Any time a young, big-name player enters the restricted free agent market, fans wonder if an offer sheet might be coming.
And sometimes they are. For example, Philadelphia Flyers attempted to snatch defenseman Shea Weber from Nashville last season, but the Predators matched. Which is part of the problem: Historically, teams have almost always matched.
“Offer sheets aren’t a concern,” Blues GM Doug Armstrong said in June.
Armstrong’s negotiating with arguably the most appealing restricted free agent in defenseman Alex Pietrangelo.
“It’s part of the business and you know that they’re there,” he added. “Nothing in an offer sheet is going to be that much crazier than we’re willing to spend anyway.”
That’s especially true now. Going back to the Weber example, the Flyers attempted to out-muscle a smaller market team by heavily frontloading the contract, but the new CBA prevents teams from trying that now.
With that in mind, would Pietrangelo even bother to sign an offer sheet, knowing that all it would serve to do is create a potential rift with the Blues once they match it?
Maybe not, but the Blues are in a somewhat unique situation this year and it’s with that in mind we can’t dismiss the possibility of offer sheets in general. St. Louis has plenty of cap space to work with, but the ceiling has fallen significantly, which means that other teams are more vulnerable to offer sheets now than they have been in a while.
For example, the Toronto Maple Leafs still have five noteworthy restricted free agents and they just handed big deals to David Clarkson and Tyler Bozak. Their cap situation isn’t critical yet, but an opposing team could put them in a difficult position by throwing a big contract at 22-year-old forward Nazem Kadri.
“Whenever you have a certain number of teams that are at or near the cap with restricted free agents, they don’t have the ability to match the offer sheet,” said agent Allan Walsh, according to the Toronto Star. “Or they’re put into a situation where they match the offer sheet and have to let somebody else go.”
That tactic seemed to work out for the San Jose Sharks in 2010. They signed Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to a four-year, $14 million contract. The Blackhawks matched, but that made a bad cap situation worse and they were ultimately unable to fit goaltender Antti Niemi under the ceiling as well. The Sharks then scooped up the Stanley Cup-winning netminder.
Alternatively, teams could snatch up lower profile, but still noteworthy young players on cap vulnerable teams, such as Detroit’s Gustav Nyquist, Chicago’s Marcus Kruger, and Vancouver’s Chris Tanev.
Those deals would have the added benefit of being more appealing to the offering team from a draft pick compensation perspective. The cap hit of the new contract needs to exceed roughly $3.36 million for the original team to get more than a third rounder as compensation.
In the end, the next offer sheet might not be a blockbuster, but it could result in an up-and-coming complimentary player changing teams.