Fear dictating RFA market

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The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Last summer, Edmonton Oilers GM Kevin Lowe shocked the hockey world with offer sheets to restricted free agents Thomas Vanek and Dustin Penner.

Lowe wasn’t the first GM to use the offer sheet option under the current collective bargaining agreement. In 2006, former Philadelphia Flyers GM Bob Clarke unsuccessfully attempted to sign forward Ryan Kesler away from the Vancouver Canucks.

The difference was Clarke targeted an unproven player and the offer was easily matched.

Lowe, however, went after bigger fish in Vanek, who was coming off an 84-point season with the Sabres, and Penner, who’d enjoyed a 29-goal performance on the Cup-champion Ducks. In both cases Lowe’s offers were very expensive, with Penner’s proving too expensive for Anahiem.

The ripples from Lowe’s bold moves have carried over into this season, as several NHL teams have re-signed potential RFAs – Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley, Ryan Getzlaf and Matt Carle, just to name a few – to contract extensions.

The offer sheet option has been around since the mid-1990s, but under the previous CBA it was a tactic rarely used since teams weren’t under salary constraints and could easily match those offers, while the compensation package of five first round picks also proved a significant deterrent.

That gave GMs the luxury of negotiating throughout the off-season with their RFAs, occasionally resulting in contract holdouts if negotiations dragged into the following season.

But under the salary cap in the current CBA, teams now have a finite amount of money to spend on players’ salaries each season and, as Lowe demonstrated last July, teams with limited cap space and unsigned RFAs become prime targets for offer sheets.

The current CBA also changed the compensation to varying levels of draft picks based on salary, thereby making it more palatable for GMs to gamble pieces of their future in exchange for a young, established star.

With the luxury of off-season negotiations with RFAs now gone, GMs must now bargain throughout the season with their best RFA players. Because of the offer sheet option, contract holdouts by RFAs have all but disappeared.

Topping the list of next summer’s RFAs is Washington winger Alexander Ovechkin and the Capitals’ inability thus far to re-sign him has provided fodder for fan unease and media gossip.

Other potential RFAs of note include Anaheim’s Corey Perry, Calgary’s Dion Phaneuf, Florida’s Jay Bouwmeester, Minnesota’s Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Nashville’s Ryan Suter, Ottawa’s Andrej Meszaros, Philadelphia’s Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, St. Louis’ Brad Boyes, Toronto’s Kyle Wellwood and the N.Y. Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist.

Given the importance of the aforementioned to their respective teams, it’ll be surprising if any of those players are still unsigned by next summer.

Rumor Roundup appears Mondays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, www.spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey Magazine.



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