By Matt Blittner, The New York Extra/TheNYExtra.com
We bring you this special hockey bulletin to announce that the once quiet off-season is now alive and buzzing.
The at times mythical offer sheet has been sighted. The Carolina Hurricanes, in an act of payback, tendered an offer sheet to Montreal Canadiens’ RFA forward, Jesperi Kotkaniemi. The young, inconsistent Kotaniemi signed the one-year deal on Saturday and now the waiting game commences. Montreal has seven-days to match or decline to match the offer. (The deadline is Saturday September 4th).
The offer, a one-year contract carrying a salary of $6,100,015, as well as a $20 signing bonus, is well above what the 21-year-old was predicted to get from Montreal. Essentially, this is retaliation for when the Canadiens offer-sheeted Carolina’s then RFA center, Sebastian Aho, in the summer of 2019.
Aho signed Montreal’s offer for a five-year deal with an AAV of $8.454M. Carolina matched it, but the organization was clearly unhappy about the offer sheet. Now, two-years later, the Hurricanes have struck back. And just in case you think the two situations aren’t related, just take a look at the $20 signing bonus Carolina included in its offer to Kotkaniemi. The number 20 is Aho’s jersey number. Meanwhile, the 15 at the end of Kotkaniemi’s salary represents his jersey number.
That’s plenty of numerology for those of you who care about such things. More importantly, it is proof that this offer sheet was at least partially inspired by vengeance and it raises another question; should teams be more willing to hand out offer sheets and should such action be encouraged?
We all know NHL General managers are mostly fearful of offer sheets. The reason being is they feel that if one of them does go through with the offer, retaliation will eventually follow. So, in order to avoid such retaliation, most GM’s don’t even consider offer sheets. But should they?
It’s a known fact that the higher the offer a team makes, the higher the compensation it must forfeit should the player’s original team decline to match the offer sheet. The highest form of compensation is four first-round draft picks. That’s a steep price to pay, even for the best players. With so much value placed on draft capital, there’s next to no chance a team would ever take such a risk.
In Kotkaniemi’s case, should Montreal choose not to match the offer sheet, the Canadiens will receive Carolina’s 2022 first- and third-round draft picks. Given Kotkaniemi’s up-and-down career thus far, the Canadiens are likely very tempted to let him leave and recoup that coveted draft compensation.
Back to the question at hand, there’s no question the typically quiet portion of the NHL’s off-season has become one filled with excited buzzing thanks to the most recent offer sheet situation. Why is that important? Well, unlike the off-seasons for MLB, the NFL and the NBA, the NHL off-season is usually fairly dull outside of the first couple days when free agency begins. When it comes to television and radio coverage, hockey becomes close to nonexistent during the months preceding the new season.
Most hockey media people take vacations, not to be heard from except when something like an offer sheet breaks the mundane silence. That’s not the case in the other three main sports. Baseball’s off-season coverage, while not exactly a kettle pot ready to burst, never goes too long without some form of news that gets people talking. Same goes for the NFL and NBA.
Sports talk shows always find things to talk about for baseball, basketball and football; not so much for hockey. But regular offer sheets would change that. Let’s face it, hockey is the Number Four sport when ranked with MLB, the NFL and the NBA. But if there were something to keep fans interested when games weren’t being played, perhaps that would change.
If the NHL wants to grow, which it does, one way to do so is to have an exciting off-season. It can’t always count on Expansion Drafts to get people talking. So, if the league were to incentivize teams to extend offer sheets, or at least lower the compensation plateaus, then people would be forced to pay more attention to the frozen sport.
If a player like Ottawa’s Brady Tkachuk — currently an RFA — were to be signed to an offer sheet for approximately $7M per year, should the Senators choose not to match, his new team would have to forfeit a first-, second- and third-round pick. That’s way too high a price to pay.
But what if his new team only had to surrender say a second- and a third-rounder? Well then, that would most assuredly be considered a fair exchange. If that were the threshold, you’d see a lot more players getting offer sheets. Whether their current teams would match or not is a question for a different day and would likely depend on their individual cap situations. But think of all the excitement it would bring to an otherwise monotonous off-season.
Every team would constantly be on red alert. It would mean constant coverage and for the fans, that’s always a win-win scenario. Remember, while players play this game for money and glory, it is still played for the enjoyment of the fans. And what better thing to do for the fans than to bring constant action and news year-round?
Sure, insiders like John Shannon, Darren Dreger and Frank Seravalli wouldn’t be able to escape to their isolated cabins for a few weeks like they do now. But besides those insiders, would anybody really complain? And besides, in a world as technologically advanced as ours, I’m sure they could still sneak off to their woodsy cabins for a couple weeks of RnR and still do their jobs.
So, who says “nay” to lowering the compensation threshold for offer sheets so they can become more commonplace and the off-season can become more exciting?
I don’t see any hands raised. Now let’s see if the NHL’s General Managers agree. Stay tuned.