With June underway, Canes and Coffee has started diligently working on building a Carolina Hurricanes roster that will return to the NHL playoffs in the spring of 2018. We are on the phone daily with Ron Francis (complete lie) and are working round the clock on this project (also a lie because of jobs and real life).
Nonetheless, we have posted an article that identified the team’s needs (Part 1) and an article that offers a warning about staying on task and not being distracted by ‘shiny things’ (Part 2). And the Thursday Coffee Shop has polls and discussion also aimed at building our 2017-18 Carolina Hurricanes.
Somewhat like yesterday’s article that eliminated 75 percent of players from consideration in one fell swoop, Part 3 is mostly another bucket of cold water being poured on hot stuff.
How offer sheets work
For anyone who needs a quick primer, ‘offer sheets’ are basically contract offers that attempt to steal a restricted free agent from another team. As a general rule, restricted free agents can but very, very rarely sign with other teams.
Part of the reason is the mechanics. If a player signs an offer sheet with another team, the team that holds that players rights then has the right to simply match the offer sheet and keep the player on that contract. The only way this differs from if the team just signed the player itself is that the team must take the agreed-to terms and cannot trade the player for one year. If the team that owns the players rights chooses not to match the offer sheet, instead letting the player walk, they are compensated with draft picks from the team that signed the player.
The number of draft picks is determined by the annual salary of the player, and it becomes fairly prohibitive for higher-end players. (Numbers rounded) Less than $1.3 million = no compensation; $1.3-2.0 million = third round pick; $2.0-3.9 million = second round pick; $3.9-5.9 million = first and third round picks; $5.9-7.9 million = first, second and third round picks = $7.9-9.8 million = two first, second and third round picks; More than $9.8 million = four first round picks.
So basically, if a team signs a player to an offer sheet, they are offering up a defined collection of draft picks to take that player, but the team who owns the rights can veto the deal simply by matching offer sheet and signing the player to that contract. If that happens, the contract is signed. There are no additional rounds of negotiation possible as with an unrestricted free agent who could negotiate back and forth with two teams.
General taboo status of NHL offer sheets
Though any kind of formal agreement would certainly be some kind of violation of the collective bargaining agreement, there seems to exist a gentleman’s agreement between the general managers such that offer sheets appear to be frowned upon and are barely used. With dozens of players becoming restricted free agents every summer since the first salary cap era collective bargaining agreement kicked in for the 2005-06 season, Wikipedia shows only eight offer sheets signed and only one not matched (Dustin Penner in 2007).
At a basic level, the matching right of the original team makes any offer sheet a low probability. Unless a team significantly overbids for a player and/or hits a team with nothing for salary cap flexibility, any offer for a good player is highly likely to be matched. In addition, for the trouble and no reward, a team could theoretically incur retribution from the other team later and/or even the rest of the league for their non-compliance with the unwritten rules.
And the retribution potential is X10 for the Hurricanes right now
The potential for retribution is directly relevant to the Hurricanes right now. The team is scheduled to have four fairly high-end restricted free agents next summer in Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm and then another the following summer in Sebastian Aho.
So if Ron Francis signed a player to an offer sheet this summer, there are numerous opportunities for the opposing general manager to seek revenge. More significantly, if the Hurricanes become a team that breaks the unwritten rule, are they then marked and not protected by the gentleman’s agreement for the other 29 teams too? if I was Ron Francis, I would not want to enter the next two summers with a self-inflicted target on my back with regard to offer sheets.
But it is a good summer for offer sheets
There is a buzz about offer sheets at about this time every off-season. Despite the fact that we have seen less than one offer sheet per year, the discussion still helps fill the dead part of the off-season before the draft and free agency. And it offers a way for fans to dream about adding the greatest young stars to their team. But as stated above, there is the annual commotion, but nothing actually comes to pass.
That said, I think the potential is slightly higher this summer simply because of the volume and quality level of the unrestricted free agent pool and also the fact that a few of these players are with teams that have salary cap challenges and could struggle to match a big offer and still make their budget work.
Jonathan Drouin jumps out as the prime example of a player with a team that really cannot afford offer sheet meddling driving up his price. Also mired in Tampa Bay’s salary cap issues are the next contracts for Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. Then there is a trio of top-line centers in Leon Draisatl, Ryan Johansen and Evgeny Kuznetsov. There are high-pedigree young forwards like Alex Galchenyuk, Andre Burakovsky, Nino Niederreiter and more. And there is a decent crop of young defensemen that includes Shayne Gostisbehere, Colton Parayko and Justin Schultz.
