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.