2011 NHL Free Agency: Restricted Free Agent Class Is Scary Good
With the Stanley Cup Playoffs in full swing, fans of the Detroit Red Wings, San Jose Sharks, Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks patiently await the fate of their beloved hockey teams.
For the 25 other fan bases thoughts of next season are already running through their heads. For many, the answer to their teams problems lies with their general managers ability to bring in a top notch free agent to bolster their favorite teams lineup.
Brad Richards, Tomas Vokoun, Ilya Bryzgalov, Michael Ryder, Andrei Markov, Nik Lidstrom, Kevin Bieska, James Wisniewski, Christian Erhoff and Joni Pitkanen arguably represent the ten most valuable unrestricted free agents on the market.
That said, it is the restricted free agents that have NHL teams sweating buckets and NHL fans drooling at the possibilities. A quick look at the RFA’s shows that this summers restricted free agent list reads like a virtual all-star team.
Shea Weber, Steven Stamkos, Drew Doughty, Zach Parise, Luke Schenn, Ryan Callahan, Devin Setoguchi, Kyle Okposo, Brandon Dubinsky and Zach Bogosian represent one of the strongest and youngest RFA lists in NHL history, but will any general manager have the guts and fortitude to make an offer on one or more of these young all-stars?
Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber has already stated that he intends to re-sign with the Preds, but with salary cap restraints and money issues running rapid throughout the NHL, anything is possible.
In order for a rival general manager to “steal” an RFA from their current team they would have to sign that player to an offer sheet.
If the RFA signs the offer sheet from a rival team, his current team has seven days to match the contract offer or else he goes to the team that gave the offer sheet.
Compensation for said player would come in the form of draft pick/s in the next upcoming draft or drafts based on the averaged yearly salary of the contract.
Compensation is based on the average salary of the contract that is being offered, ranging from no compensation for a low salary player (typically making just over $1 million per season or less) to as many as four first round draft picks for an elite player (typically making $5 million per season or more).
Needless to say, given the huge compensation and salary cap implications involved many NHL general managers resist the temptation to sign players to an offer sheet.
There is also a negative stigma that comes with a rival GM signing an RFA to an offer sheet, which, for the most part, has lead to very few RFA’s leaving their current teams via an offer sheet over the years.
In the end, even if a player is signed to an offer sheet most GM’s find a way to get their stars signed.
While four first round pick’s sounds like a tremendous amount of compensation for any player, when you are talking about a player of the calibre of Steven Stamkos, Drew Doughty or Zach Parise, draft pick’s may never replace what they already bring to the table.
In fact, the last NHL player to relocate after signing an offer sheet was when Dustin Penner left the Anaheim Ducks in favor of the Edmonton Oilers. The Ducks received a 1st, 2nd and a 3rd round draft pick from the Edmonton Oilers as compensation in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
The Penner “ordeal” (remember the war of words that transpired between former Ducks GM Brian Burke and Oilers GM Kevin Lowe?) was way back in 2007 and there hasn’t been another RFA to leave their respective team via an offer sheet since.
Penner has since been traded to the Los Angeles Kings, with the Oilers receiving prospect Colten Teubert a first round draft pick in 2011, as well as a conditional second round pick in 2012.
With the New Jersey Devils already committing just over $52 million to 17 players next season it’s is widely believed that they will have trouble getting Zach Parise (who carried a cap hit of $3,887,500 last season) signed to a new contract.
Early speculation has Parise looking for a contract in the $5-6 million range, which would leave the Devils with very little cap room with which to fill out their roster—even if the Cap goes up as much as $2-3 million this summer.
Could a rival GM swoop in and offer Parise a $7 or $8 million contract in an effort to steal Parise away from Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello? Perhaps. That said, Lamoriello is one of the smartest GM’s in all of hockey, so don’t put it past him to find a way to make a Parise signing work.
All the other NHL teams that own one of the premier RFA’s look to have the cap room with which to sign their players—although the New York Rangers may be hard pressed to sign both Dubinsky and Callahan should they choose to pursue unrestricted free agent Brad Richards this summer.
Let’s face it, history tells us that restricted free agents stay put. With that in mind, don’t hold your breath on your favorite team signing a Drew Doughty, Steven Stamkos or Zach Parise to an offer sheet—it’s just not likely to happen.
Until next time,