There has been a lot of speculation recently that this is the summer we’re finally going to see another offer sheet signed in the NHL. With star players becoming restricted free agents on July 1st and a number of teams in with legitimate salary cap issues, the group of potential targets is bigger than it’s ever been.
Though an offer sheet is a weapon in any GM’s arsenal, there is a stigma associated with one that makes most teams shy away from them. In a league that is stuck in a pattern of old school thinking, offer sheets are generally frowned upon. An offer sheet is a challenge to the status quo and that’s not something many people in hockey handle very well. In a league that is incredibly risk (and fun) averse, an offer sheet doesn’t fit the mold.
Fortunately, we are slowly seeing new executives willing to buck conventional trends an in a copy-cat league all it takes is one GM willing to be the outlier. Knowing what we know about Joe Sakic, he could be just that. Though he’s been around the NHL for decades, Sakic doesn’t necissarily operate in the most traditional manner. He has a tendency to think outside the box and for all the talk of his conservative nature, the Avalanche GM isn’t afraid to make a big move. Sakic is cautious, patient and does his work methodically. He doesn’t make a lot of moves, but when he does, he isn’t afraid to be bold with them.
During his playing career with the Avalanche, Sakic signed an offer sheet himself. In the summer of 1997, Sakic agreed to a three-year $21m contract with the New York Rangers. Colorado matched the offer sheet While it’s known that many NHL executives don’t like the idea of an offer sheet, history tells us that Joe Sakic isn’t a part of that group.
He wasn’t afraid of offer sheets as a player, why would he be now?
Offer Sheet 101
Offer sheets are often talked about, but the details are rarely fully explained. The day after the entry draft, restricted (Group 2) free agents can discuss new contracts with any team. If an RFA comes to an agreement with another team, he can sign an offer sheet after July 1st. His current team then has seven days to match the contract offer and keep the player or else he goes to the team that gave the offer sheet - with draft pick compensation going to his original team.
Compensation is based on the average-annual value of the contract. If a player signs an offer sheet for six or seven years, the total dollar amount of the contract is divided by five creating a higher AAV for compensation purposes.
The rarity of offer sheets
The Avalanche were involved the last time an offer sheet was signed. In 2013, the Calgary Flames signed Ryan O’Reilly for two years and $10 million. The Avalanche matched and held on to his rights. The Avs decided to forego the draft pick compensation in favor of eventually trading O’Reilly to another team for a package of players/prospects.
David Backes, Steve Bernier, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Shea Weber are the only other players to sign offer sheets over the last decade.
The last time an offer sheet resulted in the signing team successfully acquiring the player was all the way back in 2007. The Edmonton Oilers signed Dustin Penner to a five year, $21.5m contract - a deal that was well above his market value. Anaheim decided to let Penner go and received a first, second and third round draft pick as compensation. The episode caused then Ducks GM Brian Burke to do a lot of complaining in the media. To this day Burke will rant to anyone that will listen about how offer sheets are bad business.
Can the Avalanche make an offer?
Free agent season doesn’t kick off until the last week of June. That means the draft picks needed for compensation aren’t this year’s - team’s will need to own their own 2020 picks.
As a result of the Derick Brassard trade at the trade deadline this past February, the Avalanche no longer posses their own third round pick in 2020. That means they can’t sign an offer sheet for an AAV between $4.23m and $10.57m. That’s a fairly wide range but still leaves open a lot of possibilities.
Aside from the draft pick compensation, offer sheets are really only a possibility for teams with an abundance of salary cap space. The Avalanche definitely have that. Only the Ottawa Senators have less salary commitments than the Avalanche.
Colorado nearly $38m in cap space so even with a big raise for Mikko Rantanen and a more modest one for Alex Kerfoot and Nikita Zadorov, the team still has a ton of flexibility to work with.
As well as the cap flexibility, the Avalanche have a couple of extra high picks this season. As a result of the Matt Duchene trade, the Avs own Ottawa’s first and their pick this year. That gives them five picks in the top-63 picks of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. That surplus of picks would allow the Avalanche to give up 2020 picks as compensation without badly depleting the prospect pool going forward.
Look to the second tier
While there are a number of elite players that could be the target of offer sheets, there is a second tier of players that might make more sense. Guys like Danton Heinen in Boston, Jakub Vrana in Washington and both Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson in Toronto all fit into this category. They are all good young middle-six forwards that would fill a hole for the Avalanche.
Toronto, Washington and Boston are all going to have cap issues this summer. An offer sheet in the $3m-$4m range is something you could justify for any of those players and would be very hard for the teams to match. A contract in that range would cost the Avalanche a second round pick - a price any team would readily give up for one of those four players.
There’s also the possibility to do something huge. The Tampa Bay Lightning are a team that is in a big cap crunch - and there are rumors they’re looking for a way to add Erik Karlsson this summer. The Lightning haveonly about $7m in cap space with only five defenders under contract. This all makes Brayden Point a very attractive offer sheet candidate. The 23-year old is coming off of a 92 point season and has turned into one of the best young centers in the NHL. He is a legitimate top line center and putting him behind Nathan MacKinnon would give the Avs an unmatched one-two punch down the middle.
Brayden Point is worth an $11m contract over the next five seasons. More importantly, the Lightning would have almost no way to match that offer. A deal in that range would be in the upper range of the compensation scale and while that might be hard to swallow for some, Point is the kind of player you’d gladly give for next four first round picks for.
While Brayden Point would be the ideal, Mitch Marner would be a very good second choice. Reports out of Toronto is that the young winger wants a contract near the $11.634m AAV Auston Matthews just signed for. That’s an amount the Maple Leafs wouldn’t be able to give him - and one wingers in the NHL generally aren’t worth. Marner had 94 points this season and is the kind of play driving winger that would be perfect for Colorado’s second line - allowing Mikko Rantanen to stay on MacKinnon’s wing full time.
Sebastian Aho, Timo Meier and Kyle Connor are other potential targets, though it’s hard to justify giving up the same kind of money and draft picks that you would for Marner or Point.
Then there’s Matthew Tkachuk. He’s a young, dominant offensive winger that has the added bonus of playing with an edge to his game - something the Avalanche could definitely benefit from. Tkachuk has spoken over the last year about maximizing his earning potential, something that could be terrifying to management in Calgary. The Flames are a team without a ton of cap space and a few big holes to fill - most notably in net. Like Point and Marner, Tkachuk is worth the four first-round picks he’d cost and of the group, he sounds like he might be the one most willing to seriously consider signing an offer sheet.
These two teams have a history when it comes to RFAs. It’s been six years and a number of the key figures involved are no longer with the organizations, but throwing a big contract at Tkachuk might be the perfect payback for the O’Reilly offer sheet.