Restricted free agency and offer sheets continue to be unentertaining and non-existent in the NHL. Other professional sports leagues don’t neglect the restricted free agency market like NHL continues to do.
At this point, RFA’s are not even free agents. There’s no fear of another team coming in to swipe a player off the roster. Thus the player is forced into team-friendly contract more often than not.
It’s not surprising that a league that seems to go out of its way to remove entertainment from its game on the ice (see offside and goaltender interference challenge) would do the same in other areas as well.
In the NFL and NBA, we see offer sheets signed and restricted free agents change teams on an annual basis. The NHL saw their last offer sheet happen five years ago when the Calgary Flames offer sheeted Ryan O’Reilly who played for Colorado Avalanche at the time. He’s now playing for this third team since that happened.
Instead, star players like Nikita Kucherov, David Pastrnak, and Jacob Trouba sign team-friendly deals or settle in arbitration when they are prime candidates to be picked off an opponent’s roster.
So, what’s the deal? Why don’t general managers do what appears to be so obvious to other sand try to sign restricted free agents to improve their hockey club?
The main reason appears to be because it’s an “unwritten rule.” Leave my RFA’s alone and I won’t touch yours.
The good ole boys club.
You don’t want another general manager to be angry. They may not trade with you or could in return target one of your RFA’s.
Well, to counter that, there are 30 other teams you can trade with. Also if the fear of an offer sheet existed we’d probably see more sign prior to hitting the market and if someone offer sheeted your player, oh well. You can still match the offer or take the compensation for letting the player go.
Also, the average time a general manager spends with one team is three to four years. So, that GM who won’t be your friend anymore for offer sheeting your player, will probably be gone soon.
Is this not professional sports? Shouldn’t general managers want to take good players off of their opponent’s roster or put their competitors in a bad cap situation if they decide to match an offer sheet?
I can recall numerous team executives saying they’d explore every avenue to improve their team.
Except targeting restricted free agents.
Steve Yzerman is considered a genius for managing the cap of the Tampa Bay Lightning. To be fair he has done a masterful job to this point. However, he could have been knocked off his tracks if another team stepped up in the summer of 2016.
The second Steven Stamkos decided to return to the Lightning on an eight-year, $68 million contract, another club should have offer sheeted Kucherov. A player who was coming off a 30 goal and 66 point season was on the market if the right offer was made and it would have cost a couple of draft picks.
If the Lightning would have matched then it would have disrupted Yzerman’s strategy and perhaps another player could have come free.
As we all know that didn’t happen. Kucherov signed a three-year $14.3 million ($4.766 AAV) contract with Tampa Bay and allowed them to kick the can down the road.
Now, two years later the Lightning have the potential to fit Erik Karlsson on their loaded roster because nobody is going to offer sheet Brayden Point and he’ll agree to a favorable contract. Just like nobody dared take a run at Ondrej Palat or Tyler Johnson.
The compensation required to acquire a restricted free agent if the other team doesn’t match isn’t even that much to swallow anymore. A team has to sign a player to an offer sheet with an annual average value of over $10,148,302 to be forced to surrender four first-round picks.
Here’s a good full offer sheet compensation breakdown for 2018 from Cap Friendly:
At the trade deadline, the Vegas Golden Knights gave up a first, second and third-round pick to acquire Tomas Tatar from the Red Wings. Yet, a team can’t find the will to use those same assets to place an offer sheet on a player with a cap hit between $6 and $8 million?
Players in the league carry very little bargaining power until they hit unrestricted free agency which comes around the age 28 for most players. Restricted free agents have the tool of salary arbitration, but that doesn’t give them much.
We’re seeing that play out with Trouba and the Winnipeg Jets. He was just awarded a one-year, $5.5 million contract in arbitration. Right in the middle of his $7 million ask and the club’s $4 million valuation.
This is the second time the 24-year-old has had a contract dispute with the Jets. He’ll play this season on that awarded contract and then be a restricted free agent again next summer.
It’s understandable a player should have to earn the ability to have leverage in contract negotiations, but a player like Trouba who has five-years of NHL experience in the league should have a little more pull than salary arbitration.
Again, the solution is simple here. Make offer sheets a part of the picture.
It’ll make the offseason more exciting and could also increase the rate at which we see trades if teams don’t believe they can lock up their restricted free agent prior to hitting the market.
Owners won’t like giving out bigger contracts to players earlier in their career, but that’s part of the business. Other professional leagues do it and utilize offer sheets as a way to improve their team.
We’ll have this conversation next year and probably every year until a few general managers decide to break the trend.