Don’t Hold Your Breath for Habs’ Offer Sheet

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The Canadiens’ season ending rather prematurely certainly has fans and media talking, and with good reasons. The team’s lack of offensive threat has been a problem since the second half of the season and ultimately, cost the team a chance to face the Senators in the division finals and perhaps even to represent the Eastern Conference in the finals.

No one knows that better than better than team GM Marc Bergevin who, in his press conference, acknowledged that his team needs a boost in that department, particularly at the centre position. After all, while Tomas Plekanec was starting to show signs of slowing down, it was difficult to predict that he would be completely MIA on offense and who in their right mind would have predicted that Alex Galchenyuk would hit rock bottom a year after scoring 30 goals?

Fans and media alike are looking at ways that the Habs can improve their offense rather rapidly, based on what’s available out there on the market and they are quick to point out that both Jonathan Drouin and Leon Draisaitl are Restricted Free Agents (RFA) with compensation and could be eligible to offer sheets. While those players are exceptional young talents, many like yours truly question if the offer sheet is even an option.

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Jonathan Drouin is a pending RFA

While legal according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Offer Sheets are seldom used by NHL General Managers and while no one will come out publicly and admit it, the tool is heavily frowned upon by GMs around the league as it is perceived as putting their homologues in dicy situations in a salary cap world, where cheap talent is key to having a competitive team. The fact is that most GMs don’t want to use it, whether is by principle alone, or by fear of retribution by their colleagues in the future.

But instead of going with suppositions, why don’t we look at all of the offer sheets signed since the introduction of the salary cap after the 2005 season. Here’s a chart to help have a clearer picture:

NAME DATE OFFER OWNER SIGNED RESULT
Ryan Kesler Sept 12/06 1 year $1.9M VAN PHI Matched
Thomas Vanek July 6/07 7 years $50M BUF EDM Matched
Dustin Penner July 26/07 5 years $21.5M ANA EDM Accepted
David Backes July 1/08 3 years $7.5M STL VAN Matched
Steve Bernier July 8/08 1 year $2.5M VAN STL Matched
Niklas Hjalmarsson July 9/10 4 years $14M CHI SJS Matched
Shea Weber July 18/12 14 years $110M NAS PHI Matched
Ryan O’Reilly February 28/13 2 years $10M COL CGY Matched

As you notice, only eight players have signed offer sheets as a RFA and all but one was matched by the team. Only Brian Burke‘s Anaheim Ducks backed out and took, instead, the compensation which was the Oilers 1st (12th), 2nd (43rd) and 3rd (73rd) round picks in the 2008 draft.

Everyone else matched the original offer, which is quite telling. If a team is going to brave the rest of the league by signing a player to an offer sheet, they will usually sign players who can have, in their opinion, an impact in the NHL. More interesting though is what happened (or not) to those so-called gutsy GMs who dared to break the unwritten rule.

  1. The first GM out of the gate after the salary cap CBA was Bobby Clarke, who signed Kesler back in September 2006.  He was replaced by Paul Holmgren the following month, on October 22, 2006.
  2. Kevin Lowe is the GM who signed both Vanek and Penner in 2007. He lasted a year before being replaced by Steve Tambellini on July 31, 2008.
  3. Canucks’ GM Mike Gillis was just hired on April 23, 2008 prior to signing Backes to an offer sheet the next summer. St-Louis Blues GM at the time, Larry Pleau, gave him a taste of his own medicine when a week later, he signed Bernier, who was just acquired in a trade four days earlier by Gillis, to an offer sheet of his own. Gillis completed several minor deals after, but had to wait to 2013 before being able to complete a substantial trade, acquiring the 9th pick overall (Bo Horvat) from the Devils for Cory Schneider.
  4. Doug Wilson of the San Jose Sharks is definitely the exception to the rule. He has completed several trades, including some important ones, after signing Hjalmarsson to an offer sheet in 2010. Wilson has even completed three trades with the Blackhawks since that time!
  5. Faced with the loss of Chris Pronger to injury, Paul Holmgren and the Flyers were in desperation mode and signed Shea Weber to the richest offer sheet in NHL history, hoping that the Predators couldn’t match… but they did. In the two following years at the helm of the team, Holmgren has completed a dozen trades, but none of impact. In the book released for the Flyers’ 50 anniversary, he admitted being unable to find people to trade with because of it. He had to step down and give way to Ron Hextall for that reason.
  6. Brian Burke, then interim GM for the Flames and who was quite verbal against Kevin Lowe’s offer sheet to Dustin Penner six years earlier while GM with the Ducks, signed Ryan O’Reilly to an offer sheet of his own in what is perhaps the most hypocritical offer sheet signing ever. Colorado matched and Burke went back into is President’s role making ways to Brad Treliving just a few months later.

So Habs’ fans and media, unless you want Marc Bergevin out, which clearly some of you do, what do you really think the odds are of him signing one of Drouin or Draisaitl to an offer sheet? Do you honestly think for a minute, based on facts and history, that it would be for the best of the team, of the organization? Oh don’t get me wrong here, if Drouin is available as rumours around the NHL seem to suggest, Bergevin will be all in to get him, but it will be, in my humble opinion at least, through the traditional way of trade. As for Draisaitl, don’t lose too much sleep over that folks, he will be re-signed in Edmonton.

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