Offer sheets are dirty business in the NHL. The St. Louis Blues made it club policy back in the early 1990s, first poaching Scott Stevens from the Washington Capitals for five first round draft picks, then following it up the next summer by poaching Brenden Shanahan from the New Jersey Devils. That's pretty good policy: except Stevens ended up the compensation for the Shanahan poaching since the Blues did it without having the draft picks to compensate the Devils. The pre-lockout NHL saw major offer sheets handed to Joe Sakic (New York Rangers) and Sergei Fedorov (Carolina Hurricanes) that were matched by the player's original clubs.
Since the lockout, we've seen a few more managers use the offer sheet as the compensation has been lowered, but only one player moved via the offer sheet since then, being Dustin Penner to the Oilers from the cap-strapped Cup Champion Anaheim Ducks. Other players have signed offer sheets, like Ryan Kesler from the Flyers, David Backes to the Canucks (retaliated with Steve Bernier to the Blues), Thomas Vanek to the Oilers (before the Penner signing), Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Sharks (which may have led to Antti Niemi's arrival in San Jose), and the threat of offer sheets has led to the trading of Phil Kessel to the Leafs and Andrej Mezaros to the Lightning.
Doug Wilson came the closest to the usage of the offer sheet as a strategy to hamper your closest rival last summer with his Hjalmarsson offer sheet, forcing the Blackhawks to potentially give up one player due to committing extra money to their young, emerging top 4 D than they expected. This year, Pierre Gauthier is positioned to do the same thing to an Eastern Conference rival who has put themselves in a tight spot.
The Montreal Canadiens should try and screw over the Washington Capitals. They might even get a useful player or two out of it.
The Capitals have had an impressive off-season to date: they boast a legitimate Stanley Cup contending lineup and they've made themselves a bit better, but at significant cost. They've retained heart and soul 2nd line centre Brooks Laich at $4.5m per year, acquired former Blackhawks winger Troy Brouwer for a first round pick, fleeced Colorado GM Jay Sherman into giving a probable lottery pick in 2012 (a better top end draft than 2011 for sure) for Semyon Varlamov, and signed three strong defensive players in former Habs D Roman Hamrlik ($3.5m per for 2 years), C Jeff Halpern ($.85m for 1 year) and Nashville Predators playoff hero RW Joel Ward (a high $3m per, 4 year deal). As a final "I'm smarter than everyone else" type move, GM George McPhee signed top goaltender Tomas Vokoun to a one year, $1.5m contract.
All these moves have made the team better, more secure in their front runner status in the Conference, but they've also put the team up against the salary cap with two important RFA signings to go. Here's a quick look at their cap commitments (courtesy of CapGeek):
CAPGEEK.COM CAP CALCULATOR
Alexander Ovechkin ($9.538m) / Nicklas Backstrom ($6.700m) / Alexander Semin ($6.700m)
Brooks Laich ($4.500m) / Joel Ward ($3.000m) / Eric Fehr ($2.200m)
Mike Knuble ($2.000m) / Jason Chimera ($1.875m) / Marcus Johansson ($0.900m)
Matt Hendricks ($0.825m) / Jeff Halpern ($0.825m) / D.J. King ($0.637m)
Jay Beagle ($0.512m)
Mike Green ($5.250m) / Dennis Wideman ($3.937m)
Roman Hamrlik ($3.500m) / Tom Poti ($2.875m)
Jeff Schultz ($2.750m) / John Erskine ($1.500m)
John Carlson ($0.845m)
Tomas Vokoun ($1.500m) / Michal Neuvirth ($1.150m)
BUYOUTS: Tyler Sloan ($0.233m)
CAPGEEK.COM TOTALS (follow @capgeek on Twitter)
(these totals are compiled without the bonus cushion)
SALARY CAP: $64,300,000; CAP PAYROLL: $63,755,128; BONUSES: $0
CAP SPACE (22-man roster): $544,872
All of these players count towards their off-season cap total. Tom Poti is apparently in poor health, and is likely to not play next year, but during the off-season, there is no Long Term Injured Reserve. Teams may exceed the salary cap by up to 10% of the ceiling during the off-season, but must be compliant by the end of the NHL pre-season. This means Washington can commit up to $70,730,000.00 in cap allocations over the offseason at any given moment.
And I think Pierre Gauthier should put them as close to that number as possible, and force a tough, and potentially hasty and misguided move for George McPhee.
Here's how this works: in order to make an offer sheet, you must have all of your own draft picks in order to properly compensate the team who currently holds the RFA's rights. The Canadiens currently hold each of their future 1st round, 2nd round, and 3rd round picks: these are the only picks that matter for this scenario. The Habs currently also have the cap space, but in order to avoid retaliation, it might be good to take Josh Gorges to arbitration ASAP.
Using the figures provided in the Copper and Blue article linked to above, offer the following contracts:
- Karl Alzner, 1-4 years, $4.7m per season
- Troy Brouwer, 1-3 years, $3.1m
Compensation to the Capitals for Alzner would be our 1st and 3rd round picks in 2012. Compensation for Brouwer would be our 2nd rounder in 2012. Brouwer might appreciate the 200% raise after scoring 39 goals the past two regular seasons for a team that he is no longer a part of. Since he has no apparent loyalty to the great city of Washington, this one seems completely within reason. They should do this soon, as Brouwer is eligible for team elected arbitration, which would make an offer sheet impossible.
Alzner might be a bit trickier. He's the one Washington is more likely to match. He's a former lottery pick who has worked himself up to being the 'quiet partner' of John Carlson, in what is emerging as a potentially dominant defensive pairing in the NHL. I'm not entirely sure he'd give up on Washington as easily, but it's worth a try. At a rate that would make him Washington or Montreal's 2nd highest paid blueliner, I think it'll be tempting. Alzner is not eligible for arbitration.
I think either player would work on a multi-year deal, but I'll leave the level of commitment up to Gauthier.
Even if only one of the players signs the offer sheet, it'll be a success: either the Habs get a good young player who can fit into the roster or they make Washington squirm a little more to get a Cup-worthy roster ready for opening night.
Best of all, adding either player would make our own Cup aspirations more tangible. These are players that could help us next year and in the future. And if Washington realizes this (remember, they traded a late 1st for Brouwer, and would only be receiving a mid to late 2nd for him as compensation 3 weeks later) and has to make a hasty dump of a player like Erik Fehr or Jeff Schultz, well... we've made them weaker and helped our chances a little bit as a result.