In 2006, Ryan Kesler signed a 1 year, $1.9 million offer from the Flyers.  Then-GM Bob Clarke was crushed by the hockey world for violating a “gentleman’s agreement”, in which teams wouldn’t sign other team’s restricted free agents.  Fans were calling for their team to try and poach a young player from the Flyers.  People were wondering if the Canucks would match $1.9 million for a kid who only had 23 points in 82 games in a new, unknown, salary cap era.  (Hindsight would show it was a good move by Vancouver.)  It was the first offer sheet to an RFA in almost eight years (Carolina’s offer to Sergei Fedorov in 1998).  In 1997, Clarke also signed Tampa’s Chris Gratton to a 5 year, $16.5 million offer, with a $9 million signing bonus, fully knowing that Tampa did not have the finances to match that type of offer.

As years passed, more players have been tendered offer sheets.   There have been six players to sign offer sheets since the lockout, with only one (Dustin Penner) changing teams.  Yet, people still believe signing Restricted Free Agents is an unwritten no-no.  The rule has been in place for over 25 years (with changing compensation), and if it is so unpopular, it would have been repealed by now.

So why is this relevant today?  Well, for the first time in over a decade, a megastar is possibly going to be a Restricted Free Agent on July 1.  Steven Stamkos has yet to re-sign with Tampa Bay, and could lead to the biggest name offer sheet since Fedorov’s, and biggest monetarily.  Some fans and media say that it wouldn’t be right for a team to either poach Stamkos from the Lightning or intentionally decrease Tampa’s available cap space so they have less money to sign other players and are forced to try and trade others.  But for one of the best players in the league, it’s worth a chance to rival GMs.

Edmonton tried this strategy two weeks apart, first offering well over market value for Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek (7 years, $50m).  Despite being tight on cash, Buffalo match the offer and it’s been a big chunk of their cap since.  After that effort failed, they signed Anaheim’s Dustin Penner to a 5 year, $21.5 million offer, which the Ducks declined to match.  Last season, San Jose knew Chicago was tight to the cap, and signed defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson (4 years, $14m).  The Blackhawks matched the offer and were forced to trade away many key components to their Stanley Cup win throughout the summer.

The question remains, is this right?  It’s hard to think that restricted free agency was created with the idea that teams could overpay for players or sabotage other teams’ payroll (and now cap).  Is it a shady way of building a team, or is it a very good strategy?  Depends on the intentions.  If a GM wants to sign a player, and has compensation, why should that stop him from trying to acquire the player?

So, anyone Seen Stamkos?


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