What began as a promising Thursday evening has left the middling Calgary Flames red faced.
General manager Jay Feaster's attempt to lasso restricted NHL free-agent centre Ryan O'Reilly not only came up empty, but the Flames blew a three-goal lead to fall 5-4 to the Colorado Avalanche, the club the Flames hoped to loot a few hours earlier.
Then Friday, thanks to sportsnet.ca's Chris Johnston, the hockey world discovered that Feaster avoided further embarrassment.
If they were successful in their offer sheet maneuvre, the Flames would have had to put O'Reilly through waivers. They could have lost him to another team as well as the first and third-round draft picks they would have given the Avalanche as compensation for signing O'Reilly.
Besides the embarrassment - and don't forget nobody publicly raised this waiver scenario even though a potential offer sheet for O'Reilly had been bandied about for weeks - what is the immediate fallout for the Flames?
After all those hours battling the players at the bargaining table during the lockout, how does Calgary co-owner Murray Edwards feel about his GM driving up salaries?
Feaster in the hot seat
Feaster likely doesn't lose his job over this. He's in the second year of a five-year contract. But can he make amends and turn around the Flames situation, which appears bleak after 19 games, headed for a fourth consecutive season on the sidelines when the playoffs commence in eight weeks?
The Flames knew O'Reilly had played a couple games in Russia after the NHL's lockout-shortened season began, but Feaster claimed in a statement released four hours after Johnston's story surfaced to have a different interpretation than the league.
"Prior to tendering the offer sheet for Ryan O'Reilly we, as a hockey operations department, examined whether there were any impediments to our successfully securing the services of the player including, but not limited to, his having played in the KHL after the start of the current NHL season.
"Our interpretation of the Article 13 transition rules governing restricted free agents, and the applicability of Article 13.23 under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement to such RFA's was, and continues to be, different than the NHL's current interpretation as articulated to us this morning. Moreover, throughout our discussions, the player's representative [Patrick Morris] shared our interpretation and position with respect to the non-applicability of Article 13.23.
"While we were prepared to advance our position with the NHL, in light of Colorado's having matched the offer sheet it is now an academic point. As such, we will have no further comment on the matter, the player, or the offer sheet process."
With the new collective agreement yet to be finalized, shouldn't the league have warned its member clubs with a memo on the matter, especially since part of the new collective agreement deals with some changes in this sort of situation?
My immediate thought was if O'Reilly had to clear waivers if the Flames were successful on their offer sheet, does he not have to clear waivers now that the Avalanche signed him? Remember when the Detroit Red Wings signed goalie Evgeni Nabokov mid-season a couple of years ago? He had to go through waivers and the New York Islanders picked him up?
Rules have changed
It didn't matter back then that Nabokov was an unrestricted free agent. The rule 13.23 stated: "In the event a professional or former professional Player plays in a league outside North America after the start of the NHL Regular Season, other than on Loan from his Club, he may thereafter play in the NHL during that Playing Season only if he has first either cleared or been obtained via Waivers."
Well, it turns out that rule has been altered in the new collective agreement. It now reads in the memorandum of understanding: "All Players on a Club's Reserve List and [club's] Restricted Free Agent List will be exempt from application of CBA 13.23 Waivers in the case of a mid-season signing."
I don't know why teams bother with offer sheets. They rarely result in a player changing addresses anyway. Only two players, Chris Gratton (Philadelphia to Tampa Bay) and Dustin Penner (Anaheim to Edmonton) out of the last 11 offer sheets have switched teams.
The players love offer sheets because it helps drive up salaries. See Joe Sakic's three-year, $21-million US offer sheet from the New York Rangers that the Avalanche matched in August 1997 or the six-year, $38-million one Carolina put in front of Detroit star Sergei Fedorov in February 1998.
I didn't see any problem that the Avalanche took only a few hours to match the Flames offer sheet, which gives O'Reilly a $2.5-million signing bonus, plus a prorated $1 million salary this season and a $6.5 million salary next season. Now they have their prized 22-year-old back, and he could play as early as Sunday.
The Flames? These are interesting times in Calgary. Will Feaster ask captain Jarome Iginla and veteran goalie Miikka Kiprusoff to waive their no-movement clauses before the April 3 trade deadline. Will a rebuild finally begin?
It will be intriguing to watch how the next month plays out in Calgary.
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