The NHL Offer Sheets Unwritten Rule

As we are down to two teams facing each other in the Stanley Cup finals, we are also about a month away from the NHL Draft and the Free Agents’ frenzy. Teams will be allowed to speak to pending UFA’s and RFA’s of other teams starting the day after the Draft, which will be held at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Friday, June 21st and Saturday, June 22nd. So starting bright and early on June 23rd, NHL GM’s will be trying to lure away some players whom they feel would help improve their respective team and on July 1st, they can sign them to a contract. While recent history has proven to be better known for the Unrestricted Free Agents period, each and every year, media and fans alike are wondering if finally, a GM or two will have the courage to sign a player to an offer sheet.

First of all, we must understand what an offer sheet is and who is eligible to sign such offers. An offer sheet is a contract offered to a restricted free agent (RFA) by a team other than the one for which he played during the prior season. If the player signs the offer sheet, his current team has seven days to match the contract offer and keep the player or else he goes to the team that gave the offer sheet, with compensation going to his first team. Restricted (Group 2) NHL free agents can discuss new contracts with other teams beginning on the day after the Draft, which is also the deadline for a team to make a qualifying offer. Discussions must cease if a player accepts a contract from his own team or if he is confirmed to go into arbitration with his team.

The last offer sheet which ended up being unmatched was the signing of Dustin Penner by the Edmonton Oilers on July 26, 2007. Brian Burke and the Anaheim Ducks decided that the 5-year, $21.5 million offer was too rich for their blood to match and instead, accepted the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd round picks in 2008 as compensation. But it didn’t take more to fire up Burke who went into a very public verbal dispute with then Oilers’ General Manager Kevin Lowe.

“I like Kevin Lowe and I respect Kevin Lowe. But what he did was just so stupid to me and I fried him and then he challenged me to a fight on the air.” ~ Brian Burke

The next offer sheet – or should I say offer sheets – occured the following off-season when the Vancouver Canucks, then managed by rookie GM Mike Gillis, signed David Backes of the St. Louis Blues to a 3-year, $7.5 million contract. The Blues matched and then GM Larry Pleau went a step further by getting revenge on the Canucks a week later by signing pending RFA Steve Bernier to a one-year, $2.5 million deal. The Canucks also matched but they ended up paying Bernier much more than they wanted to because of it. It is important to note that Gillis has since been fired and so far, has never been hired as GM while Pleau resigned from the position in 2010, two years after the offer sheets were exchanged.

Shea Weber’s current contract was the results of an offer sheet by the Philadelphia Flyers, matched at the time by the Predators.

Since then, there have been only three (3) more offer sheets signed by NHL General Managers and the most lucrative all-time was when Philadelphia Flyers’ GM Paul Holmgren tried to scoop All-Star defenseman Shea Weber from the Nashville Predators, signing him to a 14-year, $110 million offer sheet. Preds’ GM David Poile ended up matching the offer which finally ended up forcing them to trade away Weber when a $13 million signing bonus, due on July 1st, 2016, was too rich for the ownership’s pockets.

PLAYERDATEOFFER AMOUNTORIGINAL TEAMOFFER TEAMRESULTSNOTES
Ryan Kesler2006-09-121 yr – $1.9MCanucksFlyersMatched
Thomas Vanek2007-07-067 yrs – $50MSabresOilersMatched
Dustin Penner2007-07-265 yrs – $21.5MDucksOilersAccepted1st, 2nd, and 3rd round picks in 2008
David Backes2008-07-013 yrs – $7.5MBluesCanucksMatched
Steve Bernier2008-07-081 yr – $2.5MCanucksBluesMatched
Niklas Hjalmarsson2010-07-094 yrs – $14MBlackhawksSharksMatched
Shea Weber2012-07-1814 yrs – $110MPredatorsFlyersMatched
Ryan O’Reilly2013-02-282 yrs – $10MAvalancheFlamesMatched

A tool under-utilized?

Players want the offer sheets to be used as it helps them bring the salaries up for everyone. Fans want to see this tool used more because it would generate some additional excitement with the potential of player-movement. But why isn’t it used more if it’s “legal” under the terms of the collective agreement? There are at least three very legitimate reasons why no offer sheet has been signed since 2013… and don’t think for a second that there hasn’t been any quality RFA’s available on the last six years!

