll do whatever it takes, and use whatever is available to them, to improve their team. That's something most GMs can't say.
Of course, the argument against this is that small-market teams likely wouldn't be able to keep guys they drafted and cultivated. It's too bad about that, but then the only small-market team the league is actually required to keep afloat is the Coyotes. This kind of thing is why revenue sharing exists. Burke runs a team that more or less prints its own money simply by existing, and is so morally opposed to the idea of offer sheets that he won't use them even if he can afford to give them out.
There should be a line out the door and around the block for guys like Benn and Carlson and Kane and O'Reilly and Subban and Del Zotto. They're high-quality young talents who will only continue to improve, who can likely be had for relatively short money when compared to guys like Ryan Suter, Alex Semin and Shane Doan. The only reason no one has attempted to sign them is because they've all more or less agreed not to do that kind of thing.
It would be great, really and truly great, if all the above RFAs got offer sheets — plural — in the final few weeks before the season. Do what Philly did with Weber: Give the guy a little financial security ahead of a potential work stoppage and almost-certain change to salary structure league-wide, and watch him become a real player for you over the next few years. Bonus points if all your RFAs are locked up for a few years.
It makes too much sense to not do it. Teams will do all in their power to be competitive, except this one thing. But it's to hockey's and, more importantly for the GMs, their organizations' detriment that they don't.
Jim Rutherford plays it safe
All the credit in the world to Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford for signing Alex Semin and instantly giving his team considerably more credibility when it comes to actually competing for a playoff spot.
This was a summer in which Rutherford and the 'Canes got real serious about being good again after missing the playoffs for the third straight year and finishing fifth in the division for the first time since 2003. Signing Semin on a reasonable $7 million, one-year deal was just a brilliant move.
People will argue that $7 million is too much for a coach-killing, lazy dressing-room cancer, but it's not. As of that signing, the Hurricanes took a huge jump forward in cap money committed to players for next season: all the way to 17th. They could have paid him $10 million and still been outside the top 12.
But what was really brilliant wasn't that they signed him — which, again, was brilliant — but rather that he signed him to a one-year deal. There was rampant speculation that Semin was only interested in signing a multi-year contract for big money, and while he got the big money, that first part didn't come to pass. Why?
Because Semin seemingly wanted to stay in the NHL, and more importantly because of this quote: "We would look at Semin on a short-term basis. We wouldn't want to get locked in to anything, because we've all heard the stories about him. We do like his skill level. It could be that we could bring him in for a year, get to know him and go from there in terms of considering something longer term."
Despite being the only team to publicly express the slightest interest in Semin's services, and despite his reportedly having a massive offer from the KHL, Rutherford succeeded simply by playing coy. Negotiating against no one, he signed one of the best forwards available this summer in late July to exactly the terms he wanted. That's brilliant.
Pearls of Biz-dom
We all know that there isn't a better Twitter account out there than that of Paul Bissonnette. So why not find his best bit of advice on love, life and lappers from the last week?
BizNasty on fiscal responsibility: "Owners want 25% roll back on salaries but are handing out 100 million dollar deals like it's going out of style. Figure that one out."
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