The Puck Whisperer. Offer Sheets. Gimmick or Strategy?


Offer sheets.  Poaching?  Gimmick?  Or brilliant strategy when  it works?  The offer sheet has been around the NHL for quite sometime now going back to 1986 when the Chicago Blackhawks were able to nab defenceman Gary Nylund  from the Toronto Maple Leafs.  The offer sheet was for three years at $620,000 with an option.  The Leafs at the time chose not to match and accepted the compensation from the Hawks, which turned out to be fast but useless center Ken Yaremchuk, defenceman Jerome Dupont , and a fourth round draft pick.  How’d that turn out? Yaremchuk played 47 games for the Leafs scoring six times before finally moving on to the Swiss League.  Dupont played 13 games for the Leafs, then disappeared.  He was a former first round pick for the Hawks.  The draft choice for Toronto turned out to be Joe Sacco, now coach of the Colorado Avalanche.  Nylund played three years for the Hawks displaying a pugilistic style of defence ( I saw alot of that living in Chi-town) and later moved on to the New York Islanders.

Some of the more famous deals have been Brendan Shanahan who was offered a sheet by St. Louis which he accepted.  Scott Stevens went to New Jersey as compensation.  In 1995 Shayne Corson  (love that name) signed an offer sheet by the St. Louis Blues , who again found themselves in the game.  Curtis Joseph, Mike Greer, and some draft picks went to Edmonton as compensation.

Who can forget though when Oilers GM  Kevin Lowe offered Buffalo’s Tomas Vanek  a seven year deal for $50 million on July 6, 2007?  The Sabres were forced to match it rather than lose the sharp shooting winger.  Not to be outdone, just 20 days later on July 26th Lowe did it again. Only this time with Anaheim Ducks enigmatic forward   Dustin Penner.  The offer?  Five years and $21.5 million.  Brian Burke took the three draft picks and moved on.  Lowe got his man.  Good deal?  Still waiting on that, although Penner did score over 30 goals last season.

Move forward to the summer of 2010 as former Chicago Blackhawks defenceman, now general manager of the San Jose Sharks, Doug Wilson attempts to poach, yes that’s right, poach the Hawks and expose their salary cap issues by making an offer to young defenceman Niklas Hjalmarsson.  The Hawks matched the offer which is approximately $3.5 million per year over four seasons, not wanting to lose the up and coming defenceman, who had a pretty solid playoff run.  Rumor is though that Wilson, while wanting Hjalmarsson, figured that if the Hawks matched that offer, then goaltender Antti Niemi  would be too pricey for Chicago, and he’d be able to make a run at him on the open market.  Niemi has an arbitration hearing at the end of this month.  Chicago is trying to sign Niemi before the hearing, however that may not prove successful.

The opinion on the matter can boil down to brilliant strategy, as well as forcing a teams hand into doing something that they weren’t prepared to do. Or making enemies with your other general managers, who some day may become a hostile trade partner.  Imagine now if the Hawks don’t have room to sign Niemi, and he is signed elsewhere, maybe even San Jose.  The next time Wilson wants to unload one of his no show forwards (Dany Heatley) and calls the Hawks, I imagine that Stan Bowman will either laugh his head off, or tell Wilson to politely go fu*& himself.

Offer sheets happen in the scenario that I’ve described, as well as when you try to make a trade for a player and the two sides can’t agree.  The sheet often produces quite the fued between teams as the Lowe-Burke  escapade did.  As a fan you get upset if you’re player leaves, but love it if you’re the other team getting the player.  Dirty, sneaky, or smart.  It all depends on how you look at it, like anything else.  As for me, and I know you want an opinion, I don’t like them.  Sure I’m a Hawks fan if you didn’t already know.  The last thing I want is that team’s players stolen. 

Jaime Fitzpatrick seems to think that the NHL needs more of them.  Really?  Why?  We’re facing another potential CBA problem in two years.  The salary cap hasn’t really done what the owners wanted it to do, as player salaries continue to escalate , and the NHL is trying to bury them by giving  these players 17 year deals (Ilya Kovalchuk)!  C’mon, this kind of stuff has to be fixed.  Offer sheets certainly don’t help the situation.  Essentially you’re offering a player money that he probably isn’t really worth, but you’re willing to risk overpaying him slightly to get him.  Yet you have to give something up in return.  While compensation is to supposedly soften the blow, it goes against my line of thinking.

If the cap goes down in the next year or two, as it could, this type of strategy isn’t going to help the league one bit.  But the commish, Gary Bettman, likes what he sees and likes the competition that it generates.  While there usually aren’t too many of them,  we need to ask ourselves the following question.

Is the bad blood that they can potentially create worth the slyness of the deal?

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