Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Backstrom an Offer Sheet Candidate?

A couple days ago I had suggested, at MC79's site, that a team (not necessarily the Oilers but some team) might be interested in signing Capitals C Niklas Backstrom to an offer sheet. I had been thinking that Washington would be pinched to the cap and might not be able/willing to keep Backstrom at a price of, say, $8,500,000. I can't speak towards their willingness to spend that much on Backstrom, but a quick look at their cap position for next season suggests they could indeed fit Backstrom at that price, but probably not while keeping everyone they'd like. WSH currently has 36.7 mil committed for the 2010/11 season, on 7 F, 5 D, and Varlamov. So, including Backstrom at 8.5 mil, they would have 45.2 mil committed while still needing to sign 4 F, 2 D, and a G, with notable unsigned players including Fleischman, Fehr, Morrisonn, Jurcina, and Schultz. So they can keep Backstrom, but it would cost them a chunk of that depth (barring other moves they might like to make). So, I don't think the Capitals are as vulnerable to an offer sheet as I had thought before really examining their cap situation.

That said, if he remains unsigned come July 1st I wouldn't be terribly surprised if a team or two takes a run at him. We are talking about a 22 year old C currently 4th in NHL scoring; a player whose previous two years were a 69 point rookie campaign followed by an 88 point season as a sophomore.

One might expect that the only teams willing to sign Backstrom to an offer sheet, given the compensation cost of 4 - 1st round picks, would be the teams that project themselves to finish near the top of the standings in the near future. However, projecting the future isn't an exact science, so who knows exactly which teams might look at themselves as division contenders with Backstrom. Any team signing Backstrom to an offer sheet would require both the cap AND budget room, along with the necessary compensation. At the moment, all 29 other teams have the required compensation for such an offer sheet, including Toronto.

Some teams that might contemplate an offer sheet for Backstrom:

ANA - The Ducks are clearing up a bunch of money this summer and have some pretty good pieces in place. Adding Backstrom would give them 4 good, young players to spread around their top 2 lines in Getzlaf, Perry, Ryan, and Backstrom.

COL - They have the cap room and the budget. If they project that they won't be near the bottom of the league with Backstrom, they might be a bit of a darkhorse. Then again, it's not hard to see them passing if they are worried about coming up with money for some of their young players over the next couple of seasons. And they may well be happy with Stastny and Duchene as their top 2 C's, and think that 8.5 mil could be put to better use elsewhere in the lineup.

DAL - My understanding is that the Stars will be looking to cut payroll, so maybe I should just skip them. That said, they only have Richards on the payroll for one more year, so it's certainly possible in terms of budget and cap room going forward if they are willing to spend.

DET - have the cap room, but I'm not sure DET would be willing to give Backstrom the kind of contract it would probably take for WSH to decline matching. The same holds true for NJD.

EDM - I would be surprised if the Oilers would offer sheet Backstrom, but I'll take a guess at EDM's hypothetical lineup having signed Backstrom at the end.

LAK - might have the cap room, but it'd be tight and I think they re more likely to look at a UFA for free and on a shorter term, if possible, because they've got a lot of young guys who might need raises fairly soon. That said, Backstrom would fit in VERY well with LA's core in terms of age.

NYR - they look pretty tight to the cap to be attempting to sign Backstrom, but Sather was able to move Gomez when I didn't think he'd be able to, so who knows?

STL - This is actually a decent fit if STL is so inclined. He fits with their younger players, they seemingly have decent young talent coming in. That said, like LA it appears they like building through the draft , so maybe they'd rather spend money on Kovalchuk and keep their picks if they're going to sign a big ticket player?

SJS - Could, in theory, let Marleau go, opening up 6.3 mil in cap room. If they can get Nabokov back at a pay decrease, they might open up the cap room right there. Is it worth the 4 - 1sts to do so?

TOR - Fan revolt if Burke were to take this route?

With regards to Edmonton, they do have the budget room, and could make the cap space, but it's questionable if they'd be willing to sacrifice 4 1st round picks to acquire Backstrom given how they finished this season. But, for fun, here's a hypothetical roster that fits (maybe? - see below) under the cap, provided they trade Souray for a pick or D making 3 mil or less, and trade or bury Nilsson, Moreau, and O'Sullivan. Given the following roster, would you have any interest in signing Backstrom to an offer sheet that costs Edmonton 4 1st round picks?

