Buffalo Sabres: Should They Offer-Sheet Anyone This Offseason?


The NHL has made some strides in recent years, but in some other aspects the league is still an old boys’ club. 

The league’s stance on restricted free agents is potentially the biggest example of this notion. 

As with every other major sports league, the NHL has two types of free agents: unrestricted and restricted. Unrestricted free agents are free to go anywhere, talk to anyone and sign any deal they wish. RFAs can sign any deal they want, but their current team has the right to match any offer, and if they do not, the offering team must send draft picks along as compensation. 

The system in and of itself is fair. A team needs to be given every opportunity to continue to build with its young talent, so providing a system that allows that to a certain extent is common sense. If the team decides to move on, they should be given some compensation for having their cupboards raided. 

So the issue is not the system—it’s the infrequency of any offers being made. 

In 2006, Ryan Kesler signed the first offer sheet since 1999 when the Philadelphia Flyers and their then-general manager, Bob Clarke, signed him to a one-year, $1.9 million deal, which the Vancouver Canucks matched. 

But the biggest splash in the realm of RFAs came in 2007 when the Edmonton Oilers and their former GM, Kevin Lowe, signed Buffalo Sabres forward Thomas Vanek to a seven-year, $50 million offer sheet that sent waves through the NHL. The Sabres matched, deciding to forego four first-round picks in compensation.

Since Vanek‘s offer sheet, only six other offer sheets have been signed, and only one has not been matched─Edmonton’s subsequent offer to Dustin Penner after Vanek‘s deal was matched. The Flyers again made a spectacle when they signed Nashville defenseman Shea Weber to a 14-year, $110 million deal in 2012, but the Predators eventually matched that after a week of public debate whether the small-market team could or not. 

And that’s the current environment surrounding RFAs: Not only will they most likely be matched, but they also tend to create a lot of bad blood among the other GMs of the league. TSN‘s Bob McKenzie acknowledged as much in a radio interview with TSN 1040 last week (h/t Today’s Slapshot).

So the Sabres won’t be extending any offer sheets this offseason, right?

This will be a hotly debated topic from now until the free-agent market opens in early July, but it doesn’t look like the answer will be as cut and dry as many think. 

The RFA market this year is deep, and the best players available all seem to find themselves on teams with precarious salary-cap positions. A run-of-the-mill, two-year, reasonable bridge deal could work for most of these teams, but anything more could prevent them from matching any offers. 

The names that seem to be coming up most in these conversations are Los Angeles’ Tyler Toffoli and Martin Jones, Chicago’s Brandon Saad, Boston’s Dougie Hamilton and St. Louis’ Vlad Tarasenko

It’d be next to impossible to sit down and convince anyone that Sabres GM Tim Murray would not jump at the chance to have any one of those players on the Sabres next year. The compensation likely wouldn’t even be an issue for Murray given the stockpile of picks the Sabres have in the next few years.

The issue is likely to revolve entirely around Murray’s goodwill around the league or, more accurately, the evaporation of said goodwill.

Now it can be argued that it’s likely that Murray’s goodwill around the league isn’t at it’s highest anyway given the tanking perception that many are sure to have. But as McKenzie’s comments highlight, the fear is not losing your reputation as much as it is retaliation. 

Murray will be in position to be retaliated on in a few years too. Not that the Sabres will find themselves in a cap position similar to the Kings, Bruins or Blackhawks, but they will have plenty of top-flight prospects coming off their entry-level deals. 

But when asked about the offer-sheet process, Murray took a somewhat unexpected stance by telling Buffalo’s WGR 550 that he didn’t care what other GMs thought about him offer-sheeting someone. And it doesn’t seem like it’s just him bluffing either, because he has no reason to say he’s considering it if he’s not. 

Yet this also doesn’t mean that Murray will immediately start throwing around offer sheets once free agency opens on July 1.

The more likely, and practical, approach for Murray is to wait a few days or weeks and assess where the current crop of RFAs stand. RFAs almost never get signed on July 1 by their current teams, and that’s because there’s almost no threat of another team signing them away. The priority goes to UFAs during the opening of free agency and then shifts to the RFAs once a good chunk of UFAs have been signed. 

There may be a bit more of an accelerated timeline this season given the interest and speculation surrounding Hamilton and Saad in particular, but it seems unlikely anything will happen with these players in the first couple of days of free agency. In fact, given his relative inexperience, it may not be surprising to see an offer sheet signed and then Murray striking, simply to wait for someone else to do it first.

But no matter what the future may hold for Murray and his roster, he stands in an enviable position right now when it comes to the potential RFAs on the market. He’s dealing with plenty of cap room, especially if the Cody Hodgson buyout rumors come to fruition, per WGR 550’s Paul Hamilton. Plus, Murray has a ton of extra picks to soften the compensation blow, and he is building a team from the ground up.

Now, as it will be with any team that tries to sign one of these big names to an offer sheet, they are likely to get matched. But Murray is in the position to at least try. 

So to predict whether or not an offer sheet will be signed is tough, mainly because there is a long history of RFAs not being signed to them, with a few major exceptions. But if there are teams in the mix for these RFAs, expect Murray and the Sabres to be leading the pack.


Follow me on Twitter for NHL and Sabres news all offseason: @mattclouden

Read more Buffalo Sabres news on BleacherReport.com

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...