Hot-tub, swimming pool, rock bottom lake or the ocean, they all have one thing in common, sharks. It’s ludicrous that I think about those jagged toothed predators when entering every one of these bodies of water but, it’s true.
In the NHL, the offer sheet plays the role of the shark (actual variety and not the San Jose version). You rarely see them, but they are out there, and now and then, the topic bursts to the surface hungry for headlines.
We have already enjoyed one sighting in 2019. Carolina was able to fend off Montreal and save Sebastian Aho from the navigating down the St. Lawrence Seaway. While the strike was not deadly, it certainly chummed the water.
A heavy crop of restricted free agents in Mitch Marner, Brayden Point, Patrik Laine, Mikko Rantanen and Matthew Tkachuk remain unsigned.
Outside of the Avalanche, Tampa, Winnipeg, Calgary, and Toronto are all experiencing various forms of salary cap discomfort. In the case of the Jets, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has already watched three significant unrestricted free agents leave for riches elsewhere, unable to hold onto Ben Chiarot, Tyler Myers and Brandon Tanev, this as he contemplates how to get the dynamic Kyle Connor and the dynamic Laine under deals.
These talented RFA’s check off the first of three critical criteria in the world of offer-sheets:
1) High-end Talent – the group mentioned above makes up one of the top classes ever
2) Salary Cap Hell -speculation is already pointing to a couple of teams being forced to carry the minimum number of players or quite possibly playing below the 20-man roster. It has happened before, and the trend of more teams creeping closer to the max of $81.5 million, this could become a much more common occurrence
3) Fast Forward a Rebuild – this concept is not foreign to the NHL, but an impatient owner traditionally motivates it. The alternate route is luck in the lottery
Incredibly, Montreal’s bid, while not surprising, was arguably less aggressive than what we will see.
Allow me to introduce the Philadelphia Flyers. The seed for the Flyers potential offer-sheet involvement was sowed last season, the day General Manager Ron Hextall was fired. Hextall’s misstep, trying to create a contender in Philadelphia by drafting and developing prospects. The former Flyers goaltender hired a former college coach to run the bench, drafted a top goaltender and won the second pick the draft lottery. The first two were acceptable, but when the lottery balls bound Philadelphia’s way, expectations were raised, and the owners started watching the clock. Hextall refused to budge, so he was moved out for Chuck Fletcher, who took a few big swings with Minnesota.
Philadelphia gave Fletcher a mandate, if you have to go big to make the Flyers a Stanley Cup contender right now, you have the green light. The seven-year contract handed out to Kevin Hayes is a perfect example, but a better bet is an offer sheet. A big splash that would send a message the Flyers are ready. They have cap space and can use more speed and skill to complement a brash young blueline and sophomore goaltender Carter Hart.
Behind door number two, the New Jersey Devils. Still working its way out from under the Lou Lamoriello era that ended with an old and slow roster, the Devils joined the new NHL a couple of years ago. In Nico Hischier’s rookie season, coach John Hynes went all-in with an up-tempo and skilled lineup. Those smaller Devils were entertaining and, thanks to a late-season winning streak, qualified for the 2018 playoffs. Injuries and below-average goaltending stunted the progression last season, but with the addition of Jack Hughes, the Devils see an opportunity. Because Ray Shero is in the midst of a rebuild, he has cap space, something he used to pry PK Subban out of Nashville. The addition of Wayne Simmonds on a one-year deal should bolster New Jersey’s power-play, and all of a sudden, the Devils are on a faster track.
Why not put the pedal down? What would a successful offer sheet to Mitch Marner or Patrik Laine look like to Taylor Hall, who has one year left on his deal? If the offer sheet is successful and Hall ends up walking, the damage is mitigated. New Jersey is well-positioned for this rogue move, Devils president Hugh Weber told The Chirp with Daren Millard podcast, New Jersey wants to be proactive, build with personality which will help elevate the “brand” outside of the NHL fan. An offer sheet generates buzz, and if it works the Devils are a better team, and considering they have drafted first overall in two of the last three drafts, they are a franchise that could most afford to surrender the four first-round selections, should the sheet qualify for maximum compensation.
Jersey and the Flyers. Longtime rivals are trying to get back to lofty heights from the past. They both won championships using styles that lost effectiveness long ago. Neither will make any friends going the offer sheet route, but if I were wagering, I would bet neither would care if the effort landed a top player in his early twenties.
A week into free agency is a time when things settle into a gentle lull, maybe not this year.