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Photo Credit: Kim Klement / USA TODAY Sports

The Maple Leafs should weaponize offer sheets this summer

Despite no specific news arising to make this into a topic, offer sheets have been, well, a bit of a topic around new hockey media today.

Looking within the network, Chris Gordeyko of Oilers Nation wrote a quick and dirty expression of concern about their second best player (to the best on earth, of course), Leon Draisaitl:

Did you guys hear? Leon Draisaitl’s ELC ends this year and as of July 1st, he becomes a Restricted Free Agent for the first time in his career. This means a lot of things. It means Drai is now graduating out of his beginner shorts and is putting on his big boy pants. This summer, he will sign his first big contract of his NHL career which is really exciting, right? Unfortunately, along with the responsibility of wearing big boy pants in the NHL, Leon Draisaitl also makes himself eligible to be offered sheet’d. Offered a sheet? Offer sheeted?

My response on Twitter was pretty succinct:

“I’d do it. Leafs have the money. You either add Draisatl to this core (!) or you put Edmonton hard against the wall for Connor’s deal (!!).”

That got me to thinking; if the Leafs don’t find a way to spend some of that sweet, sweet abundant 2017/18 cap space at via a trade in June or in the first few days of unrestricted free agency, maybe they should use their flexibility for evil. Sweet, sweet, win/win evil.

Now, I should note that before I managed to turn around and get this article together, Tyler Dellow of the Athletic brought offer sheets into the Leafs discussion. He was much more targeted, though, looking at Colton Parayko as a player who could make the team better:

Colton Parayko could be such a player.  The Blues are in an uncomfortable spot vis-a-vis the salary cap, with a projected $4.46-million in salary cap room for next year, with three roster spots left to fill.  One of the three is Parayko.  To work with round numbers, let’s assume that the Blues spend $1.46-million to fill two of those spots.  That leaves them with $3-million to get Parayko signed.

The rest of the article can be found here. (Note that it’s one of The Athletic’s paywalled articles, but we’re fans of what they’re doing there and recommend that you grab yourself a subscription).

As far as going after Parayko specifically goes, that’s probably a situation that makes a lot of sense if Toronto can’t get their hands on a defenceman sooner. I have my own personal preferences in this arms race (I’m decidedly pro-Shattenkirk and if that can’t happen, I’m still all about the Mike Green dream), but certainly, if Toronto were to go offer-sheet happy and lacked that top defenceman still, Paryako would be a great target #1.

Dellow makes the following points that run universal:

  • The maximum punishment of four first round picks sounds incredibly steep but isn’t quite as bad as it’s made out to be. While losing multiple high picks can be a problem, Toronto genuinely doesn’t appear to be in a position where that’s likely to happen. These Leafs have a very different makeup and projected trajectory than the 2009/10 team did when Brian Burke traded for Phil Kessel; there are multiple star players already in place, a deep pool of legitimate prospects, and a solid support staff. Realistically speaking, the Leafs are already in a cup contention window; giving up four cracks at 22-31 isn’t that significant, especially if the team can find other ways to amass second and third round picks, which are still generally undervalued by teams, or continue to find free agent prospects in other leagues.
  • The Leafs, having owners with more money than God in Bell and Rogers (Larry Tanenbaum still is there too I guess), are in a unique position where they can pay players up front. That matters for the fallout of an offer sheet; they can lean heavy into an offer sheet that’s paid largely in a signing bonus. Some teams can’t afford to throw that money out there instantaneously, limiting their ability to match. Even more importantly, though, if you’re going for a massive one-year deal like Dellow suggests for Parayko, that lessens the qualifying offer for the following season, so you’re not stuck racing against the clock to avoid offering them another 1-year, $14 million contract as the baseline come the next summer.
  • If you’re going the loaded one-year route, this is realistically the only shot you have at doing this if the goal is to have the other team walk away and give you the player. Next summer, Toronto has William Nylander, Connor Carrick, and a few various maybes coming up as RFAs, and will need to re-sign or replace UFAs in James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, and Leo Komarov. If you’re going to eat a mega-deal in anticipation of signing a better one later, you do it this year.