Penner Backstrom (8.5) Hemsky
Hall (3.0) Horcoff New F (1.25)
Cogliano (1.5) Gagner (3.0) Eberle
Potulny (0.7) Pouliot (0.7) Stortini
Jones, Brule (1.2)

Whitney Gilbert
New D (3.0) New D (1.5)
Smid Johnson (0.6)
Peckham (0.6)

Khabibulin
New G (1.5)

This hypothetical roster has a cap hit of 58.1 mil, with roughly 3 mil in bonuses. It would leave the Oilers below the current cap number of 56.8 mil, so they Oilers would comply with the cap provided the cap doesn't decrease, and provided teams are allowed to exceed the cap with their bonuses which may be unlikely at this point.

11 comments:

Rand said...

Toronto lacks the picks to make an offer, at least unless Boston decides to charitably deliver them back their next few 1st rounders... and since the Leafs seem to be going nowhere anytime soon that's unlikely.

speeds said...

A team needs to have 4 of their next 5 firsts available to sign a player to such an offer sheet. The 2010 draft will be over by the time Backstrom would become an RFA, and beyond that point TOR, I believe, has 4 of its next 5 first round picks, with Boston holding the 2011 1st round pick.

Buddha Pest said...

In my opinion, the days of the RFA offer sheet for elite players is over (at least those days will be few and far between).

Lowe's offer sheets for Vanek and Penner were aberrations in the post new CBA NHL era. Both offer sheets are proof to GMs that offer sheets are not a very good tool to employ.

In any event, there's no way that the Caps let Backstrom go un-signed to July 1. Even if they did and he did get an offer sheet, they will definitely match.

As for the Oilers offer sheeting somebody, particularly a player like Backstrom, would Tambellini really dare to? Especially considering the young talent (MPS/Eberle/Hall (or Seguin) that would potentially be exposed 3 or 4 years from now?

Tambellini is going to have to worry about the Oilers situation 3 or 4 years from if these 3 players blossom like we hope they will. If each of these players becomes a "Backstrom", we're talking cap hits of at least $7 million per year per player.

Scott Reynolds said...

I don't think the Oilers can take this chance. There's some chance that the goaltending implodes again and further, that the defence has a hard time covering for the mistakes made by some of the (still) young forwards.

Add to that the fact that Backstrom has played almost exclusively with Ovechkin and the gamble just seems too large for the Oilers.

Of all the teams you mentioned as possibilities I think that the Kings are probably the best fit.

speeds said...

Buddha Pest in bold:

Both offer sheets are proof to GMs that offer sheets are not a very good tool to employ.

Is the signing of Khabibulin proof that unrestricted free agency is not a good tool to employ? Is the drafting of Niinimaki proof that the entry draft is not a good tool to employ?

In any event, there's no way that the Caps let Backstrom go un-signed to July 1. Even if they did and he did get an offer sheet, they will definitely match.

I generally agree that they are very likely to match. However, the fact that he isn't signed yet is somewhat surprising. It doesn't necessarily mean anything, but other guys have been signed by this point.

Tambellini is going to have to worry about the Oilers situation 3 or 4 years from if these 3 players blossom like we hope they will. If each of these players becomes a "Backstrom", we're talking cap hits of at least $7 million per year per player.

If you knew each of those players was going to become a "Backstrom" I think you could make an excellent argument that they maybe they SHOULD sign Backstrom now to capitalize on the cap savings generated from having $21 million dollars in player value signed for the next 3 seasons at 6.75 mil combined. And worry about what to do in three years after 3 years.

speeds said...

Scott:

I think it's very reasonable to suggest the Oilers not offer sheet Backstrom - I would be extraordinarily surprised if they did. There's certainly downside risk present, and a lot of potential egg to wear if it doesn't work out. Interestingly, the fact that WSH might project EDM's picks to be very valuable could result in WSH declining to match an EDM offer sheet to Backstrom while matching an ANA offer sheet.

Buddha Pest said...

My rebuttal to Speeds comments:

#1
- Exactly how many RFA offer sheets have there been since Penner? If I recall- 2 (Backes by Vancouver and Bernier by St. Louis). Both were matched. If GMs thought offer sheets were useful why haven't there been more made?
- how happy would we be if the Vanek offer sheet wasn't matched by Buffalo. The Oilers would have lost 4 1st round picks for a player who has had one only one 40 goal season since the RFA and hasn't reached 65 points during the past 3 seasons. Let's not mention the cap hit he would be giving the Oilers right now. Then again, if they had Vanek they probably wouldn't have Horcoff tied up for the next 4 years.
- I have never been a supporter of the Penner offer sheet. I'll give credit to Penner for his improved play this year, but I would never have signed him for the contract that he got and given up 3 draft picks for him. It's hard to speculate now, but with the Ducks in a serious cap trouble in 2007, had the Oilers waited and negotiated a trade with the Ducks (perhaps they did try to negotiate a trade), they probably would have got Penner for less than the 3 draft picks.

