Let me get this straight. There’s a talented young forward who just had a breakout season. The talented forward in question also happens to be a restricted free agent for a team that is pressed firmly up against the salary cap. If I remember correctly, this has happened before. If anyone should remember, it should be Brian Burke.
Last time, it was the Edmonton Oilers offering Dustin Penner a contract, while Brian Burke and the Anaheim Ducks were left sitting with their hands tied. The unmatched offer sheet pretty much lead to Brian Burke trashing Kevin Lowe in the media like Sean Avery trashing Marc Jacobs handbag collection.
Burke went on and on about how Lowe was doing irreversible damage to the game by eliminating the “second contract” for NHL players. History has proven otherwise—but facts rarely get in the way of Brian Burke talking to a camera. Burkie LOVES him some Burke.
On Saturday night, Burke and the Maple Leafs traded 2nd round draft picks with the Chicago Blackhawks (with the Leafs sending an additional 3rd rounder to the Hawks). By trading with the Blackhawks, they were actually RE-ACQUIRING their own 2nd round pick that had previously been traded away. If Burke were to tender an offer sheet for a restricted free agent, he’s going to need the Maple Leafs OWN draft picks that are used as compensation. For example, if the Leafs were to offer a contract worth an average of $4.5 million per year for Phil Kessel, the Bruins would receive a 1st, 2nd and 3rd round draft pick as compensation.
Needless to say, Burke re-acquiring the draft pick started a shit-storm of hype and speculation. Part of it is that it’s Toronto and they desperately need a top flight scorer. Part of it is that the Kessel saga has been dragging on all summer and everyone’s looking for resolution before the season starts. Then again, it’s probably just that Burke is a polarizing bastard that is either the greatest thing to ever hit Toronto or is the most obnoxious GM in this history of the NHL. It depends if you’re a Leafs fan or a fan of ANY OTHER TEAM.
Here’s the deal: there’s a difference between hating the person and hating the act. I have no problem whatsoever if a team decides to sign a restricted free agent to an offer sheet. If you look at the Penner situation and fallout, it’s a fairly stupid practice—but hey, going to strip clubs is stupid, expensive and leaves people with regret in retrospect too—yet people have the right to do that as well. That’s right. I just compared signing Dustin Penner to spending hundreds of dollars on a woman that gets paid to tease men for a living. Different strokes for different folks, right?
Don’t kid yourself: the price for GOOD (read: expensive) restricted free agents is steep. This is why players are RESTRICTED free agents and not UNRESTRICTED free agents. It was negotiated as part of the collective bargaining agreement; and it certainly shouldn’t be avoided as some “old boys” understanding between GMs.
The restricted FA’s are technically available to all teams if they’re willing to pay the price. Just because general managers never present offer sheets doesn’t mean that they’re still not available. As a fan, I want my GM to do anything and everything he can do to make my team better. If it’s pissing multiple draft picks away for a guy that can’t agree to a contract with his team, then so be it!
I have no problem with the actual act of Brian Burke and the Maple Leafs tendering an offer sheet for Phil Kessel. What I DO have a problem with is that a guy who was so vocally opposed to the “2nd contracts” would do this himself. Reports are that he’s willing to pay Kessel, who’s coming off his entry level deal, a contract in the vicinity of $4.5 million per season. This is a guy that’s been inconsistent and still doesn’t know what the term “backcheck” means. So this is the type of player Burke is eliminating the 2nd contract for? We’re not talking about a superstar like Malkin or Ovechkin—we’re talking about a guy that was a healthy scratch in the playoffs just over a year ago. You can’t have it both ways. Maybe he should have shut his rather large mouth.
It certainly looks like he’s doing the same thing that Kevin Lowe did to the Ducks in the Dustin Penner situation. The Bruins have no cap flexibility and probably won’t be able to fit him under the salary cap under any circumstances. So isn’t Burke exploiting the same type of situation that Lowe exploited 2 years ago? Not only is he exploiting the situation—but he’s exploiting it with a division rival. I’m sure this will go over well.
Burke has already been compared to Jim Balsillie in this whole situation. In the days leading up to the draft, there were reports that the Leafs were going to trade Pavel Kubina and the 7th overall pick to the Bruins for Phil Kessel. Obviously, the Kubina trade fell apart and the Leafs ended up choosing Nazem Kadri with the 7th overall pick. But after Burke didn’t get what he wanted the first time—now he’s going around the Bruins and still trying to get what he wants. I’m not saying it’s right and I’m not saying it’s wrong—but the comparison has to make you think. Somehow, I don’t think Phoenix Coyote fans are accepting of egotistical men representing Ontario right now.
We’ll see what happens when all of the dust settles around the Air Canada Centre. Maybe the Leafs were re-acquiring their own 2nd round draft pick because they were looking to sign Brandon Dubinsky to an offer sheet. Or maybe they were just looking to stockpile their own draft picks because they know they’ll suck next year. There are a plethora of reasons for trading draft picks! Maybe Burke wants to trade for Brayden Schenn on draft day. Wait, well—OK, that ship has sailed.
The point is that Burke would NEVER sign a restricted free agent to an offer sheet. After the fiasco with Kevin Lowe, we all know how he feels about an opposing GM overpaying for a forward who had a good season in a contract year. Besides, the Leafs have PLENTY of talented forwards on their team—like Jason Blake. Right, Jason Blake.