Blake’s Takes: The Offseason Madness Continues

I hope everyone had a fantastic Canada Day and Independence Day. As some of you may have noticed, there was no Blake’s Take’s last week. I’ve been traveling around Norway and Iceland so I didn’t have a chance to cover all the craziness that was the start of free agency until now. 

1. Panarin to NYC

[Photo Credit: NHL]
James Dolan and the Knicks may have missed out on their top target of Kevin Durant, but Dolan didn’t let the Rangers suffer the same fate. The Rangers signed superstar winger, Artemi Panarin, to a seven-year/$81.5 million deal. Signing Panarin is a massive move for the Rangers who did a masterful job rebuilding over the last 18 months.

Most rebuilds take so long you can’t remember the teardown. In the case of the Rangers, the tear down started in February of 2018 when Rangers traded captain Ryan McDonagh and forward J.T. Miller to the Tampa Bay Lightning for a few prospects, a conditional second-round pick, and a first-round pick. The next domino was trading Kevin Hayes to Winnipeg for a prospect, a conditional pick, and another first-round pick during last season’s trade deadline. Just a few months later the Rangers hit the jackpot and jumped up to second in the NHL draft and used that pick to select Finnish phenom Kappo Kakko. Their rebuild culminated with signing Panarin 17 months after the initial McDonagh trade.

I’ve never seen a rebuild move this quickly. That doesn’t mean the Rangers are ready to compete now, or that they won’t make any more moves. However, they have done most of the heavy lifting. They signed a superstar in his prime and can pair him with a rookie phenom. They also have an assortment of young prospects they can develop or trade for established players.

Regardless of Rangers GM and the rest of the front office do now, inking Panarin was the most important step. Let’s not forget this is a guy coming off his best season where he scored 28 goals and tallied 87 points. He one of the league’s top wingers and will now be paid like one. This is a great move for the Rangers and will allow them to compete in a stacked Metropolitan division for the next three to five years.

2. We Have an Offer Sheet in Carolina

[Photo Credit: Gregg Forwerck/Carolina Hurricanes.]
After six years, we finally have an offer sheet. Many speculated we would see an offer sheet this summer because of the stacked crop of restricted free agents. That includes the likes of Mitch Marner, Brayden Point, and others. If you’re not familiar with an offer sheet, I’ll give you a refresher.

An offer sheet is when a player who is a Restricted Free Agent (RFA) signs a contract agreement, or offer sheet, with another team that does not currently have his rights. The team a player finished the previous season with will have his rights.

If an RFA enters free agency without an extension, they can choose to sign an offer sheet with any team. But, the team that owns their rights has seven days to match the offer of the previous team. So, if Team X offers Player 1 a five-year contract worth $30 million, Player 1’s original team, Team Z, has seven days to match that offer. If they decide to match, Player 1 will return to his original team, Team Z, for the exact terms outlined in the deal of the offer sheet. A few important things to note here.

    • An RFA does not have to sign an offer sheet with another team. He can sign an extension with his current club and skip all the madness. His former team can also renounce him and he will become an unrestricted free agent.
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    • The RFA’s original team always has a chance to match the offer and keep the player. This is to help with league parity to make it easier for small-market teams to retain their stars.
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    • An RFA may choose to sign an offer sheet to gain leverage over their current team or if they truly want to leave via free agency.
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    • If an offer sheet is matched by a player’s original team, the original team must match the exact terms outlined in the offer sheet. So, in the scenario above, Team Z would be required to pay Player 1 $30 million over five years. If the offer sheet included $10 million in signing bonuses, Team Z would be on the hook for that too.
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    • Many teams don’t chase RFAs because they are usually forced to overpay the player in hopes the original team won’t match the offer.
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    • Many GMs refuse to chase RFAs in fear of pissing off their colleagues and ruffling feathers.
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    • If an offer sheet is matched, the original team cannot trade the player for at least one full season.

Perhaps the most important aspect of an offer sheet is that if a team declines to match the offer, they are required to draft pick compensation from the player’s new team. If Team Z declines to match an offer from Team X, Team Z would have to compensate Team X with an array of picks depending on the AAV of the contract. You can find that scale here.

