Blog Entry

The paradoxical world of restricted free agency

Posted on: July 8, 2011 10:51 am
Edited on: July 11, 2011 9:26 am

By Brian Stubits

It's almost like a bad Jerry Seinfeld joke: "And what is the deal with restricted free agency? They're free agents but no team feels free to sign them!"

Surely, Seinfeld could provide a better punch line, but you get the point. I'm starting to wonder why the NHL even bothers with offer sheets. Teams are apparently too afraid to use them, not wanting to violate what has become one of sports' infamous unwritten rules, joining not stealing bases with a big lead in baseball and not running up the score in football.

Now, there are multiple reasons for it. Yes, it seems to be generally frowned upon by GMs, a scorn that lingers and the threat of future relations being strained. That's the unwritten rule part. But there is also a tangible side, the angle of offers being futile. Teams always say they will match any offer sheet and keep their restricted free agent. Plus, there's the compensation. All legitimate drawbacks/hurdles. But enough to create a freeze?

Take this year's prime RFA Steven Stamkos as an example. Is there a more promising prospect in hockey? He's only 21 and he has the most goals scored in the NHL over the past two seasons. As of now, he's still unsigned by the Tampa Bay Lightning who insist they will keep Stamkos no matter the cost or offer sheet.

As far as we know, no team has submitted an offer sheet to Stamkos. Granted, we would only know if Stamkos signed a sheet or a team admitted to tendering an offer, but it doesn't appear as if there has been any movement on Stamkos. Only the Flyers seem to have even come close, having numerous internal debates before deciding to pass.

Or how about Kings defenseman Drew Doughty?

L.A. GM Dean Lombardi recently told the L.A. Times that the negotiations could "take a while." So if the sides are so far apart, why wouldn't some team take a shot? Doughty is as good a young d-man you will find across the NHL. At the age of 20 he had 16 goals and 43 assists. Last season he tallied 11 goals and 29 assists. Now who wouldn't want to try for that?

The idea of getting a superstar through restricted free agency is almost non-existent. No team will surrender a superstar when they have a rebuttal at their disposal. But if nothing else, you force another team's hand. Imagine throwing out an offer so steep that it will cripple the other team's financial status. The way I see it, anything that hurts my rivals helps me.

Since the summer of '05, only six offers have even been tendered. Only once did the controlling team not match. You might remember when Edmonton pried Dustin Penner away from the Ducks. It left then-Ducks GM Brian Burke irate, lambasting Oilers GM Kevin Lowe, saying "I have no problem with offer sheets. They’re part of the CBA [Collective Bargaining Agreement]. But in my opinion, Edmonton has offered a mostly inflated salary for a player, and I think it’s an act of desperation for a general manager who is fighting to keep his job."

"The bottom line is there are the tools at your disposal," former Flames GM Craig Button told about restricted free agency. "You just have to understand the future ramifications."

Look, I understand the point of offer sheets. The league is interested in keeping young superstars with their teams at least for the early portion their careers. And, ya know, they don't have contracts with their teams any more.

I guess I'm just left wishing for more movement on RFAs. Think of the added intrigue. The Panthers trying to take Stamkos out of Tampa Bay? Suddenly you might have some actual teeth into the Sunshine State rivalry beyond a geographic connection. Or imagine the Ducks making a play on Doughty (just pretend) ... we could have Battle Los Angeles again, except this time it would actually be good.

There are legitimate points as to why restricted free agency exists. There are an equal number of points as to why teams don't tender offers. Eventually it leaves you feeling as if it is pointless. Funny.

Photo: Getty Images

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Since: Dec 2, 2011
Posted on: December 16, 2011 6:38 am
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Since: Oct 7, 2011
Posted on: October 19, 2011 10:01 pm

The paradoxical world of restricted free agency

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Since: Jul 9, 2009
Posted on: July 11, 2011 4:55 pm

The paradoxical world of restricted free agency

Thanks, jharris.
Sounds like a silly rule to me.  All I can think is that they want to discourage clubs from stockpiling low-first-round picks in order to to put themselves in a position to submit such an offer sheet, if they're not in that position already.  But I can't see why such a policy is necessarily good for the league as a whole (though it's great for the FA's old club).  Of course, it's the good clubs that will start out with low-first-round picks (if they haven't traded them away); maybe the league thinks this policy is some way to make sure that the free agent's old club will get relatively high picks unless it's a good club presenting the offer sheet (which it often is).  Makes little sense to me.

