When Ryan Kesler signed an offer sheet with the Flyers, it was the start of escalating price tags for RFAs. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)
In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Anaheim Ducks GM Brian Burke got it only half-right when he said, in reference to Kevin Lowe’s multiple offer sheets to restricted free agents during the NHL’s last off-season:
“What (Lowe) did last summer was eliminate the second contract in the NHL.”
The truth of the matter is, while Lowe – with a hat tip to ex-Flyers GM Bob Clarke and ex-RFA Ryan Kesler – started the process that kills off affordable contracts to follow up most rookie pacts, a whole lot of other GMs have been finishing off the job ever since.
Chicago’s Dale Tallon handed over four years and nearly $16 million to Patrick Sharp, he of the 39 career goals prior to this season. Nashville’s David Poile bestowed a six-year, $27 million contract on David Legwand, who’s broken the 20-goal plateau exactly once during his seven years in the league and is currently on pace to score just 19 this season.
In Florida, Jacques Martin has been doling out unwarranted long-term deals like they were sunscreen, first giving Nathan Horton $24 million over a six-year period, then signing Stephen Weiss (career highs: 20 goals and 48 points) for just over $18 million over six years. And in San Jose, Matt Carle scored a contract for four years and nearly $14 million, despite putting up only a solid half-season in his rookie campaign last year.
Now, with the seemingly ever-rising salary cap, some of the aforementioned deals may turn out to be real bargains one day. But some of them may seem just as atrocious as the pact Lowe tried and failed to sign Thomas Vanek to, as well as the one he secured Dustin Penner’s services with.
Don’t get me wrong – I’ve said for a while now how much I like the moxie and cutthroat approach Lowe utilized last summer. As Clarke himself said recently, the labor rules are the labor rules, and those who don’t take advantage of every potential loophole and/or stipulation aren’t serving their organization properly.
But for as many hockey people that saw Lowe’s machinations and reacted by trying to guard against similar situations in future, there should be just as many after this season who look at the failures in Edmonton and choose to try their luck with the RFA market instead.
I mean, would Buffalo have been that much worse off without Thomas Vanek if Sabres GM Darcy Regier decided to let him sign with Edmonton? And if Regier went that route, would he not have the money to keep soon-to-be-traded blueliner Brian Campbell in the fold after this season?
If Buffalonians can stop crying long enough, I’ll bet they know the answer to those questions.
Really, nobody is holding a weapon to the heads of GMs to do these deals. Granted, they would be torn to ribbons for a few months by local media for allowing an asset to be pinched by another organization, but after that storm, they would also avoid the subsequent salary cap issues currently straight-jacketing teams such as the Sabres.
Franchises roll the dice with NHLers all the time. Buffalo did it by not signing Daniel Briere and Chris Drury before they became unrestricted free agents last summer, and came up snake eyes both times. Edmonton did it with Ryan Smyth, and also lost on it big-time.
Some may say that’s exactly why you need to lock up young players before they get to either a UFA or an RFA market. But sometimes the opposite is true – sometimes you gamble by devoting too much time, money and effort to a player who hasn’t yet established himself as a year-in, year-out force.
Unless you’re one of the NHL’s super-rich teams that can afford contract buyout upon contract buyout, it’s a lot more difficult to make up for money poorly spent than it is for money not spent at all.
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