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The real reason NHL teams can’t and don’t use offer sheets

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It’s fun to dream about for fans, but there’s a real reason NHL teams don’t use offer sheets

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Pittsburgh Penguins at Ottawa Senators Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the season is over, the real fun for fans is dreaming of how to get better. One such way that’s seldom used but potentially a big deal would be to sign another team’s restricted free agent. If that happens, the original team has a week to either match the deal or the player switches teams and the following draft picks are exchanged, depending on annual salary level. Here’s this years from Elliotte Friedman:

Offer Sheet (AAV) Compensation

$1,339,575 or below None

Over $1,339,575 to $2,029,59 3rd round pick

Over $2,029,59 to $4,059,322 2nd round pick

Over $4,059,322 to $6,088,980 1st, 3rd

Over $6,088,980 to $8,118,641 1st, 2nd, 3rd

Over $8,118,641 to $10,148,302 (2) 1st, 2nd, 3rd

Over $10,148,302 (4) 1st

This year, there are some great restricted free agents. William Karlsson came from no where to score 43 goals for Vegas. Dylan Larkin and Mark Stone are both coming off 62-point seasons and are arguably the best forwards on their respective teams. William Nylander is a young star. Matt Dumba, Jacob Trouba, Darnell Nurse and Brady Skjei are already 21-23 minute a night defensemen with further room for growth.

So while it’s fun to say, let’s get someone. none of these players are expected to change teams.

Why?

Well there’s a narrative that no GM likes to make enemies. And, to an extent the unspoken collusion to “not want to sign another guy’s RFA’s” is out there en masse and something everyone operating NHL teams feels to some extent. However, it’s never really stopped them in the past.

The real reason offer sheets are toothless exercises?

If the goal is to actually get a player onto your team, an offer sheet is the most ineffective way to actually add a player. In the last 20 years only one time did a player actually change teams due to signing as a restricted free agent (Dustin Penner going from Anaheim to Edmonton in 2007). Once. Every other time either the player has spurned another team’s offer to go back to their “old” team, or the old team has matched the offer almost instantly, leaving the would-be-suitor with nothing to show for it.

More often than not, if a team actually wants to add a talent, they must make a trade. Think Frederik Anderson going from Anaheim to Toronto in a trade for a 1st and 2nd round pick two summers ago when he was an RFA. Basically Toronto operated like it was an offer sheet, but it wasn’t one. If you go the offer sheet route and try to force a team into it, they will likely match and prevent you from getting that player and then make another trade with a different team to resolve their salary problems. NHL teams can exceed the salary cap in the off-season by a meaningful percentage, so there’s almost never a constraint there that would force them not to match the offer and then make other moves of their own choosing to resolve any issues.

Offer sheets are fun for fans to bandy about and think fanciful thoughts, but they’re never going to happen successfully under current rules and conditions. Adding RFA’s is way too inefficient and ineffective for NHL teams since the other team can (and almost always will) match the offers. If we wanted a world where restricted free agents were more “free” than “restricted”, the next NHL CBA would have to changes it’s operating rules to not allow a team to match and automatically keep a player. Maybe allow a guy like Mark Stone to decide if he wants to play in Ottawa, Colorado or Buffalo if they all had offered/matched a $6.5 million contract offer for him, instead of handing him back to his original team for only matching. Now that would make for a more entertaining and interesting free agent period.

..That being said, don’t hold your breath. Offer sheets in the NHL are useless as currently constituted.