So with the number of high-end players who just might be worth the retribution risk and draft pick cost, the summer of 2017 does have opportunities that could be exploited if the gentleman’s agreement cracks and yields way to more of an unrestricted free agent type frenzy.
And Francis has the assets needed
With two extra second round and also an extra third round pick, Ron Francis theoretically has the ammunition to utilize an offer sheet without decimating the team’s 2017 draft. And as the bottom team in terms of salary right now, he should also have some salary budget if he can find a good use for it. The combination of available assets, the slow time of the off-season before the draft and a couple enticing restricted free agents fuels ‘what ifs.’
The big fish – Leon Draisatl
I have had a couple conversations and seen a few social media mentions of Leon Draistatl as a Hurricanes’ offer sheet target. As much as I would love to ink him into the C1 slot for years to come, I think the probability of him wearing a Hurricanes’ uniform next fall is incredibly close to zero.
Draisatl is Connor McDavid’s Evgeni Malkin. With the continued success that the Pittsburgh Penguins are having with two elite centers down the middle of their lineup, I honestly do not think there is a price that would see Edmonton walk away from Draisatl. The most likely effect is that Edmonton would have to scramble more aggressively to unload Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and/or Jordan Eberle possibly for a lower price to make the math work. That could benefit the Hurricanes who could use one of these players except for the fact that there is no way that Edmonton would help the Hurricanes out in the aftermath of a Draisatl offer sheet.
So if the Hurricanes offer sheet Draisatl, they probably take themselves out of the running for Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle which might or might not be a big deal, and maybe more significantly, the team might give up whatever gentleman’s agreement protection it has for its own restricted free agents over the next couple years. And all of this is to make an offer that has virtually no chance of not being matched.
The Tampa Bay situation – Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin
If I was going to consider an offer sheet this summer, I think the place where I would invest my energy and research is Tampa Bay. The Lightning are up against it again salary cap-wise and have three higher-end restricted free agents. I would guess that Francis will at least give Yzerman a call to see which of the three Lightning forwards who are restricted free agents might be available and for what price.
If that does not yield results, I guess an offer sheet is possible. There are a couple key differences give this a somewhat better chance than the Draisatl/Oilers situation (which I declared to be about zero). First, none of the players in question are true franchise players with ‘match any offer’ importance like Draisatl. Second, Yzerman is going to have a tough time making the math work with all three players retained. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Yzerman will need to part ways with one of these players via trade to make the numbers work. Finally, the fact that the Lightning are in the Eastern Conference is a positive. At least if Francis did an offer sheet that was matched, he would be hurting a team with which he could compete for a playoff spot in the years ahead.
If I had to do one offer sheet…
Because of the low probability of success, likely need to overpay to win a player and the potential ramifications on Hurricanes restricted free agents over the next few years, I would not use an offer sheet to try land a key player for the 2017-18 roster.
But if pressed to come up with one offer sheet, I think the player I would target is Jonathan Drouin. After some sputtering and struggles during parts of his first two years after being drafted, he finally emerged and became what he was hoped to be when drafted third overall in a deep 2013 draft. I think his 53 points in 73 games in 2016-17 is just the tip of the iceberg, and importantly, I also think Drouin is the type of creative player who will lift the scoring of whoever is playing with him.
Netting it out
Francis has the assets to ‘fund’ an offer sheet. There are a couple players who could definitely fit the Hurricanes’ need for a top-end scoring forward. But because of the low probability of success and the potential penalty for even a failed attempt, I would not use an offer sheet to build the Hurricanes 2017-18 roster.
I would however contact teams like Tampa Bay, Edmonton and others who have salary cap challenges and restricted free agents to sign and use the offer sheet possibility as leverage in trying to swing a trade for a good player at a good price.
What say you Hurricanes fans?
If you were Ron Francis would you negotiate an offer sheet to try to steal a good young forward?
If you were going to use an offer sheet, who would you target?
With Ron Francis’ propensity to surprise us with deals that seem to fall out of thin air, what are the chances that bidding for and winning a player with an offer sheet is the next big surprise?