30 Thoughts: Focus switches to NHL free agents, offer sheets | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in Canada30 Thoughts: Focus switches to NHL free agents, offer sheets

Posted: Tuesday, July 2, 2013 | 10:02 AM

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Thomas Vanek (26), the subject of trade rumours despite leading the Buffalo Sabres with 41 points, signed a seven-year, $50-million offer sheet from the Edmonton Oilers in 2007 that the Sabres matched to keep him. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) Thomas Vanek (26), the subject of trade rumours despite leading the Buffalo Sabres with 41 points, signed a seven-year, $50-million offer sheet from the Edmonton Oilers in 2007 that the Sabres matched to keep him. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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After predictions of a wild draft proved unfounded, NHL executives will now focus on tempting ing free agents, luring players with lucrative offer sheets or making trades to improve rosters.

At 12:01 a.m. ET Monday as the NBA free-agent period began, the Houston Rockets went to Los Angeles for a three-hour sitdown with Dwight Howard. Minutes later, Clippers guard Chris Paul agreed to a $107-million US extension. Nothing can be signed until July 10, but players and teams can reach verbal deals. For the first time, the NHL will go through a similar process.

At 12:01 am ET Wednesday, talks can begin (buyout candidates can already be contacted), but signings are forbidden until noon ET Friday.

It is not unheard of for NHL teams to knock on the door right away. In 2002, the Dallas Stars did something similar with Bill Guerin, luring him with a five-year, $45-million contract. It's not known if any team will try this tactic, but you can be sure some phones will be ringing as Toronto's frat boys stumble home from the bars Tuesday night/Wednesday morning.

I love the idea, but at the draft, there was uncertainty -- "uncharted territory" as one agent called it. Both teams and agents were curious to see how much negotiating would be done or if this would amount to a giant, feeling-out process.

The buyout period ends Thursday afternoon as well.

After a Twitter-charged Saturday of rumour electricity, the draft was a dud with only the Vancouver Canucks sending a thunderbolt through the sport.

"All of us managers being unreasonable," Edmonton Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish laughed.

That can't continue.

"If you didn't make the playoffs, your owner is asking, 'How are you going to improve the team?'" another executive said. "Usually, it's free agency, but not this year. We are going to see trades."

The trigger could be who swings and misses in the free-agent market. Are teams like Edmonton (Ales Hemsky) and the Buffalo Sabres (Thomas Vanek) lurking in the weeds, waiting for teams who whiffed on their target?

"Sorry, you didn't get your guy, but we've got someone who can help you score."

The real wild card, though, is the offer sheet. For years, it had little presence in the NHL. Now we're seeing it used more often in a predatory manner -- Shea Weber, Ryan O'Reilly, Dustin Penner, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Vanek, etc.

It's a polarizing tactic: some execs despise it because of its inflationary nature; others see a weak free-agent class and an opportunity to grab an unprotected player from capped-out or low revenue teams.

After predictions of a crazy draft turned out to be off by about 100-million miles, I'm loathe to say we're going to see offer sheets highlight a wild week. As one GM said, "There is some fear in the market about it."

"It's sure set up that way," agreed Sabres GM Darcy Regier. "There's stress in the marketplace."

Let's see it. We want more excitement.

30 THOUGHTS

1. Offer-sheet targets? The New York Rangers get mentioned a lot because they're in a tight cap spot, but they're well-positioned for the future with just four players under contract after 2013-14. Some teams also believe it's silly to target a revenue powerhouse like New York.

2. I asked for some predictions in free agency, maybe a sleeper team on a certain player. Two interesting picks: Detroit Red Wings on Andrew Ference and Pittsburgh Penguins trying to bring back Rob Scuderi. I don't know if the Penguins could pull that off under the cap, but it's an intriguing guess.

3. Two guys under the radar who may have more choices than we've noticed are Matt Hendricks and Anton Khudobin. Hendricks is tough, versatile and won't come at a ridiculous cost. I haven't seen a ton of Khudobin, but there is appeal if the Boston Bruins do not re-sign him. He's not overly expensive and is believed to be ready for more responsibility. He could be a nice fit in Edmonton with Devan Dubnyk. He's also the kind of "buy low" piece that's worked for the New York Islanders.

4. Quote of the draft from one executive on seeing Nashville Predators GM David Poile's reaction to getting Seth Jones: "I've never seen him so giddy in public."