- Toronto's trade for Kessel was a trade, but it was equivalent to an offer sheet. How happy is Toronto now giving up 2 first rounders plus?

- the signing of Khabibulin doesn't prove that UFA signings is a bad tool. But, it does prove signing an injury prone 36 year old goalie to a $15 million 4 year contract when you haven't figured out which direction in the standings your team is headed is not such a good idea. Tambellini has to do a better job this summer and in the future with UFA signings.

- the drafting of Niinimaki doesn't prove that the NHL Entry Draft is a bad tool. But, it does prove that when your scouts tell you to go off the board and use your first round draft pick on a player that no one projected to be in the first 30 picks or so, you might not know what you are doing. You're probably better off just going by how Central Scouting or Bob McKenzie rates the top prospects.

Buddha Pest said...

#2
- I can't speculate why the Caps haven't re-signed Backstrom yet. I will say that I don't think McPhee is an idiot; so I don't think he'll let Backstrom be exposed to an RFA offer sheet. Perhaps Backstrom's agent is playing hardball in order to get as much out of the Caps as possible.

- as I said before, even if was given an offer sheet, there's no way that the Caps don't match the offer (perhaps unless the offering team offered something ridiculous like $15 mil per year). McPhee might as well quit if they didn't match.

- if the Caps were to be in salary cap trouble (which I don't think they will be next season or the next few seasons), I think that the most likely scenario would be to trade Semin. He's 25 and scheduled to be UFA after next season if they don't agree to an extension. He previously left the Caps to go back to Russia and perhaps he would do it again. But, if given a choice between Backstrom and Semin, I think they stick with Backstrom because he means more to the team than Semin does. They would probably get a whack load in a trade involving Semin if they couldn't agree to an extension.

#3
- I'm not sure what you mean by the above comments, but let's say for the sake of argument that the Oilers gave Backstrom an offer sheet and it wasn't matched. I would have to say the contract would have to be worth at least $9 million for the Caps not to match. But, let's use $8 million per year for 5 years. Let's also assume that all current Oilers with contracts remain with the teams for the duration of their contracts.

Using the team cap numbers from nhlnumbers.com, the Oilers team cap for the next 3 years ends ups:

2010: $41.842 mil + $8 mil= $49.842 mil

2011: $31.000 mil + $8 mil= $39 mil

2012: $17, 250 + $8 mil= $25.250 mil

Alright, I'll agree that when 2011 and 2012 roll around, the team cap doesn't look that bad. But, 2010 would be a disaster considering that the Oilers would have only about $8 million to sign Gagner, Cogliano, Brule, and about 4 other players.

It's more the impact of losing at least 4 future first rounders and tying up all of that money in one player during a time of re-build that would be the most negative on the Oilers.

The RFA offer sheet has done nothing except help escalate player salaries and hinder team development of the teams that use them. It is a tool that has been used by some player agents to get maximum financial value for certain players.

It has also forced teams to ensure that the core of young players that they each have are signed long-term and protected from other teams looking to make an offer sheet.

Buddha Pest said...

Prime example of my point that teams will be locking up their young elite players- Ryan Kesler re-signed today for $5 mil/year. If he wasn't signed, I would have to think that he could have got at least $6 million per in the open market.

speeds said...

Buddha Pest:

I think they keep Backstrom over Semin as well, if they have to choose.

I'm not saying that I think it's necssarily a good idea for Edmonton to offer sheet Backstrom, if he becomes an RFA. I can certainly see the argument against giving up 4 1st round picks like the Oilers would if they signed Backstrom to such a contract - it's too big a price to pay if they believe they'll finish bottom 5 for at least the next couple of seasons. An offer sheet to Backstrom makes much more sense to a team that is expecting to finish at the top of the standings than a team at the bottom.

speeds said...

Buddha Pest:

I shouldn't have included Edmonton in that list. I only mentioned them to foreshadow that I was, later in the post, going to list their roster IF they signed Backstrom to an offer sheet. I didn't mean to appear to advocate that they do so. Sorry for the confusion.

I posted that mainly to show that it was possible for EDM to make such a move and comply with the cap, though it would be tight. And also to see what the lineup might look like.