Disclaimer: Kevin Hayes was a restricted free agent and finished the year with the Jets. Because the Flyers traded for him before the draft, they had his rights going into free agency.

Now to the real-life offer sheet. The Montreal Canadiens and 21-year-old All-Star RFA, All-Star, Sebastien Aho agreed on a five-year/$42.27 million offer sheet. The first interesting point of this offer sheet is the term. The Canadiens most likely offered a five-year deal because Aho would have reached free agency again in five years. He could then sign another massive deal at 26-years-old, which would net him more money than if he had signed an eight-year deal this summer and reach free agency again at an older age. Instead, the Canadiens used the term as a deterrent hoping the Hurricanes wouldn’t match.

Next, we have the signing bonuses. Montreal offered an $11.3 million signing bonus which would net Aho a total of $23 million within the first calendar year after signing. That is a ton of cash to shell out to one guy within one year. That was intentional from Montreal. The Canadiens are one of the most valuable franchises in hockey. They are worth $1.3 billion which ranks third among all NHL teams. In short, they wouldn’t blink if they had to deliver that money to Aho in a black duffle bag tomorrow. For Carolina, they have a new owner in Tom Dundon, who might not even have the cash to pay out all that money so soon. That might deter them from matching the offer.

The last deterrent is AAV. Aho will receive $8.454 million in AAV. That is just a tick below the second-highest tier of draft pick compensation. If the AAV exceeded $8,454,872 million, they would have been on the hook for two first-round picks, one second-round pick, and one third-round pick if the Hurricanes decided not to match. Because Aho signed in the lower tier, their compensation would include only one first-round pick, instead of two. That would have been a much easier pill to swallow for Montreal.

In the end, Aho decided to sign the offer sheet and Carolina matched. I’m still a bit confused as to why they matched the deal. Carolina must have been low-balling him with extension offers. Regardless, Carolina gets to keep Aho and can continue to build around him and the rest of their young core. They can also have the first shot to signing him to an extension before his current deal is up.

For the Hurricanes, the terms of the deal aren’t that bad. The only person who may really be hurting from this is Dundon, who might have to part with more cash than he expected so soon.

Overall, Carolina keeps their man for a reasonable price and Montreal doesn’t part with any picks. If anything, hockey fans should be thanking Montreal GM, Marc Bergevin, for giving us a bit of excitement at the beginning of the offseason.

3. Duchene is Heading to Smashville

[Photo Credit: NHL]
After all the speculation, Matt Duchene is heading to the Nashville Predators. I’m not really sure how these rumors actually get started. Analysts were certain Duchene would sign in Nashville similar how they were certain Sergei Bobrovsky would sign with the Panthers. Obviously, there are usually only a few teams that have a need at that position and have enough cap space. I’m sure these insiders talk with their agents and have the scoop. It didn’t hurt that Duchene had already bought property in town and is a big country music fan.

Anyway, Duchene is now a much richer man after signing a seven-year/$56 deal. He will no doubt fill Nashville’s need for speed and will be their second-line center, behind Ryan Johansen. This is a good move for both parties. It’s great for Duchene because he is now $56 million richer. He is also playing in a great city with an awesome fanbase. From a hockey perspective, Nashville has a great team with great depth on defense. Duchene’s arrival should boost their forward core and aid in their biggest weakness. Although their core is getting older, Duchene’s arrival should extend their window by a few years.

I do worry that Duchene won’t be able to produce the same way he did in the playoffs for Columbus. He was a major reason why they upset Tampa Bay in the first-round. He postseason play no doubt added at least $1 million to his AAV. I really like Duchene as a player, but Nashville shouldn’t be expecting Duchene to put up 75 plus points a year. I think something in the neighborhood of 65-points a year should be reasonable to expect.

I don’t think Nashville will ever win a Cup with this core. They still lack too much offensively for this team to go the distance. The addition of Duchene was good and necessary, but Johansen is not good enough to carry the load on offense. Outside of Filip Forsberg, their forward corps leave much to be desired. Let’s not forget that they signed Kyle Turris to an extension after acquiring him for none other than Duchene. Turris is coming off a terrible year where he posted his lowest point total since his age-19 season. Unless GM David Poile makes another big splash and adds a big offensive weapon, I wouldn’t expect anything more from Nashville than a few second-round exits.

