from the Quiet Ice . . .
I can’t decide if the offer sheet provision has been treated in recent years more like a healthy scratch or if it’s been handed an indefinite suspension. In either case, it seems destined not to sit quietly by in the press box, dressed respectably in shirt and tie.
The offer sheet debate has picked up steam in recent months, perhaps due to players such as Auston Matthews approaching RFA status and teams like the Maple Leafs evolving into such dominant rosters that fans around the league are beginning to get frustrated as the haves and have-nots push further apart, aided by marketplace advantages and CBA loopholes.
It’s a topic that quickly polarizes and just as quickly devolves into complexities of compensation draft-picks and salary cap economics; it’s also a topic I’ve noticed that hockey insiders tend to use to separate themselves from those not in-the-know, as in, “You silly and ignorant people have no understanding of why offer sheets simply won’t happen.”
I’m going to suggest there’s another way to look at it — a much simpler and more fundamental way that we can all understand, and it goes like this. The goal is to win a Stanley Cup, and there are only two ways to improve the odds of winning a cup: to make your own team better and to make your rivals worse. If winning is the most important thing, it would only make sense to strive toward both.
Let’s dive into it just a bit. The CBA provision of offer-sheeting baffles most folks, but in essence is fairly simple. If you need a complete understanding of offer-sheeting and how it works after reading this article, I recommend this site that explains it better than I could.
The real issue is how likely teams are to use the offer sheet provision and why they should or should not. In any offer sheet round-table discussion, there are five points of concern that must be acknowledged, if not addressed:
- The price is high for teams offer-sheeting a player. Not only do they need to be prepared to absorb the cap space but also to give compensating picks. In the case of a player like Matthews, it most likely will amount to four first-round picks, so if you don’t have those, you’re not even in the running.
- The likelihood is also that you will contribute to driving prices up on RFAs around the league, although this hasn’t been tested to see if it would actually happen. The theory is that if you offer sheet a Matthews at 14 million, that in turn pushes other players up higher than they would have been valued at. Again, nobody knows if this theory has merit.
- There is a culture among GMs of not rocking the boat with such a tactic that might throw everyone’s cap picture out of alignment. A “gentlemen’s agreement,” if you will. What some of us wonder is where do the owners weigh in on all this? After all, owners have had their share of playing hardball in their industries or they wouldn’t be owners. Are they beholden to this “code” and if so, why?
- The fear of retaliation comes up quite a lot in this discussion as well, which ties into the gentlemen’s agreement idea. The notion is that GMs avoid this out of fear that another owner will retaliate by doing the same to them down the road. Many hockey folks deem this idea nonsense.
- Historically, most offer sheets have resulted in teams matching the offers and thereby retaining the player they had. And this is an important fact.
As a case study, let’s acknowledge the smelly fish on the table and talk about the Maple Leafs.
Currently, several teams have the ability to make things more difficult for the Maple Leafs and throw sand in the gears of their almost certain cup-winning machine. Instead, the GMs and the league itself seems to be in conspiracy to aid them in their victory, and I cannot for the life of me figure out why.
I can’t help but notice that Kyle Dubas doth protest too much and too often that he has “zero” concern over his players being offer-sheeted. Last week, Dubas stated, “I spend zero per cent of my time having any worry about that.”
I didn’t make too much of these claims until he talked himself back onto my radar by adding, “It’s not just a Toronto problem. I look around the league right now and for whatever reason it seems like the Toronto Maple Leafs are the only team that’s going to be the target of an offer sheet . . . But there’s about a third of the teams in the league that have a very highly-talented (pending) restricted free agent. Some of them have more than one, as we do.”
These remarks seem to have a “Look at the shiny objects over there” feel, which always makes me suspicious. It starts to feel like one of those Christmas gift exchange parties, when those who fear losing their cool mug or bottle of wine start raving about everyone else’s awesome gifts, attempting to deflect attention away from theirs. It just feels like a lot of energy being put toward redirecting interest from a guy who supposedly has “zero” concern over it.
As mentioned, most offer sheets go nowhere. The teams usually match, and the player stays. Okay. Fine. So, if I am a GM of a team with ample cap space and four first-round picks, why not offer sheet Auston Matthews in order to put the Maple Leafs in a more difficult cap position going forward? Isn’t it possible that this helps prevent cup wins or a cup dynasty? More importantly, if winning is everything, doesn’t a GM owe it to his owner and fan base to at least try?
The fact is, a team submitting an offer sheet to Matthews is risking very little: at worst, they get Matthews and forfeit their four picks, which Matthews is worth anyway. At best, they force the Leafs to pay more than they wanted to and therefore to pay Mitch Marner less, ultimately causing them to lose a player like Reilly or Gardiner or God forbid, Marner himself. In any case, you’ve helped your own cause by harming theirs.
Sure, Brian Burke hates it. He worries it will be used to overpay players, to inflate salaries out of desperation by GMs trying to keep their jobs. But guys like Burke are also part of that old boys’ network and the tacit agreement not to stir the pot. He’s not necessarily wrong; he’s just prioritizing other things, and today’s GMs should start to consider other priorities … like winning.
Here’s what I don’t understand: if this culture exists among general managers, why don’t owners step in and order it done? After all, these are titans of business and industry who are used to playing hardball. They have demonstrated their ability to use cold calculations in the past, to step on competitors to get where they want to, so why not now?
Why Fans Should Pressure Team To Offer Sheet
GMs talk all the time about doing whatever it takes to win — but do they mean it? I suggest it’s time to find out if they really want to win, or if they’re more concerned about upsetting the apple cart.
Your GM should be doing whatever he can to bring a win to the fans. If he can weaken a stronger team and perhaps strengthen your team in the process, he owes it to you. It’s as simple as that. Anything less is selling the fans short in the interest of getting along.
If GMs don’t feel they owe the fans more, given that it’s the fans’ money keeping them in business. Something is not only wrong but downright negligent in their approach — even if it is a collective negligence enabled by the league’s GMs.