The Vancouver Canucks were caught off-guard Tuesday when prized prospect Ryan Kesler signed a $1.9-million US offer sheet with the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Canucks have a week to match the offer sheet put forward by Flyers general manager Bob Clarke — the first in the NHL since 1999 — or receive a second-round draft pick.
The Canucks are expected to match it, even though the signing will put them dangerously close to the NHL's salary cap of $44 million.
Around the league, there was mixed reaction to the offer sheet, with some GMs questioning Clarke's tactics, though none would go on record.
"Well I bet you Dallas is upset after losing [unrestricted free agent] Willie Mitchell [to Vancouver] without having a chance for compensation or right to match," Clarke told the Canadian Press from Philadelphia.
"They [the Stars] traded for him last year and liked him. But that's the rules in the CBA [collective bargaining agreement]. The rules aren't convenient just for one team, they're there for everybody. You can't pick and choose. If you like one rule and I like one rule, does that mean we can only use one rule? That's crazy.
"If you're unhappy with the rules, complain to Gary Bettman. I didn't put the rule in."
At issue is what Kesler's inflated salary may do to affect future deals.Kesler, a 22-year-old American, scored 10 goals last season with the Canucks in a checking role.Though considered a prized prospect, the $1.9-million offer from the Flyers is considered high for a player of Kesler's stature.
Kesler received just more than $500,000 last season in base pay, with his salary officially listed at $722,000 by including a $200,000 signing bonus. The Canucks qualified Kesler at a $564,000 figure this summer.
The six-foot-two centre is an attractive player for the Flyers, who are expected to lose captain Keith Primeau to retirement before NHL training camps open this Thursday and Friday.
Clarke was defensive about the criticism he's received.
"We all have the same cap," said Clarke. "We all operate in the same world. They had all summer to sign this guy. It was three days before training camp, he's not signed, we're going to lose [Keith] Primeau [to retirement], so we took a shot at getting another centre."
He also predicted he wouldn't be the last GM to use the CBA's offer-sheet rule.
"I think the difference is that in the past there were no restrictions on how much you can spend. So it was sort of an unwritten rule that you didn't sign any Group 2 players because the other team would match. In today's world [salary cap], you may not match. You may take the compensation. This is the first one [offer sheet], but it's not going to be the last."
The last official offer sheet before Kesler's was in July 1999 when the Tampa Bay Lightning made an offer for Edmonton Oiler Brett Hauer.The Oilers matched that offer.
The most notable offer sheet in recent memory happened eight years ago when the Carolina Hurricanes made a $28-million offer to Sergei Fedorov of the Detroit Red Wings. Detroit matched it.