4. Kessel Heats up in Arizona

On June 29th, Phil Kessel was traded from the Pittsburgh Penguins along with minor-leaguer Dane Birks to the Arizona Coyotes for forward Alex Galchenyuk and prospect Pierre-Oliver Joseph. Kessel had been on the trade block for a while because the Penguins are badly trying to create more flexibility by clearing cap space. At first glance, I think this deal is a good one for both teams. 

For the Penguins, this deal hurts their hockey team but helps their cap situation. Kessel is still one of the better forwards in the NHL. He is coming off another tremendous year where he was a point-per-game player. He helped the Penguins win back-to-back Stanley Cups and resurrected his career in Pittsburgh. The Penguins are definitely a less-talented team without him. The trade was motivated by the cap. Kessel still has three years left on his contract at an $8 million AAV. Having Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for the roster made Kessel expendable. Both of them make considerable money and the Pens knew if they wanted to move one of those contracts, it had to be Kessel. This will give the Penguins additional roster flexibility in the next few years to add depth and have the ability to compete for another championship down the road.

For the Coyotes, I love this deal for hockey reasons. First, Kessel is reunited with coach Rick Tocchet, who coached Kessel as an assistant in Pittsburgh. Tocchet is currently the bench boss for the Coyotes and guided them to their best record in seven seasons last year as they narrowly missed the playoffs. It would be criminal if I didn’t mention the ‘Yotes also had the most man-games lost due to injury as well. So, it’s safe to say a healthy team with the addition of Phil Kessel could very well make the playoffs this season. Arizona needs offense, badly. Kessel should provide that in spades as he immediately becomes the number one option on this team.

The money is the only reason I don’t love this deal for Arizona. Arizona currently has less than $200,000 in cap space. That is not good for a team that doesn’t look like they will be good enough to compete for a Stanley Cup in the next two years. Not only are they capped out, but they also don’t have any big contracts coming off the books until 2021 and Clayton Keller is due for an extension. For Arizona to really win this trade, they will have to shed a few large contracts between now and 2021 and hope they can put enough talent around Kessel to compete within that time frame.

5. Stars Acquire Pavelski and Perry

The speculation around Joe Pavelski can finally end as he has signed with the Dallas Stars. The Sharks longtime captain will leave after he helped the Sharks to Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals. Of course, the Sharks fell to the Blues who would defeat the Boston Bruins to win it all. The Sharks chose to retain Erik Karlsson and to pay him the big bucks. That was the writing on the wall as the Sharks had almost no cap space to keep Pavelski. But don’t feel too bad, Pavelski will make $21 million over three years to play hockey for the Dallas Stars. Pavelski scored 38 goals with 64 total points for the Sharks last season. The former Wisconsin Badger is still a force on offense, even at 34-years-old.

The Stars also added former Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry on a one-year deal for $3.25 million. The long-time Duck was recently bought out by Anaheim after the worst season of his career where he posted career lows in games with 31, goals with six, and points with 10.

The Stars needed more offensive depth badly. They are top-heavy with superstars Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Alexander Radulov on their first-line. They don’t have much after that, especially with Mats Zuccarello leaving in free agency. The additions of Pavelski and Perry should help tremendously. Their top six now boasts Benn, Seguin, Pavelski, Radulov, playoff standout Roope Hintz, and Denis Guriavov. I think Perry could slot in on the third line. I truly think Pavelski could be a difference maker for the Stars. If Benn and Seguin return to form next season and Miro Heiskanen continues to develop, I don’t see why they can’t compete for a Stanley Cup next season. The Pavelski signing makes the Stars legit contenders and I think the Stars could meet the Sharks in the Conference Finals next year. ■

Blake Isaacs is a die-hard Red Wings fan that doesn’t go to as many games as he should. He is also a big fan of 7-Eleven Slurpeees, Chipotle, and all things Michigan State. Follow him on Twitter @bisaacs1995.

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