Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A Spite Offer Sheet

Under the current NHL CBA, there are circumstances where signing a restricted free agent to an offer sheet makes sense. You must be able to give him a big enough offer that his current team cannot afford him (either for salary cap or budgetary reasons) and he must be a good enough player that the compensation for that offer is worthwhile. This season, those circumstances have not fallen into place.

Nevertheless, the Vancouver Canucks signed David Backes of the St Louis Blues to an ill-advised offer sheet. There was no way that St Louis was going to let him go. They could afford the $2.5 million per year annual salary he signed for and Backes is not a good enough player to sign for much more money and pay a large compensation. Naturally, St Louis quickly matched the offer.

That was an exercise in futility for Vancouver GM Mike Gillis. However, it gets worse for Vancouver. Vancouver has a restricted free agent of their own in Steve Bernier. Bernier was acquired earlier this month in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres. The Canucks gave up their 2010 2nd round draft pick and a 2009 3rd round pick they had previously acquired from Los Angeles (in the Dan Cloutier trade). Yesterday, St Louis signed Bernier to a $2.5 million offer sheet. The compensation for such a signing is a second round pick. It would be poor asset management to acquire a player for a 2nd and 3rd round pick and then lose him for a 2nd rounder only before he plays a game for your team. Vancouver had little choice but to match. So they quickly announced that decision.

St Louis had no real interest in acquiring Bernier. They were pretty certain there was no chance Vancouver would let him go. Their intent was to make it clear to NHL teams that if you try to poach our restricted free agents, we can hurt you back.

Vancouver wasted effort in signing Backes to an offer sheet and now has to pay Bernier more than they otherwise intended to. They come out of this exchange (that they initiated) in worse shape than if they were not involved. It is a rookie mistake for Mike Gillis.

Restricted free agent signing can be useful under specific circumstances under this CBA. Those circumstances have not been found this summer. The signing of Backes was a mistake by Vancouver and the signing of Bernier was punishment for that mistake. I would be surprised to see any restricted free agents change hands this summer.

Here is the TSN story on the Bernier offer sheet.

That sounds like a very John Davidson kind of thing to do - in a good way.
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