This time of year is always exciting for hockey fans. From the Stanley Cup Finals to the NHL Draft, there is no shortage of excitement. Trades, buy-outs, and the free agent frenzy only add elation. This summer, however, the thrills may be especially amplified. There is a growing sense around the league that teams are considering to pull out a rarely-used tool: the offer sheet.
Offer Sheets: A Brief History
The history of offer sheets in the NHL is thin and examples are few and far between. The last time a team tried to use an offer sheet was in February 2013. This was when the Calgary Flames attempted to pry Ryan O’Reilly away from the Colorado Avalanche. In the end, the Avs matched the Flames offer, and O’Reilly remained in Denver.
The last time a team successfully used an offer sheet dates back even further. In July 2007, the Edmonton Oilers managed to swipe Dustin Penner from the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks were unwilling to match the Oilers offer of a five-year, $21.25 million contract. In exchange, Edmonton compensated Anaheim with three draft picks. They included a 2008 first-round pick, a 2008 second-round pick, and a 2008 third-round pick.
Despite their overall rarity, speculation is building that offer-sheets could swing back into style this summer. With a deep pool of star-studded restricted free agents lined up on Jul. 1, the conditions are looking favorable for this to happen. Some names include Mitch Marner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Brayden Point of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Mikko Rantanen of the Colorado Avalanche, Patrik Laine of the Winnipeg Jets, Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks, and Sebastian Aho of the Carolina Hurricanes. There are many more.
Extraordinary talent like this does not become available very often, especially all at once.
A Senators Offer Sheet?
One team that could be poised to strike on the offer-sheet front is the Ottawa Senators.
Before committing his team to a massive rebuild on Mar. 1, 2018, owner Eugene Melnyk made his mission clear. He promised to make the Ottawa Senators Stanley Cup contenders within the next three-to-five years, and deliver a Stanley Cup to the City of Ottawa in the near future. Significantly, Melnyk is also prepared to spend close to the salary cap, which is $81.5 million for the 2019-20 season, to make it happen.
Entering year two of this rebuild, it could be time for the Senators to make a bold play that is aligned with their overall rebuild plan. They could do this by acquiring a young, impactful, ready-now type player who is talented enough to land a spot on the club’s top line. What better time than now, considering the abundance of restricted free agent talent available? In addition, the Senators have roster openings, assets, and salary space available to execute a major play like this.
Salary and Roster Considerations
According to CapFriendly, as of Jun. 25, 2019, Ottawa has $48.5 million committed to 16 players on their roster. This leaves the team with a little over $33 million in salary cap-space ahead of Jul. 1. Even more astonishing, Ottawa has only $20.25 million committed the year after to six players. Four are active roster players. They include Bobby Ryan, Zack Smith, Brady Tkachuk, and Anders Nilsson. Meanwhile, Marian Gaborik is on the long-term injured reserve and Dion Phaneuf is being paid through his buy-out. Obviously, there will be plenty of jobs available in Ottawa as early as next season. Senators general manager Pierre Dorion has ample opportunity to overhaul his roster, lock-up talented youth, and position the Senators for a serious pursuit of Lord Stanley.
In addition to having significant cap flexibility, Ottawa also possesses 28 draft picks between 2020 and 2023. Notably, 15 of these picks fall within the first three rounds over the next three seasons. They include four first-round picks, seven second-round picks, and four third-round picks. For the purpose of considering an offer-sheet, it is significant that Ottawa owns their own picks in each of these rounds over this time period. A team can only compensate another team using their own picks after they have acquired a restricted free agent via an offer sheet. The team acquiring this player cannot use another team’s picks as compensation.
Of course, Ottawa could elect to use these picks to draft and develop their own players. This is the Senators preferred approach in recent history, and it is no surprise why. They have been very successful in drafting and developing their own hockey talent. Names like Daniel Alfredsson, Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, Robin Lehner, and Marian Hossa immediately come to mind, amongst many others who have made an impact in the NHL.
However, this approach takes significant time, energy, and investment, which could extend past the three-to-five-year time frame the Senators have given themselves to rebuild into Stanley Cup contenders. At some point, Ottawa will need to inject talent into their line-up from an outside source, such as via another team. By leveraging their wealth of draft pick assets, the Senators could acquire a bonafide restricted free agent this summer if they opt to use an offer sheet.
