Signing a player to an offer sheet is a great idea in principle but is rarely practical or fruitful, like hitchhiking at night or a live-action Garfield movie. It rarely works out the way it is intended and almost always ends with large groups of people upset over the time they wasted on the endeavor.
If you're expecting your favorite hockey team this summer to both sign a player to an offer sheet and have that player's current team fail to match, you will experience the same sadness as that hitchhiker in the trunk of the serial killer's car or the person who paid 10 bucks to watch Breckin Meyer talk to a cartoon cat.
Since 2005-06, eight players have signed offer sheets—Ryan Kesler, Thomas Vanek, Dustin Penner, David Backes, Steve Bernier, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Shea Weber and Ryan O'Reilly. Only Penner was allowed to walk away in 2007, as the Anaheim Ducks decided five years and $21.5 million from the Edmonton Oilers was too rich for their blood.
Looking at the available, eligible RFAs this summer, there's just no way that can happen again.
In order to execute the perfect poaching by offer sheet, the universes and galaxies must align perfectly. A team must find itself in salary-cap hell with a handful of free agents, restricted or unrestricted, that require raises. The player in question must be worthy of the compensation package (via a @mirtle screengrab here) that would be required to satisfy his current team.
|Offer sheet compensation requirements|
|$1,110,249 or less||No compensation|
|Over $1,110,249 to $1,682,194||Third-round draft pick|
|Over $1,682,194 to $3,364,391||Second-round draft pick|
|Over $3,364,391 to $5,046,585||First- and third-round draft picks|
|Over $5,046,585 to $6,728,781||A first-, second- and third-round pick|
|Over $6,728,781 to $8,410,976||Two first-round picks, one second-, one third-round pick|
|Over $8,410,976||Four first-round draft picks|
|James Mirtle (@mirtle)|
Most importantly, the player must be willing to sign the offer sheet and risk generating a rift between himself and his current organization should the contract be matched.
The San Jose Sharks believed they had the Chicago Blackhawks in that situation in 2010 when general manager Doug Wilson inked Hjalmarsson to a four-year, $14 million deal. Chicago had just won a Stanley Cup but needed to clear cap space for the following season, something general manager Stan Bowman artistically accomplished that summer. The Blackhawks chose to match the Hjalmarsson offer sheet, but that move forced them to part ways with goaltender Antti Niemi.
That same summer, the Sharks signed Niemi to a one-year, $2 million deal and later to a four-year, $15.2 million contract that expires after this season. The Sharks didn't get their defenseman via offer sheet, but it indirectly led to the team landing a No. 1 goaltender to replace Evgeni Nabokov.
That situation simply isn't there this summer.
All eyes were on the Boston Bruins, who as of Monday have about $5.6 million in salary-cap space with RFAs Reilly Smith and Torey Krug looming as offer sheet candidates. Alas, neither player is eligible to sign an offer sheet, as both played fewer than 10 games in their first season. If not for that caveat, signing each to contracts with $5 million cap hits would have forced the Bruins to either let them go or make a trade to free the space to retain their services.
The New York Rangers had to buy out Brad Richards in order to create the space to sign RFAs Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello and Chris Kreider, with Kreider serving as a tempting offer sheet candidate with his size and speed on the wing. Yet all three were among 20 players who filed for salary arbitration, making them unable to receive offer sheets.
The two biggest RFA fish are Ryan Johansen of the Columbus Blue Jackets and P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens. Subban ruled out the possibility of a pointless offer sheet by filing for arbitration while he works out a long-term contract, and Johansen—well, why bother?
Johansen is a star in the making, a 6'3", 223-pound, 21-year-old center who had 33 goals in 82 games last season. He expressed displeasure with a contract offer from the Blue Jackets, calling it a "slap in the face" in an interview with The Columbus Dispatch. With all that in mind, Johansen appears to be the perfect candidate for an offer sheet.
He's young, talented and publicly unhappy.
He's also never going to be allowed to leave Columbus.
General manager Jarmo Kekalainen has said he will match any offer sheet that Johansen would sign, something any GM would say to the media to ward off other teams. But in this case, with nearly $16 million in cap space, there's no contract big enough that would cause the Blue Jackets to allow him to leave. The Blue Jackets would prefer the bridge deal (which is code for "bad deal the player can't do anything about"), but if their backs were against the wall, they'd pay Johansen whatever was needed to keep him in Columbus.
There are plenty of reasons to not sign players to offer sheets, one of which includes fear of retribution from teams that carry grudges about having their young players stolen or their values inflated. "Try to sign our guy to an offer sheet, and we'll do the same to you later" is the principle, one that certainly exists behind the scenes in the NHL. That hasn't been the case between the Sharks and Blackhawks, as they have executed three trades since the Hjalmarsson offer sheet, including the deal that sent Michal Handzus to Chicago before the Blackhawks won the Cup in 2013.
This summer, it's not about an old boys network preventing players from receiving offer sheets.
It's that players either aren't eligible for them or aren't worth the compensation.
Or in Johansen's case, it would be as pointless as a Garfield sequel.
Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.
All statistics via NHL.com.
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