With the first weekend of NHL free agency having come and gone, the Bruins are still searching for the top-4 “transitional defenseman” to add to last year’s woebegone group as their summer options begin to dwindle. One thing that appears clear at this point is that they aren’t planning to follow through with the nuclear option of sending an offer sheet to 22-year-old Winnipeg D-man Jacob Trouba, and potentially ripping him away from the Jets.
Bruins GM Don Sweeney said as much last weekend while discussing the five year David Backes contract with the media, and the gaping hole that still exists among the B’s blue line group as Boston’s management team pours through their options.
“[The offer sheet] is certainly an avenue that we wouldn’t shy away from if the opportunity felt that it was the right player and the situation and the flexibility was there,” said Sweeney. “For us at this point in time I don’t think that’s part of our plan and focus. You know, it doesn’t mean I’ll stop making calls and seeing whether or not there’s an opportunity to continue to improve and add to our club in the right areas and target some players. I don't foresee [the offer sheet to an RFA] at this point in time, no.”
That doesn’t mean the Bruins didn’t “prepare an offer sheet for Jacob Trouba”, however, as a hockey source indicated to CSNNE.com last week.
In fact, these pieces by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and New England Hockey Journal’s Kirk Luedeke back up that information first reported by CSNNE, and expanded on it with a devised plan for a large one year deal that could have hand-cuffed Winnipeg without surrendering the punitive four first round picks in compensation.
Furthermore, those reports indicated that the Bruins attempted to recapture their own second round pick and third round picks at the NHL Draft from the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers respectively after short-sighted deals for Lee Stempniak and Zac Rinaldo. Give the Bruins credit for attempting something bold and creative over the last few weeks, and for playing out the scenario that would get them a 22-year-old defenseman they clearly believe could develop into a top-pairing kind of guy.
But there’s a reason why NHL teams don’t offer sheet other teams restricted free agents, and those same bugaboos cropped up as the Bruins ran through the exercise of a possible offer sheet option. One was the trepidation that the other 29 teams could come after Boston’s restricted free agents in the same fashion that the Bruins pursued Trouba. David Pastrnak, Ryan Spooner and Malcolm Subban will be restricted free agents next summer, and all could easily be targeted if open season was declared on them league-wide after the Black and Gold went through with the rarely-used option.
Beyond that there’s another very real set of ramifications, however.
Breaking the unwritten rules of the RFA offer sheet among the fraternity of general managers can make it a challenging climate to make trades in the aftermath, can instigate threats of bare-knuckle fights in Canadian barns if the offended exec is Brian Burke, and can ultimately be damaging to the GMs that go the offer sheet route.
The examples within the NHL are very easy to look up given the rarity of the RFA offer sheet over the last 20 years. Jay Feaster was fired by Calgary after offer-sheeting Ryan O’Reilly in 2013, and hasn’t been hired for another managing job since that Flames gig. He currently serves as the Executive Director of Community Hockey Development for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Paul Holmgren was eventually reassigned by the Flyers after his massive offer sheet with Shea Weber in 2012, and Ron Hextall has replaced him in the day-to-day operations running the Broad Street Bullies while Holmgren serves as Flyers President. Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis was fired years following their offer sheet for David Backes in 2008, and he hasn’t been able to find another managing job in the NHL over the last couple of years as well.
So that kind of past history would give any NHL general manager pause about opening up that NHL Pandora’s Box.
Put all of that together with a Bruins ownership group that’s traditionally been staunchly against any type of overly inflationary contracts for players, and there is good reason why A) you rarely see offer sheets around the NHL for restricted free agents and B) why it might never be something you see coming from the Boston Bruins no matter how desperate they are for that next No. 1 defenseman.
The fact the Bruins went to the lengths of putting together a possible offer sheet strategy for Trouba, however, is a clear indication of just how desperately the Black and Gold want to upgrade their D-man situation while getting younger and faster at the same time.
This week has been another shining example that doing just that isn’t going to be easy for the Black and Gold, and might not even be possible until midway through next season.
Joe Haggerty can be followed on Twitter: @HacksWithHaggs