Why fans hoping that teams will raid the NHL's restricted free agents with offer sheets this year are bound to be disappointed again.
With the Stanley Cup making its bi-annual tour through the bars of Chicago the hockey world’s attention now turns to free agency, where every problem can be solved with a checkbook and a bit of cap space.
But with the pool of unrestricted talent running shallow, there’s an extra focus on a sterling class of restricted free agents. And with several of them controlled by teams that are under salary cap stress there comes a hope that this will be the year when some brave GM swoops in, offer sheet in hand, and shakes up the system.
In Edmonton, they’re dreaming of Dougie Hamilton leading a revamped Oilers blueline. In Pittsburgh, they’re picturing Brandon Saad saddled up next to Sidney Crosby. And everyone would love to add sharpshooting winger Vladimir Tarasenko.
It all makes for great hot stove talk, but despite what one agent said a few weeks ago, there likely won’t be any poaching of RFAs this year. At least that’s the way one team executive sees it.“It’s the same thing every year, right?” he told SI.com. “Fans want the drama ... it’s the same thing when they’re watching [trade deadline coverage on] TV and waiting for the blockbuster. It’s fun. It’s fantasy. But the reality of the business is something different.
“Maybe I’ll be surprised and something will happen but the system is set up in a way that I don't think it will.”
It’s not a fear of retaliation that prevents teams from offer-sheeting a promising young free agent. The real reason, the exec explained, is that teams are never as susceptible to having a young star player poached as fans think.
“You might look at a [team’s salary] cap situation and think there’s a vulnerability but it’s never that simple,” he said. “No [general manager] wants to be the guy who let a special player get away. That’s not something he wants to have to explain to his boss. He may have to make some tough decisions [regarding other players on his roster] but they’ll be his decisions. No one wants to let another team dictate the terms.”
In other words, no one will let himself be outmaneuvered. A GM is more likely to match an offer and then deal with the cap fallout before the start of the season than to sit back and allow a valuable asset to be plucked off his roster.
And it’s not just losing the player to an offer sheet that’s unpalatable. It’s settling for the not particularly generous collective bargaining agreement-mandated compensation. Take a look (updated contract values courtesy of generalfanager.com):
OFFER SHEET COMPENSATION
$1,205,377 or below — None
Over $1,205,377 to $1,826,328 — Third round pick
Over $1,826,328 to $3,652,659 — Second round pick
Over $3,652,659 to $5,478,986 — First and third round picks
Over $5,478,986 to $7,305,316 — First, second and third round picks
Over $7,305,316 to $9,131,645 — Two first rounders, second and third round picks
Over $9,131,645 — Four first rounds picks
Forget the four first rounders. That sounds like an intriguing return, but any team in position to relinquish that chunk of its future isn’t likely to have the cap space to handle an annual average value above $8.4 million. As for the other packages, you’d have to highly overestimate the value of draft picks to think that they would smooth over the loss of a young star.
One more factor to consider: For a team to extend an offer sheet, it has to possess its own draft picks to offer as compensation. So unless they first work deals to re-acquire previously traded picks, that stipulation precludes the Kings, Stars, Panthers, Red Wings, Wild, Devils, Sharks, Blues, Canucks, Rangers and Jets from getting in on any bidding that tops $3.65 million annually. Top $5.5 million and you also eliminate the Avalanche, Penguins and Islanders.
None of this will slow the buzz. Like the man said, it’s fun to consider the possibilities. But the odds appear to be stacked against offer sheets this year ... just like every other.
The numbers game
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• Congrats to the 2015 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Bears.
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• Gary Bettman politely told NBC that the playoff beards are staying. Very politely.
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