Why NHL RFAs Almost Never Sign Offer Sheets

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Why NHL RFAs Almost Never Sign Offer Sheets
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

So it's amazing but we are now in the month of August with James Neal and Bobby Ryan still unsigned. Lots of RFA movements this year as Niklas Hjalmarsson was given an offer sheet and James Wisniewski was traded for a conditional third round pick.

So why is there a lack of movement for James Neal and Bobby Ryan? It may have something to do with the summer of 2007. In the summer of 2007, Kevin Lowe gave Thomas Vanek an offer sheet of seven years and total money of $50 million. The Buffalo Sabres decided to match it. 

The next thing that Lowe did may have shaped the landscape of RFAs for years to come and may explain the lack of movement in RFAs the last two years. He decided to offer Dustin Penner a five-year $21.25 million contract. Remember that? Let me remind you of what followed.

Brian Burke blew up, literally. He was so mad he yelled at the media about how he was blindsided. Essentially it boiled down to the fact that he thought there should have been proper dialogue throughout the entire process instead of just blindsiding him with that contract. Furthermore, he said he will take the draft picks and knowing the Edmonton Oilers they will be very good picks. 

Now nobody wants to create a feud like that over one RFA signing. Why? It basically boils down to the fact if you have a bad relationship with a GM you cannot deal with him. So you only have 28 GMs in the league to deal with, assuming you did not alienate anyone else because of your feud which can get very public. 

Even Burke realized this causes a disadvantage and so with the passing of his wonderful son, he decided to reconcile with Kevin Lowe. Granted his son had a big part in it, but at the same time it may have crossed his mind that he is not only depriving himself and Lowe, but he is also depriving the fans of possibly amazing trades.

All of these GMs must have realized that they do not want to have a bad relationship with any of their fellow GMs as it is a distraction. Furthermore it is injustice as you are punishing the fans for being angry at a fellow GM. So nowadays, things in the RFA market work a bit differently.

First of all, you will notice that after the Penner signing there were only three offer sheets, all of which were matched. First was Backes and Bernier for $2.5 million cap hits, Backes for three years, Bernier for one year. The latest development was the Hjalmarsson signing which was a whopping $3.5 million cap hit, which Chicago decided to match.

The only significant RFA changing teams since the Penner fiasco was Phil Kessel. He was dealt for two first rounds and a second round pick. Give me about a minute to cry. Okay, I'm back.

So this deal ironically was orchestrated by Brian Burke to acquire Phil Kessel. He argued that he had dialogue with Peter Chiarelli throughout the entire process and as such did not "blindside" him. So he considers it fair game, which is reasonable, and Chiarelli has not complained.

So how have the rules of RFA engagement changed? Teams now have open dialogue to trade instead of just offering RFA contracts which are considered rude. Consider the Bernier offer sheet was just done because the Canucks wanted to send a message to the Blues: "Don't mess with our RFAs, or else."

So teams are negotiating trades instead of sending out offer sheets.

This has another advantage teams in the past have overlooked. You can trade players you may not want any more for the RFA player, such that both teams fill a need or maybe more. This is a win-win scenario and we should all thank Burke for it.

What this means for James Neal and Bobby Ryan is that teams are asking to trade for them, as they know there must be some disconnect in the contract negotiations to drag it out this long.

When the offer sheets come, both Anaheim and Dallas will be ready and know which teams they are dealing with. I look forward to see how this will end; I really want to see another feud between GMs. However, the evidence says that's probably not happening. 

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