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Draft Moves Put Avs in Prime Position to Sign an Offer Sheet

Cole Hamilton Avatar
June 29, 2015



Amidst all the clatter and excitement of the Ryan O’Reilly trade and the NHL Draft this weekend, the Colorado Avalanche made a sneaky, very suspicious move which should put General Managers in Calgary and Chicago on high alert.

Before the start of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft’s second round, the Avalanche swapped the 31st overall pick (obtained from Buffalo the day before in the O’Reilly trade) for the 39th pick, a 2016 2nd round pick, and a 2016 6th round pick. Trading down in the draft to obtain more picks is relatively common practice in today’s NHL; the Tampa Bay Lightning did it once in the first round on Friday while the Toronto Maple Leafs traded down twice.

Unlike Toronto and Tampa Bay, the Avalanche did not trade down for more picks in the extremely deep 2015 draft. Instead, Colorado went back to the trade table with the San Jose Sharks to reacquire their own 2016 draft picks previously sent to the Sharks in exchange for defenseman Brad Stuart. 29 teams in the NHL with picks remaining in the 2015 draft, but the Avalanche specifically traded down to regain their original 2016 pick.

What’s suspicious then, especially just a few days before the NHL’s free agency period opens on July 1st, is that this trade specifically gives the Avalanche the opportunity to sign an offer sheet on one of this summer’s highly sought after restricted free agents.

The offer sheet process is complex and General Managers in today’s NHL rarely engage in the predatory financial game. Just like signing an unrestricted free agent, signing an offer sheet would require the Avs to meet, negotiate, and sign one of the NHL’s restricted free agents after the July 1st free agency window opens.

If an offer sheet is signed, however, the restricted free agent’s current team is given the seven days to match the contract if they so choose. If the team matches the contract, they retain their player on the contract signed within the offer sheet. If the player’s current team does not match, then the team signing the offer sheet obtains the player and gives up a number of draft picks commensurate with the player’s new salary.

Last month Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported offer sheet compensation for the upcoming season is as follows:

Less than $1,205,377 Nothing
$1,205,377-to-$1,826,328 Third-round pick
$1,826,328-to-$3,652,659 Second-round pick
$3,652,659-to-$5,478,986 First and third-round picks
$5,478,986-to-$7,305,316 First, second and third-round picks
$7,305,316-to-$9,131,645 Two firsts, a second and third-round picks
$9,131,645 or greater Four first-round picks

The big catch here for the Colorado Avalanche is that, if a team signs an offer sheet, all compensatory picks must be their own and they must come from the upcoming draft. In other words, when the Avalanche gave up their 2nd round selection in 2016 to the San Jose Sharks, they also lost the option to sign any offer sheet that included a 2nd round pick as compensation. Regaining their own 2016 2nd round selection was the key to making an offer sheet this offseason and, with a very savvy trade on Saturday morning, Colorado GM Joe Sakic has opened the door.

Despite the unique opportunity they present, offer sheets in today’s NHL climate are a rarity. In fact, just three of the predatory maneuvers have been made in the last five years.

Fresh off a Stanley Cup win, Chicago’s Nicklas Hjarlmarsson signed an offer sheet with the San Jose Sharks in 2010. In 2012 Shea Weber signed a massive 14 year contract to move from the Predators to the Flyers. And, of course, Avalanche fans will remember the offer sheet Ryan O’Reilly signed with the Flames while holding out in 2013. All three offer sheets were matched by the original team and you have to go back all the way to 2007, when the Edmonton Oilers nabbed Dustin Penner from the Ducks, to find a winning offer sheet.

That said, an offer sheet doesn’t have to steal a player away to be effective. In 2010, the Sharks big money offer sheet on Hjarlmarsson forced the Blackhawks to part ways with their cup winning goaltender Antti Niemi. The Sharks then signed Niemi as an Unrestricted Free Agent. In the Avs’ own history, the Calgary Flames offer sheet on Ryan O’Reilly created contract tension that soured his relationship with the team and eventually led to his trade to the Buffalo Sabres last week.