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It is also worth mentioning that the Senators are bursting at the seams with young talented prospects. Lassi Thomson, Shane Pinto, and Mads Sogaard are three players who were recently drafted by the Senators in the first two rounds of the 2019 NHL Draft. They join a long list of strong prospects already in the system. Names include Erik Brannstrom, Logan Brown, Drake Batherson, Alex Formenton, Filip Chlapik, Josh Norris, and Filip Gustavsson. All of these players are expected to play important roles with the NHL club in the near future; and when they do, they will join other young talented NHLers who are already there. Those include Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot, Colin White, Christian Wolanin, and Rudolfs Balcers.
Needless to say, if the Senators decide to draft and develop their next 28 draft picks, there is a real possibility they won’t be able to retain all their talent. The reason? Simply because there won’t be enough roster space.
Given these considerations above, the time could be right for the Ottawa Senators to make a bold move this summer. This move may potentially come in the form of using an offer sheet to lure a star restricted free agent player to Canada’s capital city.
A nearly perfect match would be Matthew Tkachuk of the Calgary Flames. The Scottsdale, Arizona native is an attractive NHL player for many reasons.
First and foremost, his younger brother, Brady Tkachuk, was drafted fourth overall by the Senators in 2018 and currently plays for the hockey club. When the Flames visited Canadian Tire Centre on Feb. 24, 2019, Matthew was greeted with great fanfare in Ottawa. This was the first time both Tkachuks faced-off against each other in the NHL. In addition to the instant chemistry potential, it would be a great public relations move to bring the brothers together in Ottawa. Such a move would be reminiscent of the Vancouver Canucks when they had the Sedin Twins- Daniel and Henrik Sedin-in their line-up.
Second, Matthew Tkachuk is a highly offensive and an established NHL player. Drafted by the Flames in the first round, sixth overall in 2016, Tkachuk has already accumulated 174 points in 224 games. This includes 71 goals and 103 assists for a point per game average of .78. This is excellent of any player, especially of a 21-year-old. Clearly, Matthew has tremendous offensive potential, which he has already discovered at the NHL level.
Style of Game
Third, other aspects of Matthew Tkachuk’s game would fit well in Ottawa. Tkachuk has already built a reputation for being one of the league’s most notorious hard-checking agitators. This style of play skates in the Tkachuk family. Brady plays a similar style game. On most nights last season, the rookie Senator was a menace for opposing teams, both psychologically and on the scoreboard. Opponents dreaded this but the Senators and their fan base adore it. One can only imagine how frustrating the Senators would be to play against with two Tkachuks’ on their roster.
Fourth, from a brand identity perspective, the Senators are already obsessed with what Brady Tkachuk brings to their team. From leadership to team culture, Matthew’s younger brother is at the core of renewing the Senators brand identity. For example, the Senators gave Brady the opportunity to announce his team’s first-round pick at the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver. Brady Tkachuk is already a big part of this team, and his role will only grow in the future. Acquiring his older brother would only strengthen the Senators new brand identity as they form into Stanley Cup contenders.
Fifth, the Flames are in a tight spot. According to CapFriendly.com, as of Jun. 25, 2019, they have $68.5 million committed to 19 roster players. This leaves them with almost $13 million in cap-space to manage nine expiring contracts. Players with contracts ending include Tkachuk, Sam Bennett, who is another first-round pick (fourth overall in 2014), and depth players like Andrew Mangiapane and Alan Quine. Notably, the Flames also have a major goalie situation in their crease. Only Jon Gillies is under contract for next season. Both Mike Smith and David Rittich, who gave the Flames great success in the 2018-19 season, have expiring contracts. Under these two dynamic goalies, the Flames had an incredible NHL campaign last year. They finished second in the league with a 50-25-7 record and 107 points.
Sixth, if the Senators were to propose an offer sheet to Matthew Tkachuk in the range of $8-10 million per year, there could be a chance the Flames would not be able to match without triggering massive reform to their own roster. Furthermore, an offer of this amount from the Senators would significantly repair Ottawa’s own reputation. It would send a clear message to the fan base and the league that the Sens are no longer a strictly budgeted team. This would also be a strong signal from the team’s ownership and management that they are in fact serious about building a Stanley Cup contender in the time frame given.
In conclusion, the Senators have the assets, roster spots, and salary space available to lure a high-quality NHL player via an offer sheet. For many reasons, Matthew Tkachuk could be an ideal fit in the Canadian capital. With the very talented Tkachuk brothers together, Ottawa could stay on track with their rebuild plans to reach Stanley Cup contender status in the next three-to-five years.
Billy Morrison lives in Ottawa and covers the Ottawa Senators for Full Press Coverage. Follow Billy on Twitter, @BillyMorrison01.