Brian Burke: Clarifying the Leaf GM's Stance on Offer Sheets

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Brian Burke: Clarifying the Leaf GM's Stance on Offer Sheets
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I once found myself in the unfortunate situation of having to explain offer sheets to someone who doesn't follow sports.

Not wanting to bore them with a lengthy, jargon-filled explanation, I attempted to summarize offer sheets in one sentence: "It's like one team trying to steal a player from another team."

Hey, I did the best I could given the circumstances.

The prevailing opinion on Leafs GM Brian Burke seems to be that he is utterly opposed to being at either end of an offer sheet.

Not so.

When Kevin Lowe and the Edmonton Oilers submitted a five-year, $21.25 million offer sheet to restricted free agent Dustin Penner during the summer of 2007, Burke launched a very public diatribe against his Oiler counterpart.

Burke was furious about the offer sheet directed at Penner for two reasons:

1. He "took exception to the potential inflationary effects of offering a $4.25-million annual salary to a player who made the league minimum of $450,000 last season." (via CBC.ca)

2. It came out of nowhere.

Before the controversial Kessel trade occurred back in 2009, there was speculation that Burke was considering going the offer sheet route.

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According to some, he would have proven himself one of the biggest hypocrites in hockey had he submitted an offer sheet for Kessel.

From a 2009 article published on TSN.ca:

"My objection was that I got blindsided by it at a time I thought was inappropriate," Burke stated.  "This entire process has involved dialogue with (Bruins GM) Peter Chiarelli.  I told him about reacquiring the pick, telling him the night before I got the pick that I intended to get the pick back.  There has been no blindside or back door like Kevin Lowe did."

In case you weren't aware, the Toronto Maple Leafs swung a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks that offseason to reacquire their second-round pick.

This move was made to open up the possibility of an offer sheet, which, based on Kessel's compensation, would have required the Leafs' first-, second- and third-round picks from the following year.

Clearly, Burke was ready to go the offer sheet route if necessary.

What good would a threat of an offer sheet be from a man who feels nothing but contempt for offer sheets?

Brian Burke on offer sheets. Presser from July 6, 2011.

It's more fair to say Burke doesn't mind offer sheets as long as both teams are engaged in civil discussion about it and as long as the financial terms and contract structure are reasonable.

Before Cory Schneider was signed by the Vancouver Canucks to a three-year, $12 million contract back in late June, there was speculation that the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Leafs could sign Schneider to an offer sheet to force either him or Roberto Luongo out of Vancouver.

Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, as quoted in the Tampa Bay Times, had this to say:

"The only way a team doesn't match the offer is if you grossly overpay the player," he said. "That's why I don't like it. If you do a contract for the right value of a player, chances are the other team is just going to match it."

As of writing, David Poile and the Nashville Predators are still deciding whether or not to match the 14-year, $110 million offer sheet for Shea Weber that was submitted by the Philadelphia Flyers.

The annual cap hit for that deal, by the way, is $7,857,142.

That's only a slight raise from his $7,500,000 salary from the 2011-12 season.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Both these guys are RFAs in 2013. Start the rumours!

The cap hit isn't what's getting people talking about this offer sheet—it's the term and structure of the deal.

For Brian Burke, it likely isn't about the cap hit either, because Weber's worth around that much.

The deal is front-loaded and finishes shortly before Weber turns 41. Burke doesn't like front-loaded deals and doesn't think Weber will play until he's 40, so he calls cap circumvention on that deal.

That's a discussion for another time.

The point is that Burke isn't completely against offer sheets, but he doesn't like them because they usually involve giving a player more than they deserve or perhaps more than what is technically allowed.

There are a number of great players who are restricted free agents right now and for argument's sake, let's say the Leafs are interested.

As of right now, guys like Evander Kane, Michael Del Zotto, Jamie Benn and P.K. Subban are still unsigned by their respective clubs.

Their cap hits will likely be around $5 million, give or take.

If the Leafs offered, say, $5.5 million a year for X years for any one of those players, their respective teams would match in a heartbeat.

Unless a club is in a financial bind (like the Anaheim Ducks were after their 2007 Stanley Cup victory), they will match any and all "reasonable" offers for their RFAs.

It would probably take another $100 million-plus deal to pry Kane out of Winnipeg, Benn out of Dallas and so on, and that's not the type of thing Burke is willing to do.

Again, he doesn't hate offer sheets—it's just unlikely he'll ever do one because any reasonable offer would be matched and any unreasonable offer would go against his values.

That's Brian Burke for you, for better or for worse.

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