With some very high calibre RFA’s left unsigned and a number of teams trapped against the salary cap, the 2015 offseason presents the best opportunity in years for a successful offer sheet. If defenseman Dougie Hamilton or winger Brandon Saad make it to free agency unsigned, the Avalanche have the draft picks, the cap space, and the immediate roster needs that make them an ideal candidate to make a play. After positioning for the move all weekend, Joe Sakic, more than any other GM, is poised to break league etiquette and poach one of these top RFA’s. A fitting move, considering that in 1997, he signed one himself with the New York Rangers.

With the stage set for a potential offer sheet by the Avalanche, we take a look at top RFA targets Dougie Hamilton and Brandon Saad and how they might fit in the Avs’ offseason plan.

Dougie Hamilton:
6’5″ 212 lbs
Right shot
22 Years old

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Bruins made waves at Friday’s NHL Entry Draft when they traded their young, top pairing defenseman Dougie Hamilton for a package of draft picks from the Calgary Flames. Pressed up against the salary cap, the Bruins were unable, or at least unwilling, to match Hamilton’s high salary demands and, fearing an offer sheet, they traded the young defenseman for a package slightly better than the offer sheet compensation they expected.

Two days later, the former Bruins defenseman remains unsigned by the Calgary Flames and, with rumors about his high, $7.5M contract demands flooding the internet, it seems likely that the young franchise defenseman remains unsigned when free agency opens on July 1st.

Why an Offer Sheet Makes Sense:
Before launching into the logic of a Dougie Hamilton offer sheet for the Avalanche, it’s important to note the Colorado’s interest in the player is documented. Yesterday morning, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that the Avalanche were “close” to acquiring the top defenseman via trade before Boston shipped him to Calgary.

The Dougie Hamilton trade watch was a real rollercoaster. As news broke Friday morning, it looked like Arizona was going to be his next home. But, as we learned later, GM Don Maloney’s staff pushed back at any move that prevented them from getting Dylan Strome in the draft.

No deal with the Bruins — whose highest selection would turn out to be 13 — was going to allow that. There was a point where things were close with Colorado, but that didn’t work, either.

Despite the promising addition of Nikita Zadorov on Friday night, the Avalanche still need a young top pairing defenseman to play alongside Erik Johnson. While the Avalanche are publicly seeking a left-shooting defenseman, the 6-foot-5 Hamilton comes with too much talent and potential to pass on, regardless of his right-shot. It’s an incredible rarity that a team has the opportunity to acquire a franchise defenseman at just 22 years old and Hamilton’s acquisition would quickly push the Avalanche into playoff contention in a Western Conference where quality defense is essential.

Not only is Hamilton a good match for the Avalanche, but Colorado is a good match for him. In Calgary, Hamilton will battle with Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie for top minutes and for top dollar in the future. In Colorado, Hamilton instantly becomes the Avalanche’s #1 defenseman and likely plays top minutes with 2015 All-Star Erik Johnson. It also gives Dougie Hamilton the chance to join the same organization as his older brother Freddie, who scored his first NHL goal wearing an Avalanche uniform late last season.

The next logical question: could the Flames realistically balk on an offer sheet? Although the Flames currently hold over $20 million in cap space with most of their team signed next year, they could still be victimized by the right type of offer sheet. Next summer Jiri Hudler, Sean Monahan, Mark Giordano, and Jonas Hiller are due for significant raises. That combined with captain Mark Giordano, who currently carries a $4 million cap hit, asking for as much as $9 million annually, means that cap space could disappear very, very quickly.

Business aside, wouldn’t it be poetic for the Avalanche to sign Dougie Hamilton, the Flames’ stud blue liner to an offer sheet just days after finally trading Ryan O’Reilly? The Flames poisoned the well between Colorado and O’Reilly and, if the Avs don’t steal Hamilton away with an offer sheet, the least they could do is return the favor and give the conference-rival Flames salary cap problems down the road.

A trade deadline acquisition of Dougie’s older brother Freddie, an attempted trade for Hamilton early Friday night, and finally the re-acquisition of the 2nd round pick necessary for an offer sheet; put the pieces together and an aggressive offer sheet on Dougie Hamilton is the only logical conclusion for a team in desperate need of a top blueliner.

What an Offer Might Look Like:
Signing Dougie Hamilton on a short- or long-term deal worth $7.305 million or less would return a first, second, and third pick to the Calgary Flames. While the salary may be tough to stomach in Calgary, the Flames are likely to match an offer in that range considering the fact that they gave up a larger haul (a first and two seconds) to acquire Hamilton just a few days ago.

