Numbers Game: Weighing the RFA market

Scott Cullen
6/26/2008 4:05:26 PM
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While the unrestricted free agent market garners most of the attention, this summer could finally present the time for NHL general managers to actually put the collective bargaining agreement to work, using offer sheets to acquire restricted free agent talent.

Yes, the Edmonton Oilers took a lot of heat for making such offers last year -- falling prey to that all-too-common hockey mishap of not knowing "The Code" -- it's about time NHL general managers played with some competitive fire when assembling their teams; the kind of fire that fans expect from the team on the ice.

Before we get to the actual players involved, it's worth taking a look at the compensation due for a restricted free agent this summer:


Restricted Free Agent Compensation

Salary Range Compensation
Below $863,156 No Compensation
$863,156-$1,307,812 Third-round pick
$1,307,812-$2,615,625 Second-round pick
$2,615,625-$3,923,437 First- and third-round picks
$3,923,437-$5,231,249 First-, second and third-round picks
$5,231,249-$6,539,062 Two first-rounders, a second-round pick and a third-round pick.
$6,539,062 or more Four first-round picks

Given this information, would it not make sense for teams looking to upgrade to offer up contracts under $2.5-million in an effort to secure proven young NHL talent? At the very least, putting out these offer sheets could force tough decisions on the other teams in the league.

For example, if we start at the lower end, why not offer some of these guys a contract between $900,000 and $1.3-million, risking a third-round pick if their team won't match? Steve Bernier, RW, Buffalo; Paul Gaustad, C, Buffalo; Dan Paille, LW, Buffalo; Kevin Klein, D, Nashville; Nigel Dawes, LW, N.Y. Rangers; Ryane Clowe, RW, San Jose; Brooks Laich, LW, Washington

None of these players is going to make a huge difference to your team, but they could very well fit among your top nine forwards or, in Klein's case, as a regular on the blueline. For the price of a third-round pick, any of those would be a reasonable acquisition.

Climbing the financial ladder a bit, a contract between $1.3-million and $2.6-million would still only cost a second-round pick and still represent a nice raise that might lure one of these free agents:

Dennis Wideman, D, Boston; Wojtek Wolski, LW, Colorado; Loui Eriksson, LW, Dallas; Valtteri Filppula, C, Detroit; Rostislav Olesz, LW, Florida; Patrick O'Sullivan, C, Los Angeles; Andrei Kostitsyn, LW, Montreal; Ville Koistinen, D, Nashville; Antoine Vermette, C, Ottawa

The range of talent here suggests that there would be some range in the salary that a team might offer, but players like Andrei Kostitsyn and Patrick O'Sullivan have high ceilings that would warrant a sizeable offer (perhaps into the next range) to, at the very least, put the pressure on their current teams.

In the next range, the offer will have to be more lucrative, but there are only a couple of players that would figure to be worthy of a contract between $2.6-million and $3.9-million and the price of first-and-third-round picks.

Minnesota left-winger Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Ottawa defenceman Andrej Meszaros are promising young players that could move into prominent roles with a new team since they have already handled significant positions with their current clubs. The current teams might match an offer in this range, so it could require climbing the ladder a little higher to make matching less desirable, but it's certainly worth investigating.

At the next level, between $3.9-million and $5.2-million, there are another couple of players that might make some sense in terms of price and draft picks going in return.

Anaheim's Corey Perry has indicated that he wants to stay in Anaheim and the Ducks are committed to keeping him, but that doesn't mean other teams shouldn't see if he's available for the right offer. Something over $5-million could at least put some pressure on the Ducks to make other roster decisions.  Even if the offer doesn't net Perry, if it costs the Ducks another player somewhere else, that's an advantage to all teams.  Not only that, it would be another year's worth of angry Brian Burke sound bytes.

There have also been rumblings about Philadelphia's Jeff Carter signing an extension to stay in Philadelphia but, again, it's worth looking if only to make sure that the Flyers are paying fair value.

That leaves two blue-chip young defencemen in position for perhaps the biggest offers.

Florida's Jay Bouwmeester and Washington's Mike Green are surely worth long-term deals and if the offers don't exceed a $6.5-million cap hit, the compensation only includes two first-round picks a second-round pick and a third-round pick. A contract over $6-million for either of those guys will represent a major pay increase, the kind that could force the Panthers or Capitals to think long and hard before matching.

Anything that goes above and beyond the $6.5-million threshold, and into four first-round pick territory, would put even more pressure on those teams.

Now, much of this may be fanciful dreaming in the hopes that NHL teams will operate with a more cut-throat demeanour when it comes to the business of acquiring talent, but it's also possible that some of these guys might actually get offers this summer, sparking a whole round of debates about whether the player is worth that money.

Remember, as every agent will tell you, the players are worth what the market will bear.  And it's about time the entire market was explored.

Enjoy the free agent season!

Scott Cullen can be reached at scullen@tsn.ca

Mike Green (Photo: Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images)


(Photo: Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images)
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