I hate articles about offer sheets. Most of them are idiotic. This puts me in a pickle, as I am an idiot.
Yet here we are, nearly two months into David Pastrnak’s restricted free agency. Don Sweeney and J.P. Barry are in their latest blinking contest (Barry represents Dougie Hamilton and Loui Eriksson, among other Bruins to depart in recent years) and one of the best young right wings in the world doesn’t have his second contract. As of late Sunday evening, the sides were still not close to an agreement.
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Despite my hatred of offer sheet chatter, the Bruins, who traded Hamilton out of fear of an offer sheet before he could even be offer-sheeted, are actually vulnerable in this case. It isn't likely because it never is, but if I were another team, I’d be thinking about it.
First, an explanation of why I hate talk of offer sheets:
Because. Offer sheets. Don’t. Freaking. Happen.
Why don’t they happen? Because they’re harmful to both the team that loses the player and to the team that does the poaching. And to the other 29 teams, for that matter.
Teams don’t offer-sheet a player unless they’re nearly positive their offer won’t be matched. If they sign a player to an above-market deal, it creates inflation regardless of who gets the player, as that player’s contract becomes a comp for similar players across the league. In other words, if you sign an 18-goal scorer for $6 million a year because you really want him, have fun trying to sign anybody who matches or exceeds that production in future seasons.
There’s also the stuff about GMs not wanting to piss each other off, but it’s mainly the inflation thing because, as in life, everything comes down to money.
There hasn’t been an offer sheet since the Flames’ idiotic attempt at signing (and then immediately losing because they didn’t understand the CBA) Ryan O’Reilly in 2013. The Flyers signed Shea Weber to a 14-year offer sheet in 2012, but that was matched by Nashville.
Another reason why I hate articles about offer sheets: Because its authors (definitely myself included once upon a time) often don’t understand RFA compensation. The draft picks awarded to victimized teams are done based not on the actual cap hit/average annual value of the deal, but of the deal’s total money divided by years or five, whichever is smallest.
So when you see charts such as this one …
… it doesn’t mean that you can sign a player to a seven-year, $7.8 million deal and only have to surrender a first, a second and a third. That contract would contain $54.6 million in total dollars, and since five is fewer than seven, the total money would be divided by five. That would make the number $10.9 million, which would cost a team four first-round picks.
If you understood all that, I offer both congratulations and my apologies, but here’s where the part about the Bruins being vulnerable comes in: A longer deal would carry a higher cap hit because it buys out years of free agency; a shorter deal would carry a lower cap hit because it gets Pastrnak to his next big raise even sooner. If a team signs Pastrnak to an offer sheet that splits the difference, the Bruins get the worst of both worlds.
One potential offer sheet that would likely frustrate the hell out of the B’s: A five-year deal at $7.8 million per.
That contract would screw the Bruins whether they match or not. If they walk away, they get just a first, second and third-round pick for a goal-scorer who drives goalies to drink but is barely old enough to legally drink himself.
Matching would stink as well, as that cap hit would not suit the term well. The Oilers gave Leon Draisaitl $8.5 million a year on his recently signed contract, but they did so because they were able to lock him up for eight years. That means that the Oilers will have their star forward signed through his age 30 season, buying out years of unrestricted free agency without having to give him another raise during his prime.
A five-year deal would mean Pastrnak would be an unrestricted free agent at his deal’s conclusion. The Bruins would have paid the high cap hit that comes with a seven-or-eight-year deal, only to have to give him a raise again -- or lose him for nothing -- when he’s 26. If Pastrnak improves upon (or even maintains) what he was last season and the cap keeps going up, the AAV on his third contract in such a scenario could surpass $10 million. Plus, a seven or eight-year deal at that point would mean signing him into his mid-30s and risking diminishing returns. A five-year, $39 million contract right now would carry all the bad of the Draisaitl deal (the AAV) without enough of the good (the years).
So is there actually a team that could put Sweeney and Co. in such a tight spot? The answer is an emphatic “yeah, kind of.”
Teams that have the picks required to sign Pastrnak to such a contract and the cap space to fit such a deal this coming season are the Blue Jackets, Hurricanes, Canadiens, Jets, Avalanche and Devils. You need your original picks in order to sign a player to an offer sheet.
The NHL allows teams to go over the salary cap by 10 percent of the upper limit in the offseason (so $7.5 million this summer), meaning a number of additional teams could theoretically sign Pastrnak to that deal and figure out their cap situation later. Those teams are the Islanders, Rangers, Lightning, Penguins, Ducks, Flyers, Predators, Kings and Canucks.
Where the Bruins are fortunate is the fact that teams that would figure to be logical suitors for Pastrnak -- ones like the Sabres and the Flames -- don’t have the draft picks. In the Flames’ case, they’d need to reacquire their first and second-round picks from the Islanders to even send the papers Pastrnak’s way.
Clearly, the fear of an offer sheet hasn’t scared the Bruins with Pastrnak the way it did with Hamilton. If it had, he’d either be signed or traded by now. With teams mostly done with their offseasons, the Bruins may not be likely to see their 21-year-old scorer offer-sheeted, but they’re certainly leaving themselves exposed. With over $10 million in cap space, the Bruins could afford to match any offer to Pastrnak, but they shouldn't want another team dictating what kind of contract they give to one of their best players.