Rumors have been swirling that a host of NHL restricted free agents, including Mitch Marner of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Patrik Laine of the Winnipeg Jets, would be exploring offersheet opportunities.
Marner, drafted fourth overall in 2015, and Laine, drafted second overall in 2016, have both had explosive starts to their respective careers. Marner has 224 points in 241 career games, which includes a 94 point season on John Tavares’ wing in 2018-19. Laine has a lesser point total in the same amount of time as Marner, although he is an elite goal scorer with 110 on his stat sheet thus far. Laine also has eight goals in 23 playoff games.
This is with both Marner and Laine at 22 years old and 21 years old, respectively. There is so much room for growth for each player, and that is evident by the likely asking price given by the players’ camps.
Marner and Laine both could reach up into the $10 million per season range on a long-term contract this offseason. Bridge deals are becoming far less acceptable for young players, especially those of high caliber.
Toronto is particularly in a cap crunch due to Tavares’ contract as well as Auston Matthews’ new deal kicking in. Winnipeg does not have any shortage of money going around either with Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Dustin Byfuglien, and others on the books.
So, the question that begs is if the two franchise can afford to keep their young stars without experience major overturn.
The latter is probably not an option. Toronto, at the very minimum, is going to have to find a way to move Nikita Zaitsev and Patrick Marceau to free up some room. Winnipeg could use some creativity to avoid a crunch as well.
Due to these situations, the players have been rumored to be in the mix for offerseets. The system in place is when a restricted free agent can sign with any team he pleases, much like an unrestricted free agent, but if the incumbent chooses not to match the offer and retain the player’s rights, then the new team must hand over a stock of draft picks depending on the money value.
The compensation for restricted free agents for this offseason is as follow:
Up to $1,395,000 million = no compensation
$1,396,000 to $2,113,000 million = third round pick
$2,114,000 million to $4,227,000 million = second round pick
$4,228,000 million to $6,341,000 million = first round pick and third round pick
$6,342,000 million to $8,454,000 million = first round pick, second round pick, third round pick
$8,455,000 million to $10,568,000 million = two first round picks, second round pick, third round pick
$10,569,000 million and above = four first round picks
Thus if a team would want to pry Marner or Laine away from Toronto or Winnipeg, it would take a minimum of two first round picks, two seconds round picks, and a third round pick. The more likely scenario is four first round picks. The picks must be the team’s own selections as well, not another franchise’s.
It becomes a tricky game of whether it is worth it or not to pay up that high of a price, especially four first round picks, for a player. A trade could always be made, but it would have to equal or surpass that value, which is equally hard to do.
It seems like just semantics, however. Talks are admittedly picking up on restricted free agents, but offersheets are still rare. Since July 1, 2010, only three players have signed offersheets, and all three have been matched. The Blackhawks matched the Sharks offersheet for Niklas Hjalmarsson in 2010, the Predators matched the Flyers for Shea Weber in 2012, and the Avalanche matched Calgary for Ryan O’Reilly in 2013.
You have to go back to July 26, 2007 to find the last time an offersheet was accepted — the Oilers had to pay a first, second and third round pick to the Ducks for Dustin Penner.
In the end, “exploring offersheet” possibilities for players such as Marner and Laine becomes a negotiation tactics. As young players, they have nearly no rights when going to the table. They cannot even take it to arbitration for an independent party to decide the deal.
Therefore, they must at least make the team sweat a bit when it comes to the possibility of losing them.
In the end, everyone needs to hold their horses on Marner and Laine leaving. Barring a major upheaval or trade request, both players will re-sign in their current cities and all will remain stagnant in the offersheet level in the NHL — at least on an astronomical level.