Fiala deal leaves Kings vulnerable to dual offer sheet strategy
The Los Angeles Kings adding star winger Kevin Fiala in a deal with the Minnesota Wild last week certainly shuffled the deck in the Western Conference. A pesky playoff team last season, the Kings addressed a core need – scoring firepower – for a prospect and a first-round pick in the upcoming draft.
Any time there’s an opportunity to add a player fresh off a 33-goal and 85-point season, you must consider the deal. But there is an opportunity cost here. By way of the trade, the Kings also added a $55.1 million liability to their balance sheet, one that will hit their cap to the tune of $7.9 million each year.
That’s particularly notable considering the NHL’s current economic landscape. With the salary cap at $82.5-million, the Kings – who have just 36 rostered players and just under $12 million in remaining cap space – have a limited amount of money remaining for an awful lot of roster spots to fill. Of particular note: The Kings have seven restricted free agents to take care of this off-season.
This is where an opportunistic rival team can take advantage of Los Angeles’ bet on Fiala. Amongst those seven restricted free agents are several valuable players who would normally command a pretty penny in an unrestricted market. The Kings likely hope to reach bridge deals with a number of these players for the next couple of seasons, while trying to secure 35-goal scorer Adrian Kempe at most any cost.
But there are a lot of other names who played consequential minutes for this team a season ago, and that’s across both position groups:
And so, it’s once again time to discuss the dual offer sheet strategy.
For years now, we have talked about tendering dual offer sheets to cap-distressed or cash-poor teams to force another club into a decision they don’t want to make.
I’ve argued for years that the value of offer sheets are largely misunderstood; top-tier restricted free agents are too expensive when it comes to offer sheet compensation, and lower-end restricted free agents aren’t worth the hassle.
There was a time where offer sheets were non-existent in the league, but the Carolina Hurricanes ended that streak last season.
Consider this year’s restricted free agent compensation table, with particular attention to the middle range:
For a team with all three available picks (a first, a second, and a third), a franchise can send simultaneous offer sheets – in this case towards Los Angeles – to land a coveted young player.
There are many situations where this strategy doesn’t make sense, but for a cap-distressed team with multiple quality young players it is hoping to keep at a fractional cost, it can be deadly.
This is where a team should be predatory with the Kings. Every team in the league would benefit from adding Kempe its roster. Los Angeles knows this, but any attempt to keep Kempe on a larger deal means there will be a squeeze across the rest of the roster.
A player like Gabriel Vilardi – a former first-round pick in his own right – could naturally draw attention. Rookie surprise Sean Durzi could as well. But it’s Mikey Anderson, Drew Doughty’s defensive partner from a season ago, who looks like the big prize behind Kempe.
Consider Anderson’s 2021-22 season. If we look at Anderson’s contributions (we will use Goals Above Replacement for an apples-to-apples comparison across the league), we can get a feel for similarly productive players:
That’s an impressive sophomore season for a 23-year-old defenceman. It’s also one that’s probably worth betting on for a team looking to fill a hole on a blueline. So, what would a dual offer sheet look like to potentially paralyze Los Angeles here?
- Tender an offer sheet to forward Kempe at $6.3mm AAV at the cost of a first-round pick and a third-round pick.
- Tender an offer sheet to defenceman Anderson at $4.2mm AAV at the cost of a second-round pick.
If Los Angeles chooses to sign both players on these deals, they will be left with just $1.4-million in cap space to manage the rest of the roster. That’s not a crisis, but it’s not comfortable either and it would certainly require a series of moves the team may not want to make to become cap compliant.
Such a move requires a team to have all its picks, and of course, the cap space. But in a hard cap league, tough decisions are sometimes required. And perhaps the cost of adding Fiala is losing a player the calibre of Kempe or, more realistically, Anderson.
To the aggressor go the spoils!
Data via Hockey Reference, Cap Friendly, Evolving Hockey, Natural Stat Trick