Where I differ from Dellow most in this conversation is that care that much about whether I get the players involved or not. I don’t want to be stuck committing big money to medium players, so this wouldn’t be a full-out spree of blood, but as it presently stands, there might be a few very solid players that are ripe for the picking in a few weeks:

Player Team Age POS GP G A PTS SH% 5v5 P60 CF% Rel
Leon Draisaitl EDM 21 C 82 29 48 77 16.9 2.05 0.5
David Pastrnak BOS 21 W 75 34 36 70 13 2.14 2.4
Mikael Granlund MIN 25 C 81 26 43 69 14.7 1.82 0.1
Ryan Johansen NSH 24 C 82 14 47 61 9.1 1.62 7
Viktor Arvidsson NSH 24 W 80 31 30 61 12.6 2.37 4.8
Evgeny Kuznetsov WSH 25 C 80 13 46 59 11.2 2.1 -0.7
Alexander Wennberg CBJ 22 C 80 13 46 59 11.9 1.52 -0.9
Nino Niederreiter MIN 24 RW 82 25 32 57 13.4 2.36 7.6
Jonathan Drouin TBL 22 LW 73 21 32 53 11.5 1.45 0.9
Ondrej Palat TBL 26 LW 75 17 35 52 10.5 1.85 1.6
Tyler Johnson TBL 26 C 66 19 26 45 14.6 1.74 -3.1
Alex Galchenyuk MTL 23 C/W 61 17 27 44 16.3 1.74 -3.5
Mika Zibanejad NYR 24 C/W 56 14 23 37 11.8 1.8 1
Colton Parayko STL 24 RD 81 4 31 35 2.1 0.98 1.8

What jumps out here with this list are the teams involved. Looking at just the forwards I’ve got here, we see…

  • Two players from the Western Conference Champions (Arvidsson & Johansen of Nashville)
  • A superstar on the biggest long-term Cup threat to the Leafs (Draisaitl of Edmonton)
  • Four players from 2016/17 Presidents Trophy threats (Kuznetsov of Washington, Granlund & Niederreiter of Minnesota, Wennberg of Columbus)
  • One from a known free agency threat (Zibanejad of the NY Rangers)
  • Five players from divisional rivals (Drouin, Palat & Johnson of Tampa Bay, Galchenyuk of Montreal, Pastrnak of Boston)

Basically, everyone in question plays for a team of an elevated threat to the Leafs. Be it brief (NYR), repeatedly (TBL, MTL, BOS), in the thick of the playoffs (WSH and maybe CBJ) or at the end of the tunnel (EDM and, if you believe NSH are for real, maybe them again), these are teams that the Leafs aren’t going to want to succeed in getting better any time soon.

So why not inhibit them?

Restricted free agents tend to get fleeced at the negotiating table because, frankly, they don’t have a ton of choice. It’s considered against the ethical code of veteran GM’s to toss around offer sheets (famously, Brian Burke once challenged Kevin Lowe to a barn fight over Dustin Penner). While there was at least one in every year from 1990 to 1998, there have only been nine accepted ones in the 19 years since; and only one of those (the aforementioned Penner offer) was accepted.

Offer sheets do, to an extent, intertwine with Leafs history. Toronto has offered two, to Mike Craig in 1994 (accepted and turned into a trade), and Mattias Ohlund in 1997 (rejected). Lou Lamoriello has never signed a player to one, but he’s been involved in them twice; matching an offer from St. Louis for Scott Stevens in 1994, who wanted their star defenceman back after sending him to the Devils three years prior as compensation for (…wait for it…) Brendan Shanahan.

With that in mind, maybe it’s worth sending over some market value offer sheets to some players, especially if the salary cap remains flat as expected. Draisaitl gets into the $8+ million range? As mentioned at the beginning, that makes McDavid’s extension that much more difficult in the year that follows. The Lightning need to sign a ton of players going into this offseason and have just $17 million to do so; why not make sure that Yzerman can’t play contract chicken once again with Palat, Drouin, and/or Johnson? Habs fans will probably lose their minds to see Galchenyuk go to Toronto; go long-term now and put the ball in Bergevin’s hands. Want to make the Rangers second guess their expected push for Shattenkirk? Put them in the situation room with a Zibanejad offer as soon as noon hits.

If the teams match, you’ve probably committed them to something a little heavier on the balance sheet than they’ve expected, inhibiting their ability to add depth. If they don’t, well, you’ve added a good player at market value that you can probably move in a couple of years when the crunch hits. You’ll give up picks, but as the current compensation table shows, it’s pretty unlikely you’ll end up a loser if you’re just offering deals on the upper end of reasonable.

