Arguably the most underutilized way for an NHL GM to acquire players.
At this point, I'm sure many are tired of hearing me talk about the lack of offer sheets in the NHL, and my surprise that we don't see more of them. That said, I think there are a confluence of factors this summer that may increase the chances we see an offer sheet, perhaps even involving the Oilers. The UFA pool is lacking in top end RH D, and with a few of the more obvious trade options seemingly, potentially, falling away in the past few days (Hamonic, Barrie, Vatanen), there aren't a lot of quality options for Peter Chiarelli. There are, however, a few teams with promising RFA RH defencemen that might be attractive for a team to acquire via offer sheet, for one reason or another. Ideally a team might prefer to acquire them via trade, but if a deal can't be made, it's not impossible a team looks at the more rare option of an offer sheet. All of Jones, Dumba, Lindholm (LH D, but good enough to be under consideration anyways), Barrie and Trouba are players who may be good acquisitions for the Oilers in the right circumstance, but I'm going to focus on Seth Jones for this article as he probably fits best in terms of being a player of interest to the Oilers while also being part of a team in an unenviable cap situation.
The Blue Jackets salary cap situation has been discussed extensively, in particular Matt Henderson wrote an excellent article regarding a potential Seth Jones offer sheet a few weeks ago. Columbus faces difficulty as a number of their players are too expensive to move and/or have NMC's. This at least creates the appearance of a situation where CLB may have little choice but to walk away from well crafted offer sheet to Seth Jones. Many of the reasons I think the Oilers might look at an offer sheet are the same as those Matt wrote about - they would get a RH D who fits in terms of age with the core group, without moving a F to acquire that player . Further to that, they would not be moving the 4OV pick for a D, which gives them a young, ELC controlled F (assuming they pick a F at 4OV) in the pipeline. So how would a team best design an offer sheet to minimize both the cost as well as the chance of Columbus matching?
I think there are three approaches a team could take:
(1) They could sign Jones to a 7.5M per year, 5 year offer sheet. This would cost a 1st, a 2nd, and a 3rd in 2017 (here's the 2016 compensation chart, thanks to Elliotte Friedman). The reason a team would choose a 5 year term instead of 6 or 7 years is because compensation, for draft pick purposes, is calculated as total compensation divided by the number of years OR 5, whichever is less. This means that a 6 or 7 year with the same AAV as a 5 year deal generally requires more compensation.
(2) They could, knowing full well it would cost more in compensation, design an offer sheet where there's probably a greater chance Columbus matches BUT, if they don't, the acquiring team would be rewarded with Jones on a better contract. As an example, a team could sign Jones to a 7 year offer sheet at 6.6M per year, at a cost of 2-1sts, a 2nd and a 3rd. So they would be giving up an extra first, but if successful would have Jones signed for an extra two seasons and save 0.9M against their cap throughout the course of the contract.
(3) They could sign Jones to a 1 year, 9.3M offer sheet with a 6M signing bonus. First of all, given their cap situation, it would be difficult for Columbus to match that large an offer sheet. Secondly, because the Qualifying Offer for 2017/18 would only be 3.3M in this scenario**, the team retains some negotiating power on the next contract. When 2017 rolls around, the team could negotiate a 7 year contract (8, if they wait long enough) at a more friendly cap number.
This would result in a team owing identical compensation to that of scenario 2, but the team wouldn't quite have the same contract certainty. I think the risk would be worth it as they could potentially get 8 or 9 years of Jones vs. 7, probably at a lower cap hit for all but the first year. However, the possibility still exists that Jones leaves as soon as he's UFA eligible if he's not signed long term. A team may wish to somewhat limit their risk by sticking with an offer sheet in the 1st+2nd+3rd compensation bracket, using this structure as a guide. So, maybe something like 7.5M total on a one year deal, with 3.75M coming via signing bonus, and the other half via salary?
Scenario 3 seems like the best bet to me, when it comes to both actually getting the player and finding the best contract scenario, after year 1. The Oilers would have the cap room to do this, but it would be relatively tight and not allow much room for additional moves unless other salary is shed. Still, it would leave the forwards untouched, 4OV in the system, and address a significant need on RD.
I don't know if the Oilers will want to look at offer sheets, but unless they are able to sign Demers, they may find them to be the best option. Jones presents an interesting possibility, particularly given Edmonton's rumored interest in him earlier this season. If Jones doesn't catch a GM's eye, it's possible any of the scenarios could apply to one of
the other aforementioned players, though the details may have to be tweaked. As Lowetide famously says, we wait.
** As far as I can tell, this is an allowable contract under the CBA. If that is not the case, we can throw scenario 3 away. The section re: Qualifying Offers is contained in Article 10.2 of the CBA, and says that a QO for a player in Jones's situation would be 100% of the player's Paragraph 1 Salary from the previous season.