Last night, NHL reporter Jimmy Murphy tweeted that the Boston Bruins could be preparing an offer sheet for Winnipeg Jets restricted free agent (RFA) defenseman Jacob Trouba. Minutes later, Joe Haggerty seconded Murphy’s report stating that the price may be high but would be worth it if they feel he is the organization’s number one defenseman for the next decade. While elite defensemen are very hard to come by, offer sheeting a RFA defenseman, whether it is Trouba or Columbus’ Seth Jones, would be possible, yet detrimental to the Bruins long-term future. I do not believe this will occur or is even realistically being discussed within the Bruins front office but will explain the costs and risks associated with this scenario.
To acquire a RFA, a player has to sign an offer sheet offered by another team. The RFA’s original team has one week to match the offer, in which the player would then be signed to the contract originally offered in the offer sheet and is ineligible to be traded for one calendar year. As an offer sheet could potential screw over the RFA’s team, they are rarely used and could hurt relations between the two clubs moving forward. If the RFA’s team chooses not to match the offer sheet, the player is transferred to the team that offered the offer sheet and the original team receives draft picks as compensation. The actual draft pick compensation is determined by the annual average value (AAV) of the offer sheet.
Teams must offer their own draft picks (not those acquired in trades with other teams) as compensation. As the 2016 NHL draft concluded last weekend, offer sheet compensation is based on draft picks in 2017 onward. Bad trades by the Bruins have come back to haunt them as the Lee Stempniak and Zac Rinaldo trades have left them without their 2nd and 3rd round picks in 2017. General Fanager did a great job at outlining the different compensation levels and the eligible teams for each.
Without their 2nd and 3rd round picks, the Bruins offer sheet options are very limited. Their first option is to send an offer sheet worth less than $1,239,266 annually which requires no compensation, but the defensemen the Bruins are looking to target wouldn’t sign this offer sheet as this would be well below their market value. Their only other option is to send an offer sheet worth at least $9,388,080 annually. As compensation, the Bruins would have to forfeit their next four first round draft picks. This would result in the Bruins not picking in the first round (barring any trades) from 2017 to 2020. The Bruins could try to reobtain the draft picks they shipped to New Jersey and Philadelphia but that may be costly or other the other teams may not be willing to help the Bruins out.
The AAV of the offer sheet in determining the level of compensation is calculated by the total salary paid divided by the lesser of the number of years in the contract or 5. This allows teams to offer longer contracts to get a slight discount on the compensation without having to pay a player $9.4M annually. The Bruins could send an offer sheet of 7-years, $49M ($7M AAV) but will qualify them for the top offer sheet compensation bracket as $49 / 5 = $9.8 AAV. This may not be ideal way to go as another team would likely match a long-term deal worth around $7M. To acquire a defenseman, the Bruins will have to use their deep pockets to their advantage and offer Trouba a much shorter, front loaded contract that another team won’t be able to match.
As Trouba is the defensemen buzzing around the media, I’ll use him as an example. He has already accrued three NHL seasons and is on pace to become an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at the age of 26 in 2020. Up to that point, Trouba will be considered a restricted free agent and the Bruins would have to qualify him on any deal three years or fewer. As the deal is worth over $1M, he would have to must be offered at least 100% of the last year’s salary. The goal is lowering the last year’s salary providing the Bruins with a lower starting point in negotiations on a long-term deal before Trouba reaches free agency.
The Bruins could get creative in how the contract is structured to get the third and final year of the offer sheet year as low as possible in order to sign him to a long term deal at a cap hit lower than $9.388M before he hits free agency. It is important to note that in doing this, the CBA’s salary variance rules must be followed: 1) year-to-year salary variance doesn’t exceed 35% and 2) no year can be less than 50% of the highest year. Playing out this scenario, I was able to get the third year’s salary around $6.2M but it required a first year salary of over $12M, something ownership may not be thrilled about yet would be able to afford, unlike many other franchises. $6.2M is the number the Bruins would have to qualify Trouba at in 2019 (or else he’d become an UFA). He may decline this initial offer but the two sides would use that figure as a starting point on a long-term deal.
When considering this, there is a lot of risk that needs to be assessed including the value of the future draft picks transferred because of the offer sheet, the potential of other team’s offer sheeting Trouba at the end of the third year, the uncertainty about his play or injuries going forward, future salary cap figures that may be stagnant or even decrease, the percent chance Trouba would sign long-term in Boston following completion of the offer sheet, and other player’s contract negotiations that have to fit under the salary cap alongside Trouba’s contract.
Both Trouba and Jones are very young and are nowhere near their full potential. They will get better with time and experience, but there is so much uncertainty to where their potential will end. They may be in the conversation for the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman for several years or they may end up as an average second pairing player within a few years; no one knows what the future will hold.
The biggest concern is the draft picks the Bruins would forfeit in acquiring a defenseman via an offer sheet. The combination of the Bruins record of off the board draft picks under current General Manager Don Sweeney and a loss of four straight first round picks would limit the number of impactful prospects coming up in the Bruins system. There is a legitimate worry that without first round draft picks for almost the next half decade, the Bruins may struggle at drafting prospects that can turn into regular NHL players that can step in and help the team. As Patrice Bergeron will be 31, David Krejci will be 30, and Brad Marchand will be 28 at the start of the upcoming season, the Bruins core is getting older and the Bruins will need to surround them with younger players who can be impactful on entry level or lower salaries.
Boston may end up screwing themselves in this scenario with having to sacrifice impactful players on their roster thus not being able to compete in the division or conference because they signed a defenseman to a deal worth $9.4M annually in addition to their previously signed expensive contracts. Chicago has been going through this recently after signing Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews to deals worth $10.5M each and have struggled to compete because of it. There is a chance that Boston could turn into Ottawa where they rely heavily on one defenseman (Karlsson in OTT, an offer sheet defenseman in BOS) and end up struggling badly as the team lacks depth beyond the team’s stars.
While Trouba or Jones may be the top defenseman that the Bruins need, the acquisition comes at a steep price. The salary cap has been increasing only slightly in the past few years and a contract valued at around $9.4M could come back to hurt them in the future. In addition, over $30.5M in salary cap space would be tied up per season in the team’s top four players including an RFA defenseman, Bergeron, Krejci, and goaltender Tuukka Rask. Obtaining a top defenseman remains at the top of the Bruins to-do list, but acquiring one via an offer sheet will be very costly and should be avoided. They will have to turn their attention to the trade or free agent markets to fill their current roster need.
Follow Steve Ness on Twitter: @QuickkNess
All salary cap information from General Fanager.