1- Hard Salary Cap

As a GM, you have to contend with either the hard salary cap imposed by the league if you manage a team spending to the ceiling, or you have your own internal salary cap set by the owners if you’re running more of a budget team. Either way, in order to stand a chance to sign a player to an offer sheet with your team, the GM will have to go at least slightly above “market value”, or what the team owning the player’s rights is willing to pay him. In both case, whether you – or any other GM – sign a player to an offer sheet, it raises the average salary and cuts back on somewhat “cheaper labour”. Further, it inflates the salaries of similar production players around the NHL, including your own, in their next negotiation.

2- Steep Compensation

In order to sign a player to an offer sheet, a GM must, first and foremost, have the necessary picks to be able to compensate the other team in the event that they chose not to match the offer. For one thing, the picks must not only have all of the necessary picks, but they must be their own, not picks acquired through trades with other teams.

Here are the teams capable of signing offer sheets based on salary compensation:

Source: CapFriendly.com

So as you can see, a top-end player signed at $8.5M AAV per season costs four picks including two first rounders. Signing a player with an offer sheet of over $10.6M AAV would leave the team without a first round pick for the next four years!

Here’s an important twist however, that many don’t know… The compensation limits are the AAV of the offer sheet averaged over the length of the contract to an upper limit of five years. Here is an example to explain this: If a team signs a player to an offer sheet for 7-years at 10 million ($10M AAV), that seems at first look to require two first-round picks, one second and one third, right? That’s not the case! That $70 million has to be divided by five, so it’s actually an AAV of $14 million, and is a top-tier, four first-round picks compensation offer sheet.

3- Fear of Retribution

This is perhaps the point the most overlooked by media members and fans alike yet, it might just be the single most important point for NHL teams and their General Managers. Paul Holmgren admitted that he was forced to step down from his position as GM of the Philadelphia Flyers because of the offer sheet he signed Weber to. Why? Because no one wanted to do business with him afterwards. He was on the “blacklist” amongst NHL GMs.

Paul Holmgren admitted having to step down as Flyers’ GM because no one wanted to deal with him after signing Shea Weber to an offer sheet.

“It’s hard to do this job if you have a bad relationship, or at least a perceived bad relationship, with any number of GMs.” ~ Paul Holmgren

Unlike any other year, this summer’s list is very interesting, to say the least. I like sorting them by time on the ice per game as it often shows how valuable those players are already, gauging by how much they were counted on by their coaches. Feel free to click the link below the picture to sort them as you with on CapFriendly.com.

Source: Capfriendly.com

To get a full picture, one would have to take the time to look at teams individually and see how many NHL contracts they each have, how many pending key UFA’s and RFA’s they have to re-sign, and how close they are to the Salary Cap to determine how many teams in total would be capable of signing a RFA to an offer sheet which would either guarantee them the player, or at least put the other team in a tight spot if they chose to match the offer.

“When you sit in this chair, you’ve got to think long-term also,” Bergevin said at his end-of-season presser, noting the steep price tag of four firsts. “Trust me, it’s a tool [the offer sheet] that we look at all the time.”

While everything is possible, it is unlikely to see Marc Bergevin sign a player to an offer sheet.

That said, rest assured Habs’ fans, Marc Bergevin was being politically correct with this quote and he is very unlikely looking at the offer sheet tool as a serious option if he wants to keep a job as GM in the NHL. While very competitive and even cut-throat at times, NHL GM’s are a tight brotherhood and coaches and GM’s are being blacklisted from time to time. Pleau, Gillis and Holmgren found out the hard way, Ted Nolan has never been offered another job in the NHL (aside from a short stint back with the Sabres in 2013) after throwing his then GM John Muckler under the bus and Patrick Roy, after putting Joe Sakic in a bind by quitting late in the summer, has yet to return to the NHL in any functions.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the way for Bergevin to address his biggest need for a top-4 left-handed defenseman would be through trade. He will be going hard after Matt Duchene though. The ideal summer for Bergevin and the Habs would be, in my humble opinion, if he signs pending UFA Matt Duchene and trades for a top-4 left defenseman to play tough minutes with Weber. At the very least, he MUST finally address the need for that elusive defenseman. Anything short of that would be a huge disappointment. Go Habs Go!

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Brian Burke: Attacks on Bergevin Absurd

BBurke

In a hyper-sensitive society where political correctness is the only acceptable way, or so it seems, they are few and far between in the NHL who dare speak their mind no matter what the effect could be. Many players, coaches and general managers are being accused of having “canned answers” when meeting with the press and that upsets more than a few people. But one guy who never was afraid of speaking his mind is the current Calgary Flames’ President of hockey operations, Brian Burke.

