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Why restricted free agents don't see much action

Jul 2, 2010, 9:31 PM EDT

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marcstaal.jpgSo you’re a bit disheartened that things have slowed down on Day 2 of the free agency frenzy and you’re still wondering when Ilya Kovalchuk is going to either come to his senses or run away and hide with a huge contract. That’s understandable, but what gives with the lack of action for all of those restricted free agents (otherwise known as Group II free agents, full list found here) from teams that aren’t their own? Oh sure, we remember past offer sheets for Thomas Vanek and Dustin Penner drawing the ire of Darcy Regier and Brian Burke alike (and earning Kevin Lowe an instant enemy in Burke), but those were different, more spend-crazy times.

Now? The price for offering up an offer sheet to a player and having the team holding his rights giving that player away are steeper than you might understand, and not just from the standpoint of creating an instant front office enemy either. Say you’re interested in Bobby Ryan in Anaheim and want to fulfill his wishes for a short-term, big money deal. Or say you’re interested in the Rangers’ Marc Staal or the Wild’s Josh Harding, what will that cost your team should they end up signing with them? Depending on the salary, it could turn out to be really pricey.

OFFER                                         COMPENSATION

$1,020,348 or below                       None
Over $1,020,348 to $1,545,981        Third-round choice
Over $1,545,981 to $3,091,963        Second-round choice
Over $3,091,963 to $4,637,944        First-round and third-round choice
Over $4,637,944 to $6,183,925        First-round, second-round and third-round choice
Over $6,183,925 to $7,729,907        Two first-round choices, one second- and one third-round choice
Over $7,729,907                             Four first-round choices

If you’re looking for reasons why it’s harder for teams to justify going after restricted free agents, look no further than those compensation points. If a player only commands little in salary, you can likely find unrestricted players at similar salaries and don’t need to risk giving up the picks, or the compensation is so much that going after them may not be worth the risk at all.

Most restricted free agents available aren’t going to command a price of over $7.7 million dollars, so coughing up an astounding four first-round picks won’t be necessary. But what about the $5 million a year that Bobby Ryan wants? Would you want your team to give up a first, second and third-round pick to get him? That’s a tough call, one that requires you to believe that strongly in a player to pull the trigger on such a deal.

One fun part of that is that a team that doesn’t have their own picks to give as compensation cannot make an offer for a restricted free agent if they don’t have the picks to give up. That means a team like the Toronto Maple Leafs is immediately shut out from offering a RFA anything over $3,091,963 as the Bruins own their first round pick in 2011. A team can always get their picks back if they traded them away, but good luck making that work out for you.

Are there prime players out there worth taking a shot at? Definitely. Ryan and Staal are probably two of the most attractive players to shoot for, but is it worth the potentially bad PR and ugly media fight to get it done? A lot of teams won’t want to deal with the hassle, leaving it to be a somewhat unwritten rule, a “code” if you will, that you don’t vulture in on another team’s property. That said, if I was a GM with a highly-touted RFA to deal with, I’d keep my eye on that wily Kevin Lowe though… He seems to have a bit of a history for this thing.

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