Strombabble: The Threat of an Offer Sheet

Thomas Drance
June 05 2012 02:04PM

 

While officially nothing has really happened on the Luongo trade front over the past month - Mike Gillis declined to give the Team 1040 an update on the situation just this morning - it seems as if the ground is shifting on a near daily basis. There's a whole whack of misinformation out there at the moment, from Gillis' repeatedly denying that Luongo is on the block, to Yzerman's comments about looking for a goaltender at the draft. Where a week ago we were worried that Gillis had lost the plot between the pipes, recent developments have shrunk the number of available veteran goaltenders on the market considerably, and we think that gives Gillis a tiny bit more leverage. 

At this point, most Canucks fans understand the basic shape of the tricky maneuver Mike Gillis is attempting to pull off with his two star goaltenders. The Canucks are looking to trade an extremely useful player in Luongo, whose toxic contract largely negates his positive value, but they've got to move him in order to convince Cory Schneider to sign a long-term deal with the team. The Canucks would benefit enormously on the "Schneider contract negotiation front" if they were able to handle the Luongo situation at the draft, so you have to think that's the club's preference, certainly we do.

We're likely to spend much of the next month breaking down, reacting to and analyzing bits of idle chatter, radio interviews and columns about the situation in the Canucks net - so we figured we'd launch a series. We call it Strombabble, and today we'll break down the fearsome possibility of Cory Schneider signing a predatory offer sheet in early July.

As always, click past the jump for more.

We'll open our series with James Mirtle, whose analysis has been consistently bearish when it comes to Luongo's value on the trade market. Today he wrote a column for the Globe and Mail suggesting that an "Offer Sheet is not out of the Question for Canucks' Schneider."

As we've covered previously, the Canucks have the right to take Cory Schneider to team elected arbitration, which, would protect him from predatory offer sheets. They can only exercise their arbitration rights starting at 5PM on July 5th, however, which means that Schneider will be exposed to offer sheets from rival clubs for five days in early July. This is one of the main reasons why we believe the Canucks incur significant opportunity costs should they fail to move Roberto Luongo at, or before, the NHL Entry Draft.

Anyway, here's the meat of Mirtle's "Offer Sheet" take:

"Look at all of the compelling names available in the restricted free agency class.

There’s Carey Price, Tuukka Rask, Ondrej Pavelec, Cory Schneider, Anders Lindback and Devan Dubnyk all in need of contracts, with two or three of those names potential targets for offer sheets when free agency opens this summer.

...Some in the hockey world I’ve spoken with think this is being contemplated and that one reason GMs Steve Yzerman and Brian Burke have been so quiet on the goaltending front is that they plan on making a bold play on July 1.

Failing that, Luongo becomes an option – but only then."

Mirtle goes on to point out that, while the Canucks would probably match an offer sheet up to 5 million for Cory Schneider, but it would diminish their leverage in any subsequent Luongo trade substantially.

That analysis is sound, but what's most interesting for our purposes is the idea that Burke and Yzerman - two men long seen as the front-runners in any Luongo sweepstakes - would be unwilling to consider a Luongo trade before July 1st. If Mirtle is right, that puts Gillis in a significant bind.

It's not all gloom and doom, however. Gillis' tenure has been marked by the General Managers preternatural patience and that patience has caused him to ride out situations to the very last hour. For fans it has often been nerve wracking (like when the Sedins avoided unrestricted free-agency by a matter of hours) but so far, Gillis' patience has been rewarded. 

Further, if we assume that the Canucks are dead-set on keeping Cory Schneider long-term, then a predatory offer sheet isn't altogether an unfavorable outcome for the team. While you'd rather have resident capologist Laurence Gilman in the room for negotiations, if Schneider puts his autograph on an offer sheet then at least the Canucks get their star young net-minder under contract for at least the next few years.

In the event of Schneider signing an offer sheet, the Canucks would have to negotiate from a weaker position where Luongo is concerned from then on, because they'd certainly be more desperate for cap relief. But, Luongo's trade value has never been all that high anyway, and he's still a useful piece. Frankly, I'm convinced that even if Schneider were poached in July to the tune of 2 years, 10 million dollars, and the Canucks matched - some team in need of a goaltender would still bite on Luongo.

Luckily for the Canucks, the scenario that Mirtle has laid out and that we've extrapolated on, remains farfetched. Under the current CBA only one player has ever been offer-sheeted during the "window" before a team can exercise their arbitration rights, and that player is David Backes. Needless to say, this situation is extraordinarily rare.

Moreover offer sheets generally are regarded by General Managers as unbecoming, and against the unwritten, collegial rules of the game. Brian Burke and Kevin Lowe, for example, nearly came to blows over Lowe's signing of Dustin Penner. Would Burke "lob a grenade" at a rival GM, after he kicked up such a public fuss when he was on the other side of the table a couple of years ago?

Finally, it's far from certain that Cory Schneider would willingly sign an offer sheet: he's only a year away from unrestricted free-agency, after all. Say Schneider shirks the offer sheet route and is unable to come to terms with the Canucks before his hearing. He'll be rewarded with a generous one year deal and he'd then play out next season, and hit the open market next summer. He'd be one of the most sought after commodities in the league, and he'd be able to choose where he plays. That's an enviable position to be in and if Cory Schneider signs an offer sheet, he'll be surrendering a lot of his (limited) control over the situation.

Even if Cory Schneider is offered a short-term and wildly expensive offer sheet, and agrees to sign - the Canucks probably match, and then they bide their time on trading Luongo. Make no mistake: it would hurt, and the club's carefully maintained cap-structure would be in tatters - but it's still in the realm of a "major annoyance" rather than an "asset management catastrophe." Not matching an offer sheet and losing Cory Schneider for just a first and third round pick on the other hand, yeah that would be an asset management catastrophe.

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Thomas Drance lives in Toronto, eats spicy food and writes about hockey. He is an NHL News Editor at theScore, the ex-managing editor of CanucksArmy.com and an opinionated blowhard to boot. You can follow him on twitter @thomasdrance.
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#1 antro
June 05 2012, 06:57PM
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"Not matching an offer sheet and losing Cory Schneider for just a first and third round pick on the other hand, yeah that would be an asset management catastrophe."

Why? There's another possible scenario there, if a dispreferred one. The Canucks, unable to trade Luongo, get a first and a third for Cory Schneider and play Luongo. That's not a terrible outcome, although it would probably be better to trade Schneider if it comes to that, and potentially pick up a top four defenseman or something like that. I don't see though why the scenario you mention is an "asset management catastrophe".

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#2 Gary L
June 07 2012, 04:34PM
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Don't teams get a 7 day window to respond to an offer sheet placed on their player? That would be more than enough time for the Canucks to wait out the offer sheet till July 5th, and then file for arbitration with Schneider. Or is that not how it works?

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