By Evan Presement
The offer-sheet to the NHL is the equivalent of Voldemort to the Harry Potter series. You just don’t talk about it. Nope, don’t even think about brining it up. What are you, some kinda idiot?
We all remember what happened between Kevin Lowe and Brian Burke after Dustin Penner was offered a five year, $21.25 million deal as an RFA to become an Edmonton Oiler. Lowe was torn apart both in the media and among NHL executives, and Brian Burke went even went on to say that he wanted to rent a barn in which to fight Kevin Lowe.
Think about the offer-sheet as a completely legal, but extremely rude gesture. It’s kind of like not giving up your seat on the bus for an elderly woman or farting in a packed elevator. I mean, go ahead, do it, but people are going to hate you.
When you really think about it, though, you begin to realize what a stupid environment the NHL has created. The fact that offer-sheets are so widely regarded as a giant ‘dick move’ is ridiculous in itself, considering it’s completely legal, and in many cases, a great strategic move to gain an advantage over another team.
I, for one, am completely in favour of the offer-sheet. You don’t have your player signed come July 1st and they’re an RFA? Too bad. That’s on you.
For those who have made it to this point and have absolutely no idea what the hell I’m talking about, here’s the Cole’s Notes version:
Once July 1st comes, players are either one of three things: under contract, unrestricted free agents (UFA), or restricted free agents (RFA). Unrestricted free agents are allowed to speak with whichever teams they please, and sign wherever they want. Restricted free agents, on the other hand, are only allowed to negotiate with the team that they last played for. However, if an outside team wants to offer the RFA a contract, they can. If the RFA accepts the contract offer, the team that previously held the RFA’s rights has a week to match the offer. If they match, they get to keep the RFA. If they decline, the team that offered the RFA the contract gets the player, but has to give draft pick compensation to his former team.
Draft pick compensation varies depending on the annual salary offered to the player. Here’s the breakdown:
So, for example, if Connor McDavid was an RFA and Calgary offered him a seven year, $66.5 million ($9.5 AAV) and he accepted, Edmonton would either have to match that offer or let McDavid go. If they match the offer, well, they get McDavid at seven years, $9.5 mill per. If they decide to let him go, Calgary gets McDavid for that price, and has to give Edmonton four first round picks as compensation.
Also, you need to understand is that players who have RFA status have, essentially, zero leverage. That’s why you’ll see so many players sign bridge deals. Teams know that no one is going to offer their players an offer-sheet, and players know they’re not going to get big money until they’re either around 25-years-old, or UFA’s..
Make sense? Cool. So why would someone decide to offer a player an offer-sheet?
There’s a number of moving parts but it comes down to this, and this is why it’s so taboo among NHL front offices: you can use to offer sheet to completely screw over another team.
Take Seth Jones as an example. Jones is a player I’d love to see my Toronto Maple Leafs go after with an offer-sheet not only because he’s a great player, but because it would absolutely destroy the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Jackets are one of the worst positioned teams, cap-wise, in the league. They have a bunch of bad, long-term contracts and right now, they can probably sign Jones to a cheap two or three year deal because he’s young, and they have all the leverage.
Say a team like Toronto, who has the space, were to offer Jones a 5 year, $35 million deal ($7 million AAV). Columbus would never be able to match that. If they did, it would cripple their cap situation. They’d probably have to let a stud, 21-year-old d-man walk because they don’t have the necessary means to keep him.
So with all this in mind, here are the top-five available RFA’s come July 1, 2016.
1 – Seth Jones
Seth Jones should be every team in the NHL’s main target. As previously mentioned, Columbus doesn’t have the means to keep him, and are probably going to survive by signing him to a short-term, low AAV deal.
Jones is a great, young defenceman that drives possession and is poised to become a top-paring d-man on a top NHL team. He’s really, really good.
Columbus has essentially no room for Jones. They’ve got $13.11 million tied up in Jack Johnson, Fedor Tyutin, and David Savard… And that’s just on the back end.
Up front, Columbus has a number of forwards locked in to awful deals. David Clarkson, Scott Hartnell, Brandon Dubinsky, and Nick Foligno are making a combined $21.35 million, and that’s not including Brandon Saad’s $6 million, Cam Atkinson’s $3.5 million, Boone Jenner’s $3 million, or Sergei Bobrovsky’s $7.425 (!!!!) million.
2 – Tyson Barrie
Tyson Barrie is another great young d-man that teams should be going after, and going after hard.
At 24-years-old, Barrie has hit the 50-point mark twice (okay, just once, 49 points in 78 games this season). He is one of the lone bright spots on one of the worst back-ends in the NHL, which is why it’s so odd that there’s rumours that GM Joe Sakic might be interested in moving him.
Also, who knows what Colorado’s cap situation is going to look like. Nathan MacKinnon is another RFA that’s going to command a decent amount of money. They’re probably going to re-sign Boedker (lol) and who knows what they’re going to do in free agency. All I can say for sure is that they’ll find some way to put their team in a bad spot. They always do.
3 – Mike Hoffman
Mike Hoffman is one of the most underrated players in the NHL. According to corsica.hockey‘s similarity calculator, there are Mike Hoffman’s closest comparables based on his performance over the last two years:
So, yeah, he’s pretty good.
Ottawa has all the space in the world to get him signed, but we all know that they’ll never spend to the cap, and there have been rumblings that Ottawa may even be looking to move Hoffman. We’ll see what happens, but someone should definitely go after him as an RFA.
4 – Hampus Lindholm
I was jostling between Lindholm and Vatanen, but eventually landed on Lindholm. He’s two years younger, can be had for cheaper, and is really, really good.
Lindholm is one of the best possession-drivers in the NHL. He lead Anaheim in CF%Rel (7.43) while being used neither in a primarily offensive, nor defensive role.
Yes, he’s not in the same class as Vatanen in terms of point production, but in Lindhom, we’re talking about a guy who had a greater impact possession-wise, as a d-man, than any other blueliner in the NHL. Yes, more than Erik Karlsson. That’s pretty significant.
He’s only 22-years-old. The offense will come eventually. He should be up there with Jones as one of the top targets heading in to the offseason.
5 – Jaden Schwartz
Schwartz is a really, really good young player that, like the Blue Jackets, could be had because the Blues’ cap situation is pretty messy.
As of right now, St. Louis is expected to have roughly $15.5 million in cap space heading in to next season. Troy Brouwer is a UFA, David Backes is a UFA, Colton Parayko is going to be an RFA after next season, and Kevin Shattenkirk is going to be a UFA after next season. Also, both Jake Allen and Brian Elliott’s contracts are up after next year. They’ve got some issues to deal with.
Jaden Schwartz has scored at an extremely high level over the past three years. Had he played a full season this year, he would have most likely surpassed last year’s career high in points (63). He’s young, only 24-years-old, and may potentially be someone that St. Louis can’t afford to keep.