NHL Free Agency: Penguins Can Follow Holmgren's Example, Target RFA's

James ConleyContributor IIIAugust 5, 2016

GLENDALE, AZ - MAY 07:  Shea Weber #6 of the Nashville Predators skates with the puck in Game Five of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Phoenix Coyotes during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Jobing.com Arena on May 7, 2012 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Coyotes defeated the Predators 2-1 to win the series 4 games to 1.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

If ever there was an offer sheet to finally kill the gentleman's agreement of not poaching another general manager's restricted free agents, it will be hard to do better than the mammoth deal extended to Nashville defenseman Shea Weber by the Philadelphia Flyers late Wednesday night.

After engaging in trade talks with Nashville that would have sent Weber to the Flyers in exchange for NHL assets, Flyers GM Paul Holmgren grew impatient with the Predators' GM David Poile and gave Weber an offer sheet that seems poised to price Nashville right out of retaining their captain—$110 million over 14 years, or the second-richest and third-longest contract in NHL history—without losing current players as trade chips (as reported by TSN's Darren Dreger, via NBC Sports).

It's a brilliant ploy by the Flyers—one that sneaks a final front-loaded retirement deal under an expiring salary structure in a league that now seems certain to be locked out, in part, because of front-loaded retirement deals. 

Never mind that such a contract is more fuel to the lockout fire. The Flyers, barring a financial about-face by a Predators franchise that is only worth about 60 percent more than the life of Weber's pending deal, are going to get their successor to Chris Pronger—and perhaps in the shrewdest way possible.

It's been years since a GM has made a substantial offer sheet deal—Dustin Penner to Edmonton and Thomas Vanek to Vancouver (Buffalo matched) come to mind—and never at the talent or salary level of a Shea Weber. Seemingly, this move opens the door to more RFA offer sheets.

Other than retaining Crosby (a given), Pittsburgh has struck out on every potential deal so far this summer. Perhaps the Penguins would be well-served to follow Philadelphia's example and explore the RFA market.

After all, the market for unrestricted free agents has been unkind to Pittsburgh this summer.

After missing out on Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, the Penguins have been linked to names such as Shane Doan and Alexander Semin. So far, no dice. Doan appears committed to staying in Phoenix (so long as Coyotes ownership comes to some sort of resolution), and scouting reports on Alex Semin have ranged from "lazy" to "expensive" to "coach killer."

Would the RFA market prove more fruitful for the Penguins?

Certainly, there are names out there to look into. If the Pens want to address their glaring hole among the top-six forwards, Edmonton's Sam Gagner and Winnipeg's Evander Kane are available for offer sheets.

Pittsburgh could even throw a wrench at Philadelphia's current workings by extending an offer sheet to RFA forward Jakub Voracek. Voracek proved good for 19 goals and 49 points with the Flyers last season; and if the Pens were to give him an offer sheet soon, the Flyers' time to consider matching it could be very limited. For Philly, everything now depends on the Shea Weber deal.

Penguins GM Ray Shero could also use the RFA market to address concerns along his 15th-ranked blue line. Montreal's P.K. Subban and Washington's John Carlson come immediately to mind.

Opening up the RFA market would also bring down prices on potential UFA targets which might do enough to make a deal for Alex Semin palatable.

Philadelphia opened the doors to RFA offer sheets by making a colossal (if not entirely predatory and horrifically short-sighted) offer to Weber. At this point, would any offer sheet do more to offend the gentleman's agreement than that?