Free agency is far from over. While it may seem like things have quieted down and veterans are the only players left for teams to sign, there is a group of players the New York Islanders should take a look at to resolve their second-line center issue: restricted free agents.
The NHL, including the New York Islanders, goes silent in August. Why? Teams already have their rosters set and are focused on preparing for next year with the player they have then look to add.
Some teams, like the Vancouver Canucks and Columbus Blue Jackets, have another thing to worry about, however. RFAs Bo Horvat (VAN) and Alexander Wennberg (CBJ), two young, elite centers coming off 50+ point seasons, are still unsigned by their respective teams and are starting to enter the stage where they should know their future.
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Offer Sheets: A Rare Commodity
RFAs almost always sign with the team that owns their rights, whether that be the team they played for last, or a new team in a trade. The last time an RFA was signed by another team was when Dustin Penne left the Anaheim Ducks to go to the Edmonton Oilers on a five-year, $21 million contract in the summer of 2007.
"“Since the summer of 2005, only six restricted free agents have been signed to offer sheets, most recently last year, when the San Jose Sharks signed Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to a four-year, $14 million deal.”"
NHL GMs are hesitant to go after restricted free agents due to a variety of reasons, but seem to be most scared by the draft picks they will need to give up to sign these players, as shown below.
2017 NHL RFA compensation (courtesy of SBNation.com)
It is also likely that NHL GMs are weary of the future repercussions of signing another team’s RFAs. Signing a player to an offer sheet could lead to a team adding much needed talent, but it could lead to them losing valuable players in the future.
In 2008, Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi had some interesting words threatening any general managers who decided to offer sheet one of his players.
"“We’re not only going to match any offer sheet. We’ll have enough space to go after your guys. Go ahead and make our day. If you sign our guy, we’re coming back with both barrels firing. You’d better be damn straight that you have the cap space and all your guys are signed.”"
So that is certainly a lot of information to take in. Signing RFAs in the NHL is extremely difficult and is rarely done, but nonetheless, that should not stop the Islanders from taking a stab at it and risking the consequences they should face in the future.
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What the Islanders Should Do
Alexander Wennberg and Bo Horvat two centers are in contract purgatory, both halting extension talks and waiting for a better contract offer from their team. That is where the Islanders should step in.
Instead of offering a trade that will inevitably be denied and lead to the speeding up of contract talks, the Islanders should head right to the offer sheet.
Offer sheet one of these players to a long term deal worth $5.5M per season. Both teams will certainly have to consider matching the offer sheet, especially the Vancouver Canucks, who have just over seven million dollars of cap space.
The Canucks or Blue Jackets will have a tough decision to make, but may decide to match the offer sheet. If the contract is matched, no harm is done, and the Islanders can continue to explore other routes to acquire a second line center, like Matt Duchene.
But if the Islanders land Wennberg or Horvat, they will get a future star. They will have to protect themselves in the future, however, but that will not be a serious problem.
All that means is that future restricted free agents like Ryan Pulock and Anthony Beauvillier must be signed before they hit the market to ensure a spiteful, opposing GM will not return the favor back to the Islanders.
But the cost will be well worth it: for a first, second and third round pick (don’t forget about the Hamonic trade), the Islanders will be able to check off their last box on their offseason checklist (a second line center) and put out a truly competitive team with few holes on opening night.
Garth Snow has always been a risky guy, and sometimes his moves do not work out. But signing a star to an offer sheet will 100% help the Islanders in the present and future.
Snow should not let himself be defined by an NHL norm that has lasted the last decade: he should go out and make a bold move that will appeal to the fanbase, team, and maybe even impending unrestricted free agent, John Tavares.
Something that has become common place in the NHL, teams not going near others’ RFAs, has the potential to be shattered and changed forever. All it will take is Garth Snow picking up the phone and offering a player without a contract a juicy deal.
Make it happen.