5. Predators head coach Barry Trotz immediately said Jones would partner with Shea Weber, which would create a rare righty-righty defensive pairing. Phil Housley, just hired to tutor Nashville's defencemen, said he wasn't worried, pointing out that playing on the off-wing will allow Jones to see the ice better as he carries it through the neutral zone. Housley added that Jones and Weber are so lengthy that it will allow both to play at the top of the power play, which lessens the concern of two right-handed shots hurting the ability to create one-timers.

6. Why did Jones fall to No. 4? Nothing personal. It's just that Nathan MacKinnon, Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Drouin have elite offensive potential. As defensive-minded as NHL teams can be, most will say you can't win the Stanley Cup if you can't score. The facts support the theory with the exception of 2011-12 -- the only season since Lockout II in which no team among the Top 10 in goals reached the conference finals.

7. Otherwise, only five of the 28 Stanley Cup semifinalists since 2006 were not a Top 10 scoring team: Anaheim Ducks (15th in 2006); Edmonton (13th in 2006); Carolina Hurricanes (16th in 2009); Montreal Canadiens (23rd in 2010); and Boston (11th in 2013).

8. Last week, some NHL GMs were excited about the possibility of getting relatively inexpensive help through bought-out players. Not so fast. Both Vincent Lecavalier and Daniel Briere have gone from terribly disappointed to pleasantly surprised and excited by the amount of interest in them. All of that interest means both players will command a bigger dollar than expected.

9. I'm not as certain about Briere because he wasn't as front and centre at the draft, but guesstimates on Lecavalier's next contract are around the five-year, $25-million mark. That said, there are a couple of executives who said they wouldn't be surprised if a team asks to bump that up to seven years with the last two at lower salaries to lessen the cap hit. It's also expected that Lecavalier will ask for no-move or no-trade protection.

10. Dallas is making a hard pitch here and one agent said there is a hidden benefit to the Stars chase. Like Florida, Texas is a no income-tax state. If Lecavalier chooses this destination, all of his earnings, including the Lightning buyout, will continue to be taxed at the same level. That's a huge benefit, especially if he keeps a primary residence in Tampa. If you've ever faced these kinds of issues, you know they're an enormous pain in the derriere.

11. That would benefit the Florida Panthers, too, if they decided to make a serious run at him. Michael Russo of The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, who used to cover the Panthers, reminded me that the pick Tampa Bay used to draft Lecavalier was originally Florida's. In November 1997, it was sent to the San Jose Sharks with Dave Lowry for Viktor Kozlov. Four months later, the Sharks sent it to the Lightning with Andrei Nazarov for Bryan Marchment, David Shaw and a first-rounder. 

12. I have to say this about Jeff Vinik: the Lightning couldn't have found a better owner. Yes, he's independently wealthy, but few of his brethren would make such financial decisions in his market. Not only is he eating Lecavalier's buyout, but he's also spent tens of millions on arena upgrades. 

13. The Vancouver Canucks and Roberto Luongo: If organization and player could go back in time one year, how much differently would each side handle this? Luongo and Cory Schneider were blown away by the decision to trade the latter and there's really no other conclusion than Canucks GM Mike Gillis only committed to that course of action in the last few days. There is a theory that team owner Francesco Aquilini would not approve a buyout and, when it came to trading Luongo, it sounds like, at this time, Gillis was more concerned about future "cap recapture" penalties if Luongo retired early rather than a limited return.

14. Gillis made it very clear last Saturday that Schneider could be traded. Did either agent contact him looking for information? Good question.

15. I remember interviewing football coach Marv Levy once and asking him about retiring. He basically said, "Once you''ve decided to retire, retire. You can't postpone it until after a season because you've made your decision." I thought about this quote after the Schneider trade because there is no doubt that, mentally, Luongo is gone from Vancouver. He so badly wanted a fresh start. Ultimately, the contract will force him to return, but it would be a mistake to underestimate how much of an adjustment this is going to be. The first thing he's thinking is, "How many goals will I give up before people start saying, 'They should have kept Schneider?'" It's tough to be positive with that on your mind.

16. Aquilini visited him on the weekend and Gillis will make a trip, too. If I was them, I would be stressing that, right now, the Canadian Olympic goaltending job is wide open. If he comes back to Vancouver and plays well, he's got a superb shot at being the guy. That's a positive. You've got to get him thinking about good things.

