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Rand Simon's Blog: Signing RFAs will cost teams less this summer

Brian Campbell, one of the few top-end defensemen available this summer, is bound to fetch big bucks from a team looking for a blueline upgrade. (Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Brian Campbell, one of the few top-end defensemen available this summer, is bound to fetch big bucks from a team looking for a blueline upgrade. (Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Edmonton Oilers’ recent signing of defenseman Tom Gilbert to a six-year, $24-million contract was the latest example of a team locking up a young player to a multi-year deal.

What makes the Gilbert signing incredible is that he has played only 94 career NHL games and was still two full seasons away from unrestricted free agency.

To show how much the salary market has moved in a short period of time, it has only been nine months since Pittsburgh Penguins’ defenseman Ryan Whitney signed a similar, six-year, $24-million contract.

Whitney had 149 career games of NHL experience and recorded 59 points in the season just before he signed his deal, whereas Gilbert produced 33 points this season.

While we have no way of knowing if the Gilbert signing was in any way motivated by the threat of a potential offer sheet this summer, we do know that thanks to the large increase in the average league salary (ALS), it will be easier for teams to make offer sheets without risking as much compensation.

If a team fails to match an offer sheet, it receives draft pick compensation from the signing team based on the average annual value of the new contract.

The catch is that the compensation levels go up along with the increase in ALS. For the first season after the lockout, ALS was $1.458 million but after a 17 per cent increase last season and an expected increase this season in the 10 per cent range, ALS will be around $1.9 million.

What that means for teams interested in submitting offer sheets is they can offer more dollars to players and if the contract is not matched, they will be on the hook for less compensation.

For example, in the first year of the CBA, an offer sheet to a player of $800,000 would have required the signing team to give up a 3rd-round draft pick. This summer, such an offer would require no compensation at all.

At the higher end, an offer sheet with an average annual value (AAV) of $2.5 million will only require the signing team to give up a 2nd round pick compared to the 1st and 3rd round picks a team would have had to relinquish in the summer of 2006 for a contract of that value.

The highest level of compensation – four, 1st round picks – used to kick in when the AAV of an offer sheet was $5 million; that number will be somewhere around $6.5 million this summer.

BARE MARKET
Much has been written about the shallow talent pool available in unrestricted free agency on July 1 and the numbers back up that assertion.

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On the blueline, only six of the top 13 potential UFA defensemen as ranked by minutes per game remain on the market with the other seven having already signed contract extensions. The only potential UFA defensemen who topped 35 points and 22 minutes per game in 2007-08 are Brian Campbell, Michal Rozsival and Wade Redden.

Up front, there were 36 forwards who averaged at least half a point per game (minimum 40 games played) in 2007-08 who were potential Group 3 free agents. Of those 36, 14 have already signed contract extensions, taking them off the market.

Included in that group were the top four players ranked by points per game, leaving Mats Sundin as the only potential UFA forward to average better than a point per game this season.

So, what’s left? Well, for teams looking for goal-scoring, only Sundin, Vaclav Prospal, Daymond Langkow and Brian Rolston were 30-goal scorers this season. The list of forwards to average at least 0.75 of a point per game runs only nine deep:  Sundin, Prospal, Langkow, Marian Hossa, Joe Sakic, Jason Williams (the youngest player in the group) Cory Stillman, Kristian Huselius and Pavol Demitra.

Finally, for teams looking for a combination of toughness and scoring, only two forwards – Sean Avery and Ryan Malone – topped half a point per game and 100 PIMs in 2007-08.

HEY, TOUGH GUY
Speaking of toughness, Phoenix Coyotes’ winger Daniel Carcillo became the first member of the 300 PIMs-10 goal club in 12 seasons when he recorded 324 PIMs while still finding time to score 13 goals in 2007-08.

Not since Matthew Barnaby recorded 335 PIMs and 15 goals in 1995-96 has an NHL player reached those levels.

That tidbit comes courtesy of the “power play” feature at the incredible new website Hockey-Reference.com.

From the people who brought you Baseball-Reference.com, comes the greatest thing to happen to hockey on the Internet since, well, at least since thehockeynews.com re-launched.

I must warn you that Hockey-Reference.com is incredibly addicting and you may find yourself getting lost for hours in the incredible amount of statistical data found within its thousands (millions?) of pages.

Rand Simon is an NHLPA certified agent. He has spent the past 14 years with Newport Sports Management Inc. He will be blogging for THN.com throughout the season. You can read his other entries HERE.

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