Could The Oilers Pursue A Restricted Free Agent?

Signing a restricted free agent is always a contentious issue in the NHL. While unrestricted free agents pass from team to team with regularity, the younger players with RFA contracts are rarely poached, and when they are the deals are almost always matched (no matter how outlandish, as Buffalo proved by retaining Thomas Vanek despite a gross overpay by Kevin Lowe that would have forked over an insanely large wad of cash to Vanek and four first round picks to the Sabres). Even when the deals aren’t matched, as the Oilers’ offer sheet to Dustin Penner wasn’t (thanks to Anaheim’s salary cap bind), the acrimony between executives can be long-lasting.

The upshot of all this is that RFA offers have become a rather rare, despite the fact that they are a legitimate option under the current collective bargaining agreement. Should the Oilers, as they have in the past, look to buck the trend this summer and add a restricted free agent?

If the Oilers were to make a pitch for a restricted free agent, there are a few things worth considering.

First, if everything goes right, the Oilers are going to have some cap problems themselves over the next few years as quality young players finish off their entry-level contracts. As NHL general managers seem to be a surprisingly petty bunch, that means an offer to a particularly tempting target may invite retribution further down the line – and the Oilers might not be in a position to wage that kind of war in a few years.

Secondly, no matter what kind of player the Oilers acquire, they’re likely to be a lousy team next year, which should put their 2012 first round pick off limits. If they are to avoid sacrificing that first round pick, they must keep the cap hit on their offers to an amount less than $3,134,089.

A third point worth noting is that there aren’t a lot of teams in cap hell at this particular moment in time – meaning that the number of teams that could potentially be squeezed by an offer to a restricted free agent is minimal. The following chart uses data from capgeek.com:

2011-12 Cap Space Number of Teams
Less than $5.0 million 3 (PHI, PIT, CGY)
$5.0 – $10.0 million 7 (CHI, BOS, N.J., MIN, S.J., WSH, ANA)
$10.0 million+ 20 (Everybody else)

So, with limited targets, the potential for reprisals, and the inadvisability of using the 2012 first round pick as a bargaining chip, is restricted free agency off limits to the Oilers? Not necessarily, but probably. There are a couple of targets out there – guys like Pittsburgh’s Tim Kennedy or Philadelphia’s Andreas Nodl come to mind – but any offer would need to be carefully considered and it would have to be a special situation.

  • Little Buttcheeks

    Yeah, it seems unlikely that any RFA offer would make sense, and for many of the reasons you give. However, apart from the reprisals, I think there could still room and logic for an RFA sheet, the constraints merely limit the type.

    For the next two years the Oilers are arguably in an odd position that makes certain RFA sheets sensible. They have several players they are grooming for top end duty, but have pathetic depth and could use some more established players to fill the roster, and to take some of the pressure off the young players. They will have rather few effective players in the 24-26 year range that can bridge between the last wave and next wave. They have a lot of cap space, and an owner with some money and revenue. So what they have is a two year window before they need to free up cash, and in this window they can afford to overpay for two years for established but still-young “solid NHLers” and bottom sixers. These are still important players.

    I suspect there are quite a few GMs that will not overpay for bottom six players, will not sweat backlash from the STHs, and will decide to either replace from within or get a UFA that approximates them. GMs in Vancouver, Pittsburgh, Boston, and even Tampa and Nashville I expect to balk at, say, a $300k/year for two year overpay on a depth player. I suspect there are quite a few usable players in that range that can be pried out at, say, less than 1.416 million per year.

    Given that the Oilers aren’t in the place to replace from within or substitute a UFA, and assuming the overpay for 2 years is irrelevant, are one (or more) of those players worth risking “reprisals”?