Salary cap could unleash prime restricted free agents
Posted: Friday April 7, 2006 5:25PM; Updated: Friday April 7, 2006 7:19PM
Just when it appears that Roberto Luongo will stay in Florida, the Panthers may not be able to match a deep-pocketed raider.
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In the NHL, there are three ways to improve your roster:
Draft well and develop your own talent.
Exchange players with another team.
Spend crazy money on overpriced unrestricted free agents in the summer.
Three ways. But thanks to changes in the game, both as a business and in how it's played, it might be time to get ready for a fourth.
With franchise-altering players such as Zdeno Chara, Wade Redden and Patrik Elias potentially headed to the open market, much will be made of the pool of unrestricted free agents. But the more compelling story this summer may be the first real impact signings from the ranks of Group II restricted free agents.
Although it has always been an option, signing another team's RFA has been taboo for as long as the category has existed. Sure, there have been some high-profile attempts, most notably when Carolina signed Sergei Fedorov in 1998, or when Joe Sakic signed an offer sheet with the Rangers in 1997. In each instance, the contracts were structured to make it difficult for the Red Wings and the Avs, respectively, to make the same obligation.
But in both cases, the player returned home when his original team swallowed hard and matched the contract offers. Ultimately, it was only money, and teams were only limited in their ability to match by how much they were willing to spend. But as a result of the salary cap, infinite spending is no longer an option. Some teams have more room to work with, while others are up against the cap and ripe for the picking.
Of course, the system is still geared to allow a team to retain it's own Group IIs. According to the CBA, if a Group II free agent signs an offer sheet from another team, the team that owns his rights has the option of matching the offer or receiving compensation in the form of draft picks from the new team. If the original team chooses not to match, it will receive draft picks in return, based on the average annual value of the deal:
$660,000 or below: no compensation Over $660,000 to $1 million: third round pick Over $1 million to $2 million: second round pick Over $2 million to $3 million: first and third round picks Over $3 million to $4 million: first, second and third round picks Over $4 million to $5 million: two first rounders, one second and one third rounder Over $5 million: four first rounders
That's a pretty steep price to pay, but look at it this way: the draft is a crapshoot, where sure things turn out to be duds and late-rounders become first- liners. Compare that risk to the certainty you have about a young player with a couple of NHL seasons under his belt, and those picks might seem like a fair price, even if you have to overpay the player as well.
The main player to watch is Tampa's Brad Richards. Here's a guy who is dynamite on the ice and a perfect citizen off it -- a premier first line pivot. The Lightning would love to retain his services, but are hamstrung by the big deals they handed out last season to Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis. They simply wouldn't be able to match an aggressive offer.