17. What the Canucks do over the next couple of weeks will also have an effect. Bo Horvat is an enticing prospect -- one scout said, "When the trade was announced, the guys at our table were saying that he's involved in every big goal" -- but he does not help Vancouver right now. Can Gillis make a move that convinces Luongo the team will be better?

18. I don't have a problem with no-trade clauses, but sometimes they burn the player as much as the team. Luongo could have gone to the Toronto Maple Leafs at last year's draft, but he was focussed on Florida and declined. The Panthers, knowing they were in a position of strength, drew a hard line. Just before the lockout, it was believed both Toronto and Edmonton were possible destinations. Again, it didn't happen. Toronto left the picture once team president and GM Brian Burke was fired. 

19. The Oilers kept their interest in Vancouver's goaltending decision, culminating in last weekend's conversations for Schneider. The Canucks asked for a lot (seventh-overall pick, a second-rounder and a prospect), but Edmonton wasn't going that far. If Gillis was going to send him to a potential playoff opponent, the cost was going to be huge.

20. I wondered if the Islanders would make a play for Schneider. Hard to see the Canucks doing it without New York's first-round pick, but there is a belief that Garth Snow was going to trade either Nino Niederreiter or that selection, but not both. Niederreiter, of course, went to the Minnesota Wild for Cal Clutterbuck.

21. I thought MacTavish was smart to wait. Everyone knows he is so eager to make moves. That's when you must be your most patient. You can make a very big mistake under those circumstances.

22. It sounds like the biggest issue in talks between Kris Letang and Pittsburgh will be that whatever no-trade protection he gets doesn't come until July 1, 2014. There can only be a verbal agreement since current contracts (Letang's has one year remaining) cannot be restructured and players aren't eligible for these clauses until they reach unrestricted free agency. Again, that's not until next summer. The Jeff Carter trade in 2011 (from the Philadelphia Flyers to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Jakub Voracek, a first-round pick and third-rounder) and Alex Edler rumours have really changed the way agents and players look at this.

23. Most bizarre story: Can there seriously be an issue between Daniel Alfredsson and the Ottawa Senators? Can you imagine Boston -- now in need a right-winger -- even being able to bid because this gets to Friday?

24. A few months ago, Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi said every salary-cap move was made with an eye on Dustin Brown, scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent next summer. There were some rumours Brown, who is underpaid by NHL standards, wanted a massive increase on his next contract -- to Corey Perry/Ryan Getzlaf levels. Upon looking into it, one source reached out to say that isn't the case. Brown will get a (deserved) raise, but is not interested in destroying the team's salary structure.

25. Another summer, another season of Bobby Ryan rumours. All I heard at the draft was, "If he gets traded, it's because you'll look at the deal and understand why."

26. You always look for NHL GMs who like dealing with each other to keep an eye out for prospective trades. Stan Bowman of the Chicago Blackhawks and Kevin Cheveldayoff of the Winnipeg Jets, for example, made the Johnny Oduya move together. I thought Michael Frolik was a nice pickup for the Jets and wondered if Dave Bolland would end up going to Winnipeg with him. There were talks, but Toronto made it very clear in the days before the draft they wanted Bolland. The Maple Leafs were aggressive, willing to pay a price other teams weren't.

27. A lot of the focus on the Bolland/Frolik moves was on re-signing Bryan Bickell. The Blackhawks aim to re-sign restricted free agents Marcus Kruger and Nick Leddy, but there was talk at the draft they wanted to try and keep Michal Rozsival, too. An unrestricted free agent, he played very well for them.

28. According to a source, Tim Thomas ordered new equipment about two months ago.

29. In an effort to stay in the NHL, Tomas Kaberle has hired Andy O'Brien and Darryl Belfry to train him. O'Brien is Sidney Crosby's trainer.

30. Back in April, Alex Burrows of the Canucks attended Canada's Davis Cup tie and said he'd like to try and return one of Milos Raonic's serves. Raonic accepted the challenge via Twitter. It looks like this will be set up -- with a charity component -- at the Rogers Cup next month in Montreal.

One final thought, on the passing of agent Don Baizley. Every time one of his clients had something going on, you'd call looking for information. He would phone you back, as polite as ever, saying, "Just wanted to return your call, but I can't tell you anything." I'm going to miss those calls.

Follow Elliotte Friedman on Twitter @FriedgeHNIC 

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