2005 Averaged Salary 2017-18 Averaged Salary Draft Pick Compensation
$660,000 and below $1,295,571 and below No compensation
$660,001 to $1,000,000 $1,295,572 to $1,962,986 3rd Round Pick
$1,000,001 to $2,000,000 $1,962,987 to $3,925,975 2nd Round Pick
$2,000,001 to $3,000,000 $3,925,976 to $5,888,960 1st & 3rd Round Pick
$3,000,001 to $4,000,000 $5,888,961 to $7,851,948 1st, 2nd & 3rd Round Pick
$4,000,001 to $5,000,000 $7,851,949 to $9,814,935 1st (x2), 2nd & 3rd Round Pick
$5,000,001 and above $9,814,936 and above 1st Round Pick (x4)

The obvious drawback here? Making other General Managers angry and not want to make deals with you afterwards. At the same time, though, Lamoriello is heading to the last year of his deal with many expecting him to step down afterward, so he doesn’t have a lot of need to maintain clout for much longer, not to mention that Toronto doesn’t exactly have a lot of outside acquisition left to do before they hit the maintenance stage. They can risk a few rivals who probably wouldn’t make a big deal with them anyway being a little frustrated; they’ll only need everybody on good terms when it’s time to shift around the support players that need raises, and if those players make enough of a name for themselves on deep runs, GMs will call you anyway.

It’s a bit sociopathic, but that’s the way I’d go about things if there was still a truck full of money at Toronto’s disposal in July and no real other avenues for upgrading the team. Though with that said, I’d probably get that William Nylander advance-extension done first. Just so he doesn’t get any ideas about upping his asking price.

  • JB#1

    This offer sheet situation reminds me of the old saying that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones…

    I think it is this glass house concept that has caused all the GMs in the league to collude together into a sort of M.A.D. (Mutually Assured Destruction) scenario – you don’t offer sheet any of my players and I won’t offer sheet any of your players.

    As a fan, of course, I would like to see more offer sheets used to facilitate movement of players from team to team as well as box other GMs into financial corners as I think the TML are probably in the top 2 or 3 of the league in financial clout and I would like to see them use it – screw the rest of the league who has been laughing at us for the past 50 years.

    But the Leafs would have to get their own house in order by getting their prized players signed before launching any “war of the offer sheets”.

    Looking at Jeff’s list above, I’ve had my eye on Draisaitl since his draft year and wouldn’t mind the Leafs taking a run at him and Parayko, but perhaps its better for the Leafs to sit in the weeds and wait to spring the King-Daddy topper of offer sheets on CMD when the time arrives…ha ha ha…watch EDM burn…

  • Gary Empey

    There is always a risk of starting a war you don’t really want to be in. We also have RFA’s now and more coming up in the next two years. You may get your man and then you may lose Brown and Nylander etc.

  • My only concern is when is this train of thought going to start coming Toronto’s way in the sense that, if we offer sheet someone, wouldn’t that up the risk of someone doing the same thing as retribution when the Leafs start having to cash out on Marner, Matthews, and Nylander, etc.?

  • Rod

    Looking at the RFA table, I see they’re 7 different compensation brackets and all but 3 require a 3rd round pick. This limits the Leafs opportunities as they no longer possess their own 3rd round draft picks for 2017 & 2018.
    As it stands right now, the only offer sheets they can do are the ones $1,295,571 and below, $9,814,936 and above & $1,962,987 to $3,925,975.

  • STAN

    Yes, Colton Parayko woud be a solid addition to the Leafs, but the best way to get him is through trade. Rather than lose a bunch of picks, why not offer a 1st rounder and two highly-regarded prospects (one of them a D-man)? With less than $5M in cap space, this might be a godsend to the Blues.

    • JB#1

      Stan, I agree that a trade would be the best way to get Parayko, but he would need to be pried out of the cold, dead hands of Doug Armstrong – there is no way STL will trade him.

      Doug Armstrong is somewhat nervous about the offer sheet possibility as he has come out in the MSM and said that STL would match any offer sheet, in other words everyone back off.

      Here is my prediction for what will happen in the offer sheet arena for the foreseeable future – nothing.

      Mark my words, the Leafs will play nice and not use their financial clout but one day they will wake up to find that Auston Matthews has been offer sheeted by Arizona.

  • jlake

    Their hordes of money have done the Leafs little good since the Gary Bettman days of equality and justice for all. So why not leverage your drachmas for evilness instead of league goodness. Sign Draisaitl and Colton Parayko. Be Big Blue for crissakes Who gives a crap what everyone else thinks? They all hate Toronto anyways. Why not give them good reason?

  • Stan Smith

    In today’s NHL borderline UFA’s usually end up overpaid, offer sheets on RFA’s usually result in the same thing, and in most cases for the team the player already plays for, when they match it. There is a reason offer sheets are shunned by teams. I think best to stay away from them altogether.