Having served most prestigious positions in hockey, from players’ agent, GM to President of NHL teams, GM of the US national Olympic team and Executive Vice-President and Director of Hockey Operations in the league’s front office under Gary Bettman, few are more qualified than him. And yes, he has won a Stanley Cup as GM of the Anaheim Ducks, for those who would be tempted to downplay Burke’s achievements.

Vancouver Canucks’ fans will remember some of his most iconic quotes:

Even TSN made a Top-10 quotes from Brian Burke:

Burke calls out Habs’ fans and media

In his most recent rant, Burke didn’t shy away from stepping on people’s toes, even if it happens to be in Montreal. A (loud) minority of fans and media are very vocal about the fact that the Nashville predators are still playing hockey, competing for the NHL’s Holy Grail against the Pittsburgh Penguins, while the Canadiens’ players are posting pictures of themselves vacationing. Whether it be Brendan Gallagher and Shea Weber golfing together, Nathan Beaulieu on a beach with his beautiful girlfriend or Carey Price with a muddy ATV, some fans and media personalities, particularly those who have had to hold back all season talking about THE trade, are out in force.

The flavour of the month is now Predators’ GM David Poile, who for the first time in his 34 year career as a GM (15 in Washington, 19 in Nashville), has managed to bring a team he managed to the Stanley Cup finals. Prior to him, the “model” to follow was Dallas Stars’ GM Jim Nill, but that cooled off rather quickly. But here’s what Burke had to tell the disgruntled Bergevin bashers this past Thursday while being interviewed on TSN690 radio by former Canadiens Chris Nilan:

“Montreal is a different market. In Montreal, you’re stupid twice. In Toronto, you’re only stupid in English. In Montreal, you’re stupid twice, there’s two languages.”

“Marc Bergevin has done a great job in Montreal. He’s a great person and it’s ridiculous the attacks that he’s undergoing right now. It’s absurd.”

“Bergevin is one of the great judges of talent in the modern era. There’s a handful of guys that can really watch games and pick players out. He’s one of them, Rick Dudley’s one of them, Bob Murray’s one of them.”

“What’s haunting him here is the progression of Nashville through the playoffs. Nashville is not winning because of P.K. Subban alone. They’ve had the best goaltender in the league in Pekka Rinne, they’ve been the hardest working team in the playoffs, and that’s what’s enabled them to succeed. The notion Shea Weber for P.K. wasn’t a good deal because P.K. is still playing, how does that work? How does that work?”

“They give you a blindfold and a cigarette, any last words and they shoot you in the head. And they hire a new GM. And that day will come for Marc Bergevin like it comes for all of us, that’s how this business works. But to suggest right now that the things he’s done, that it’s warranted, just doesn’t make any sense. It just proves that some people need hobbies.”

I know, I know… those people will come back accusing Bergevin of excelling at getting bottom-six players. They will sarcastically call the Canadiens’ GM “Bargain Bin”, and they will throw everything in sight towards him or anyone who dares standing up for him or his work. The fact of the matter is that those people don’t know anything about what’s going on behind the scene when running a NHL team. They only see the tip of the iceberg and yet, make judgements based on that.

Sometimes, don’t you wish that team GMs had the guts to do what Burke himself did, at the request of the NHL, and published a diary of the talks that they’ve had with other teams’ GMs, which I highly recommend you read? Let me give you a few examples:

  • Remember when then GM Bob Gainey traded young defenseman prospect Ryan McDonaugh to the New York Rangers for Scott Gomez, in hope to plug a hole at centre? What if Bergevin published such a diary and we found out that, in order to get Matt Duchene, the asking price from Joe Sakic was Mikhail Sergachev?
  • What if Bergevin published, in a diary, that he had contacted the Columbus Blue Jackets for Ryan Johansen but was told no, they weren’t interested in any of the team’s defensemen, that in their opinion, they didn’t have an equivalent to Seth Jones?
  • Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher, when talking about the trade he made for Martin Hanzal, who was also rumoured in Montreal, said: “In hindsight, geez, I wish we wouldn’t have done that.” You see, those picks could have really come in handy right now. They could’ve used them to strike a deal with Vegas to make sure a player like Niederreiter or Dumba doesn’t get taken in the expansion draft, or they could have used them to entice another team to take an expensive contract with a no-move clause off their hands, like Pominville.

Sometimes, the deals you don’t make are the best deals out there. But don’t you wish we would know what’s being offered and demanded in trades that don’t happen? Something tells me that fewer disgruntled fans and media in Montreal would have the audacity to criticize publicly, particularly that they would be judged by everyone if they did. Go Habs Go!