In order to pry Hamilton away from the Flames, the Avalanche would likely have to offer a long term contract of $7.5 million or higher, tempting the Flames to let their newest player walk by offering a pair of first rounders as well as a second and third round pick in compensation. If the Avs believe that package would be enough to steal the young defenseman, they should try to stay as close to the $7.305 million barrier as possible. If, however, they believe the Flames will match at all costs, they should offer an even larger contract in order to exacerbate the Flames cap struggles next summer.

Brandon Saad:
6’1″ 204
Left Wing
Left Shot
22 Years Old

Kevin Allen, USA TODAY
Kevin Allen, USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Blackhawk’s cap issues are well documented and the Stanley Cup Champions face a pivotal offseason with major raises in place for their top duo of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Keeping Brandon Saad is a priority for the Blackhawks, but, with just 9 forwards and 4 defensemen under contract for next season and only $6.37 million left to spend, an aggressive offer sheet could force the issue.

The 22 year old winger scored 23 goals this season and 99 points in 160 games over the last two years. Saad made a name for himself amongst a loaded group of forwards and developed into an impressive all around player who plays in all situations including the penalty kill. Saad added 8 playoff goals, including 2 game winners en route to the Blackhawks Stanley Cup win.

Why an Offer Sheet Makes Sense:
Carl Soderberg and Mikhail Grigorenko are intriguing additions to the Avalanche’s forward group, but they do not make up for the combined loss of Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn. The loss of Stastny, O’Reilly, and McGinn over just 2 summers has transformed the Avalanche’s once enviable top six into a pedestrian group comprised of a few high end core players, but a marginal supporting cast. The addition of a budding young star like Brandon Saad would restore not only the offense that the Avalanche lost in O’Reilly, but also some of the quality two-way play and penalty killing.

Furthermore, stealing Brandon Saad from Chicago or forcing them to take on a big contract in a pivotal financial moment for their franchise would help the Avalanche gain ground on an important division rival. Despite dealing from a disadvantageous position for several years, the Blackhawks have nabbed quality returns in trades and cheap, quality UFA’s from the NCAA and NHL markets. Signing Brandon Saad to a high value offer sheet, regardless of their reaction, would put the Blackhawks in an even tougher spot during an offseason already filled with tough personnel choices.

What an Offer Might Look Like:
With just over $6 million in cap space, a 5-6 year offer in the $6 million range would be a tough pill for the Blackhawks to swallow. A 6×6 contract would take away Chicago’s opportunity to stave off more roster turnover with a short term bridge deal. A $6 million offer sheet would cost the Avalanche a first, second, and third round pick if unmatched.

The Avs could also take a page out of former Flames GM Jay Feaster’s book and sign Brandon Saad to a short term back-loaded offer sheet like the one Ryan O’Reilly signed in 2013. In that case Feaster kept the cap hit and pick compensation low, while raising the minimum qualifying offer on O’Reilly’s next contract with a big second year raise. With a cap hit under $5.478 million, the Avalanche would only surrender a first and third round pick, but could make the Blackhawks decision very difficult with a $6.5 million qualifying offer attached to the 2 year contract.

Other Notable Restricted Free Agents:
Derek Stepan (NYR) – 6’0″ 196 lbs – Center – Right Shot – 29 Years Old
Nazem Kadri (TOR) – 6’0″ 186 lbs – Center – Left Shot – 24 Years Old
Carl Hagelin (ANA) – 5’11” 186 lbs – Left Wing – Left Shot – 26 Years Old
Marcus Kruger (CHI) – 6’0″ 181 lbs – Center – Left Shot – 25 Years Old
Alex Galchenyuk (MTL) – 6’1″ 194 lbs – Center – Left Shot – 21 Years Old
Brenden Dillon (SJS) – 6’3″ 225 lbs – Defense – Left Shot – 24 Years Old
Adam Larsson (NJD) – 6’3″ 220 lbs – Defense – Right Shot – 22 Years Old
Eric Gelinas (NJD) – 6’3″ 215 lbs – Defense – Left Shot – 24 Years Old


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