Since: Feb 24, 2007
Posted on: July 11, 2011 1:32 pm

The paradoxical world of restricted free agency

@Argo444, I assune that the draft pick thing is true becaseu I read it in an article about. Though I do not know why that would be. That is why I stated it. I am not sure honestly. I tried to look it up in the NHL website but it only says 4 1st round picks. it doesn't say "of their own". I read this statement in 2 different articles regarding him. It may be wrong as I said I did not see it actually stated in the NHL RFA rules.


In order to be eligible to submit an offer sheet to Stamkos, teams must have the necessary draft picks in their possession.  This does not include picks acquired from other teams via trade. [Note: If the contract length is longer than five years, additional rules come into play for compensation]

Since: Jul 11, 2011
Posted on: July 11, 2011 1:28 pm

The paradoxical world of restricted free agency

That's not an "unspoken rule," it's collusion by the owners to keep down wages of restricted free agents. Unlike baseball, hockey does not have an anti-trust exemption from congress. Stamkos should sue the league for lost wages. It's evident that if he were an unrestricted free agent, his market value would be double what he's likely to get from the Lightning...

Since: Jul 9, 2009
Posted on: July 11, 2011 12:39 pm

The paradoxical world of restricted free agency

Well, maybe the other poster meant that the idea is that if the old club doesn't match, great--you've got the guy you want; and if they do match, then at least you've messed with their structure a bit. 
In the Flyers' case, I have a feeling they held off making an offer because they were afraid the Lightning wouldn't match and that the Flyers really didn't want to give up the four choices (but see my prior post).
In recent days there've been some rumors that the Flyers may be trying to swing a trade with the Lightning for the signing rights, but I don't suppose that will come off, either.  (Obviously it would have to involve clearing still more salary--either as part of the trade itself or in other deals.)

Since: Aug 21, 2006
Posted on: July 11, 2011 12:38 pm

The paradoxical world of restricted free agency

OK, I read the article and I still don't get it.
If a player is a restricted free agent, like Stamkos, and I want him on my team (why wouldn't I), I'm going to make an offer. It's up to the player to decide to accept the offer and the team he played for to match or better the offer. So what's the problem?

Why it an unspoken rule teams shouldn't go after RFAs? Sports isn't about making friends with other teams. It's about winning.

Since: Jun 25, 2009
Posted on: July 11, 2011 10:54 am

The paradoxical world of restricted free agency

Of course, offering an offer sheet just to mess up another team's cap is just inviting that GM to return the favor. That's part of the unwritten rule about offer sheets as well.

Nobody is going to do that, not now and not ever.  A team isn't going to sign anybody to an offer sheet just to screw up another team. They aren't going to overpay somebody just for fun..... the intention of an offer sheet is to get that player on your roster.  Crosby and Ovechkin have cap hits that I believe are somewhere around  the 9 to 9.5 million dollar area....... Stamkos wouldn't get a nickel more then that but to steal him it would take almost that much on average plus a very long term deal on top of that.  It would be interesting to see what would have happened if that rumoured Philly offer sheet would have come through.  Phili was supposedly ready to send Stamkos an offer sheet for a 12 year deal and 108 million dollars at a 9 million dollar cap hit and average salary.  Tampa simply isn't in a hockey market that would support a deal like that..... if they were, Stamkos would have been signed long ago.... but he's not.  We'll see what happens but this whole Stamkos thing is getting more interesting by the day. 

Since: Jul 9, 2009
Posted on: July 11, 2011 10:53 am

The paradoxical world of restricted free agency

Losing one or two--or maybe even three--first-round picks wouldn't deter me from such a deal in the NHL (unlike in the NFL), since a club can probably regain one or two such picks in future deals.  But four does sound a bit stiff.

By the way, anyone, is jharris correct that the four picks can't include any that you obtained in a trade?  If so, why would that be?

Since: Aug 29, 2007
Posted on: July 11, 2011 9:25 am

The paradoxical world of restricted free agency

I think it would be fantastic if the wings did make a move for him!!! I can always dream cant I??

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