With the Dougie Hamilton negotiations still waiting to get moving in earnest, there has been plenty of talk about restricted free agents and offer sheets.
The 22-year-old RFA and the Bruins aren’t close on a contract with the clock ticking to July 1, and the time when Hamilton can begin receiving offer sheets from other teams looking to steal him away from the Black and Gold. The Bruins have the right to match any offer sheet pushed Hamilton’s way, of course, and the team would get solid draft pick compensation should another team woo him away from Boston.
But a salary cap-strapped club like Boston remains very susceptible to potentially losing a player to an offer sheet. A source with knowledge of the Hamilton situation has indicated to CSNNE.com that the Bruins are prepared to go all the way to $7 million a season to match any offer sheet coming the defenseman’s way.
That’s also the same ballpark that Hamilton’s camp seems to be eying for a big contract with Drew Doughty ($7 million per season) and Alex Pietrangelo ($6.5 million per season) as their high end comparable contracts. Of course, it should be noted that both Doughty and Pietrangelo were All-Star performers and finished top-5 in the Norris Trophy voting before they were signed to their long term, big dough deals. Hamilton is neither of those things at this point, but could be that player in the next couple of years as he reaches his prime at a position (defenseman) that tends to develop very slowly.
Don Sweeney admitted an offer sheet is a possibility for Hamilton, but also didn’t exactly sound worked up about it.
“Generally speaking, the possibility [of an offer sheet] exists. You have to be aware of it,” said Sweeney during last week’s pre-draft conference call with the media. “Over time, there have been certain players that bells and whistles go off, so you have to be [aware], and we are — we understand it. We’re moving forward with how we want to get this done. So it definitely exists…they’re not taking that out of the CBA.”
It should be noted that only one RFA over the last 15 years has signed an offer sheet that wasn’t matched: Dustin Penner back in 2007 when he moved from the Anaheim Ducks to the Edmonton Oilers. In the last five years there have been only three offer sheets signed by players: Nik Hjalmarsson in 2010, Shea Weber in 2012 and Ryan O’Reilly in 2013. All three of those offer sheets – including a 14-year deal for $110 million for Weber – were matched by teams that didn’t want to lose their young player.
That organizational stance makes sense for a team that can’t lose a young puck-moving defenseman still trending toward being a No. 1 D-man, but the hope would still be that Hamilton will sign for less than that.
A two-year deal in the $4.5-5 million per season range would give the young D-man a nice bump to recognize the offensive breakthroughs Hamilton made while notching 10 goals and 42 points in 72 games last season. But it would also acknowledge what everybody knows about Hamilton: that the youngster still has some strides to make with work in the D-zone and decision-making with the puck.
The most obvious candidate to attempt luring Hamilton away with an offer sheet would be Peter Chiarelli and the Edmonton Oilers, but the Columbus Blue Jackets have also shown keen interest in the potential restricted free agent.
The real lack of young, potential future No. 1 defenseman and the fairly reasonable compensation of just a first round pick, a second pick and a third round pick for any contract under $7.3 million per season could turn those teams into proactive buyers. There’s also a number of new GM’s in new spots over the last couple of seasons, and that could change the surprising lack of activity in the RFA market over the years.
There are many around the league watching this Hamilton/Bruins situation play out with great interest.
“Every team is looking for that big, mobile, puck-moving defenseman that’s capable of getting 35-50 points, you know?” said one NHL front office member outside of Boston. “If I’m another team and I have a chance to get him, obviously with the CBA there are different things you can do to make that happen like offer sheets. I think he’s in a good spot for himself. As far as the [Bruins] organization goes, I wouldn’t want to be the guy that lost him.
“When you look at the [offer sheet] compensation, it’s not bad compensation for a guy [in Hamilton] who’s going to play 25 minutes a night and can move the puck like that.”
Most general managers operated in the past with the fear somebody would pluck away their treasured RFA talent if they made a move on some other team’s restricted asset.
But that tacit understanding seems to be going away now as the rules make it easier than ever try out an offer sheet. It’s something that has many around the league watching with keen curiosity, and could be a real problem for the Bruins if another team opts to roll out a juicy offer sheet in the neighborhood of five year, $36 million once things go beyond July 1.