The Philadelphia Flyers' offer sheet to Shea Weber reminded us how much fun offer sheets can be, how entertaining it is when a team puts together a plan to steal a player and another team has to decide whether to stand up for themselves or to be trod upon in the name of prudence.
It's hockey's version of the scene in "Louie" where the 18-year-old threatens to beat up Louis C.K. while he's on a date. Louie can either try to prove his masculinity by recklessly fighting some kid or do the sensible thing and be quietly humiliated. Dignity or safety?
For many, it was also a reminder that Paul Holmgren is the only guy with the guts to try an offer sheet while the rest of the NHL's GMs have colluded to keep them out of the league.
But the more I think of it, the more I think this is nonsense. Looking again at the whole situation, Weber's offer sheet showed us why offer sheets are so rare, and it has nothing to do with some grand conspiracy to keep them out of the game or a dearth of glorious, pistol-waving mavericks like Paul Holmgren.
It's simply because, in the end, nothing good comes of them.
Vancouver fans were crestfallen when the Flyers made the offer sheet. They'd been clamouring for Mike Gillis to pull a stunt like that for years. Gillis explained why they hadn't: it was pointless. From the Globe & Mail:
"Our issue was how do you get the player," said Gillis. "Our issue wasn't the money. It's how do you actually get the player on your team. Our feeling was that a contract with term probably wouldn't allow that to happen."
Asked why he didn't take a flier like Philadelphia general manager Paul Holmgren, Gillis measured his answer.
"Well." He paused, took a breath. "I guess that's one school of thought. To me I'd rather be trying to accomplish things rather than, 'Okay, throw something up in the air and hope that it sticks.'
It didn't stick, and it's why no other GM tried the tactic. But Holmgren did accomplish one thing: he annoyed the Hell out of David Poile and the Predators. (Hooray!)
And this is reason number one as to why offer sheets are so rare. If they're not going to work, what's the point in making an enemy of someone you need to be civil with you when you call them up later on?
Granted, it's a bit silly for offer-sheeted GMs to be upset over something that's permitted by the rules, but it's downright human to get mad when the rules negatively affect you. And when so much of running an NHL team is negotiating with colleagues, it's also foolish to make an enemy of those colleagues for nothing.
It's why no one offer-sheeted Steven Stamkos last offseason. Steve Yzerman made it clear he'd match any offer, so you'd accomplish nothing by trying other than than increasing tension between yourself and the Lightning. Ill will matters in this business, a point Stu Hackel makes nicely:
The ill will these deals created shouldn't be forgotten. Oilers GM Kevin Lowe and then-Ducks GM Brian Burke exchanged insults over Lowe's RFA signings and their feud threatened to erupt into fisticuffs, the tensions between them not easing for years. The big market Canucks' raid on the small market Blues so antagonized St. Louis president John Davidson by raising the price he had to pay to keep Backes that J.D. retaliated by signing Bernier to an offer sheet immediately afterward, which the Canucks matched.
It sure makes for entertaining reading and reporting, but GMs sometimes have to work together. Two who are feuding aren't going to be so willing to dive into trade talks with each other. On top of that, team execs and owners have to co-exist as well, because they or their representatives sit on the NHL Board of Governors and oversee all sorts of things for the good of the game and the advancement of the business. They don't like it when one of their compadres drives up their expenses.
Another word on that Bernier offer sheet: it wasn't just that Davidson raised the price Gillis had to pay for Bernier. He also raised expectations by ensuring that Bernier would be paid like a top-six forward. When he then went on to play like a bottom-six forward, he was seen as a failure, and two years later, he was in Florida.
Had Bernier been paid more modestly, it might have been acceptable for him to fall into a role as a serviceable fourth liner, as he did in New Jersey this postseason. But for $2.5 million in a cap world, he'd better be able to do a little more. When he wasn't, he became expendable.
And that's the other big point when it comes to offer sheets. Big money is no longer just money.
The structure of Holmgren's offer sheet is what made it so interesting. With $68 million in guaranteed bonuses over the first six years, it was clear that Philadelphia was banking on small-market Nashville being unable to generate that much money. It was an old-time offer sheet: a wealthy team, Comcast-backed Philadelphia, attempting to rob from the poor.
But the current CBA affords very few opportunities to flex financial muscle like this.
This means the only hope is to scare another team off with an exorbitant, unreasonable offer, but if you do that, you also have to be able to live with it, and allocating a ton of money to a player that isn't worth it is completely out of the question in a salary cap environment.
So sure, the Flyers might be able to steal P.K. Subban by offer-sheeting him for, like, $9 million or something. But then they'd be paying P.K. Subban $9 million.
In the end, we come back to that dichotomy faced by Louis C.K. in that sketch. When it comes to offer sheeting, GMs can either be reckless children or prudent adults, and until owners starts hiring 18-year-olds to run their franchises, offer sheets will continue to be rare.