NHL Free Agency: Why Are Offer Sheets Not Used More?

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NHL Free Agency: Why Are Offer Sheets Not Used More?
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Drew doesn't know either.

This year's class of unrestricted free agents was weak. This summer's class of restricted rree agents was a bumper crop that featured the likes of Steven Stamkos, Drew Doughty, Shea Weber, Keith Yandle and Zach Parise, among others.

Does it strike anyone else as odd that not a single offer sheet has been extended this summer?

In my opinion, it's not only odd, it seems just downright moronic.

There are seven categories of offer sheets that can be extended. The higher the annual cap hit, the higher the compensation. Here are the RFA compensation criteria for 2011-2012:

  • $1,034,249 annual cap hit or less: No compensation
  • $1,034,249 - $1,567,043: Third-round pick
  • $1,567,043 - $3,134,088: Second-round pick
  • $3,134,088 - $4,701,131: First- and third-round picks
  • $4,701,131 - $6,268,175: First-, second- and third-round picks
  • $6,268,175 - $7,835,219: Two first-round picks, a second- and a third-rounder
  • $7,835,219 and upwards: Four first-round picks

Any team that is going to sign a player to an offer sheet must have the required draft picks available and those picks must be their own. Thus, picks acquired in trades cannot be used.  It is possible to have multiple offer sheets signed simultaneously as long as the necessary picks are available.

If I were the general manager of a rebuilding franchise with loads of cap space—e.g., the Colorado Avalanche—I would be scouring the second and third lines of contending teams who were up against the cap.

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I would identify players who have been held back from reaching their true potential due to playing behind and backing up elite players, and I would sign them to a Class 5 or 6 offer sheet, where the most I would have to give up would be a second-round draft pick

If a team had two players who fit my criteria and were both RFAs, I would go ahead and extend offer sheets to both of them.

Radical? Maybe.

Effective? I think so. Just hear me out.

Before July 1st, I had identified the Chicago Blackhawks, Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers as teams with players I would have targeted.

From Chicago, I would have signed Troy Brouwer to a Class 6 offer sheet and Michael Frolik to a Class 5. What this would have done is force Stan Bowman to choose which player to keep and which to let go of. He might have been able to afford to keep both of them, but I gamble that he wouldn't.

If Bowman was smart he would choose to keep Frolik, because he is the better of the two. But I still would have walked away with a useful player, only giving up a third-round pick. Considering Washington gave up a first-round pick for Brouwer, that would have been a steal.

From the Flyers, I would have targeted Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek. Glen Sather would have been upset to learn he was going to have to choose between Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky.

Sure I would have ruffled a few feathers—but who cares? Offer sheets are perfectly allowed under the CBA, and I would have walked away with good hockey players who will make my team better. I would own their rights for the foreseeable future, at salaries less than what I would have to pay on the open market.

If I really wanted to shake things up, I could target the teams within my own division. I would look at players with salaries higher than their own team would want to pay but still low enough to be matched.

This would screw up my rival teams' cap space and possible force them to part with useful players down the line. San Jose did something similar last year when they signed Niklas Hjalmarsson to an offer sheet last summer, forcing Chicago to walk away from Antii Niemi. San Jose then swooped in and scooped Niemi up.

So why aren't offer sheets used more? I don't know.

The easy answer is the threat of retaliation. Dean Lombardi made a public statement once threatening any team that signs his players to an offer sheet will be met with "both barrels firing."

I don't think there is anything to threats like that, though. NHL general managers don't run their teams based on spite and revenge. They are tasked with building the best team possible. Refusing to do business with a fellow GM simply because he used a legal method to poach one of his players, or to make getting revenge the primary goal rather than winning is a surefire way to have a losing hockey team. And if you have a losing hockey team, then how much longer will you keep your job?

When employed effectively, offer sheets can be used to acquire talent for less than it would cost on the open market and for less than it would cost in a trade. They can also be used as a weapon to foul up a rival team's cap structure, causing them to part ways with useful players who can then be signed from the open market or acquired cheaply through trades.

It seems strange to me that not a single offer sheet has been tendered so far this summer.

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