“There is nothing out of the question. There is nothing that is, say, crossed off the board, that we would not do.” —Lou Lamoriello
“If something glitzy and glamorous comes along, and we think that it fits into what we want to be going down the road, then we’re going to pursue it.” —Brendan Shanahan
Forget Steven Stamkos for a minute, Toronto.
In deed and in word, the Maple Leafs’ tear-down has been purposeful, aggressive and has made full use of the collective bargaining agreement. All above board, yes, but with a cutthroat precision that has seen roster players simply vanish, core stars shipped out of town for prospects and future salary cap space, and other clubs’ castoffs absorbed into a purgatorial dressing room.
Matt Frattin, property of the Ottawa Senators, whipped around the ice for the Toronto Marlies on the weekend. Raffi Torres, property of the Maple Leafs, was told not to bother flying in from California. The recently acquired Jared Cowen is expected to be bought out for cap relief. Where in the world is Stephane Robidas?
However legit, the offer sheet carries a stigma and has grown almost pointless. Each one of the last five, and nine of the last 10 offer sheets, have been matched. Hockey nuts love them and their inherent drama — Let’s watch David Poile and the Flyers faithful squirm for a week! — but we haven’t seen one in three years. (Remember Ryan O’Reilly, Calgary Flames fans?) Only three have been signed this decade, and the last one that went unsigned nearly resulted in a barn fight.
The NHL offer sheet might not be extinct, but it’s endangered.
“The only winner in an offer sheet is the player,” Nashville Predators GM David Poile said after matching the Flyers’ $110-million offer sheet for Shea Weber in 2012. “Neither club really benefits from it.”
When betting on the man to resuscitate the most dastardly tool at a GM’s disposal, you could do worse than putting your money on Lou Lamoriello, the quiet assassin who is wrapping up the first year of his three-season deal with Toronto.
READ MORE: Top 36 RFAs to watch this summer
Lamoriello gave Ilya Kovalchuk 15 years and $100 million. He found a new home for Dion Phaneuf and makes grown men afraid to skip shaving. Way back in 1991, he accepted an offer sheet for Shanahan, battled St. Louis in arbitration and wrangled Scott Stevens from the Blues.
Since assuming the reins in Toronto, he has horded draft selections like my aunt once horded Beanie Babies. The Leafs have 12 picks this spring and eight each in 2017 and 2018. Draft picks, of course, are the currency of the offer sheet.
The GM bought flexibility and, as he told Prime Time Sports last week (video at top of story), has made a list of “all the potential situations that might be available.”
If anything out there will make the Leafs better today and tomorrow, Lamoriello will explore it. This office wants to go from worst to first as fast as possible, as long as it’s done smartly.
In his own end-of-season PTS appearance, Shanahan reminded the world that it was never the organization’s intent to rebuild slowly. Shanahan stressed that a team cannot build via draft alone.
“You also have to make good trades. That’s how we acquired a guy like [Zach] Hyman. You also have to make good signings,” said the Leafs president. “You can’t just do it one way. You have to be nimble. You have to be an organization that can do it in a lot of different ways.”
In order to offer-sheet an RFA, the poaching team must have the appropriate compensation. The Leafs own an extra second-round pick (Washington’s) in 2016, two extra second-round picks (San Jose’s and Ottawa’s) in 2017, and another bonus second-rounder in 2018 (San Jose’s). Meaning they could surrender a second-rounder and offer an RFA a deal with an average annual value in the $1.8 million to $3.65 million range.
|Average annual value||Compensation|
|Less than $1,205,377||Nothing|
|$3,652,659-to-$5,478,986||First and third-round picks|
|$5,478,986-to-$7,305,316||First, second and third-round picks|
|$7,305,316-to-$9,131,645||Two firsts, a second and third-round picks|
|$9,131,645 or greater||Four first-round picks|
Think about this: Would Detroit rather match $3.65 million a year for Petr Mrazek and tie up roughly $8.94 million in goaltending, or take a high second-round pick? And if $7.5 million in cap space is going to an absent Pavel Datsyuk, does that tweak the Red Wings’ goaltending decision?
A swing at a big-money, marquee 2016 RFA — Seth Jones, Nikita Kucherov, Filip Forsberg, Jacob Trouba, Nathan MacKinnon, Tyson Barrie — requires both a first- and a third-rounder, minimum. A dreamer’s list of offer-sheet-ready players in 2017 (Ryan Johansen, Tyler Johnson, Aaron Ekblad, Colton Parayko, Leon Draisaitl, Sam Bennett) and 2018 (Connor McDavid, Dylans Strome and Larkin) is just as tantalizing.
Offer sheet or not, budget teams like Colorado and Winnipeg or a cap-strapped one like Tampa Bay appear vulnerable in the next couple of summers. With their herds of young, underpaid talent, Calgary and Edmonton, too, could become offer sheet targets, as Mark Spector noted.
It is the compensatory third-round pick that poses a significant hurdle with regards to Toronto’s flexibility here. Teams such as Philadelphia and Montreal are better positioned to use one this off-season.
The Maple Leafs must surrender a third-round pick to Detroit and a third-round pick to New Jersey as compensation for hiring away Mike Babcock and Lamoriello, respectively.
Circle June 1 on your calendar. That is the deadline for Toronto to declare whether it will forfeit the Babcock pick in 2016 or 2017. The Lamoriello pick must be surrendered in 2016 or 2017 or 2018. A catch here: A team’s original draft pick must be used as offer sheet compensation, but teams are permitted to trade back and reacquire their picks.
Toronto will know its lottery fate — first, second, third or fourth — by then, and surely Auston Matthews alters Lamoriello’s working list of possibilities.
It’s complicated. But if Lamoriello wants to use the offer sheet before he retires, we have no doubt he will snap on the silencer and then pull the trigger.
“He’s the only general manager,” reminds Shanahan, “that’s in the Hall of Fame.”
(tip of the cap to the excellent GeneralFanager.com)