21 July 2009

Is an offer sheet in the cards for Phil Kessel?

Puck Daddy has an article up today discussing the Boston Bruins' options for dealing with Phil Kessel, and they touch on whether or not he is even worth the potential cap headache that would ensue with getting him signed to any sort of contract. One thing that stuck out to me though was the complete dismissal of the idea of an offer sheet being floated to Kessel, based on this post from the Blueland Chronicle. I've always thought that offer sheets were an interesting and effective way to add pieces to a team, without having to get into the bidding wars of July 1st. I think the offer sheet route is still a very attractive way to end this stalemate between Kessel and the Bruins, and I think that route is totally doable, because Blueland Chronicle is missing a couple of important facts here.

First of all, per the Puck Daddy article, the Boston Bruins only have 2.862M in cap space for this coming year. My understanding of the way the cap works is that you don't have to be cap compliant until a game starts, so if the Bruins wanted, they could sign Kessel to a deal for more than that 2.862M in cap room, but then they would be in a bad situation in trying to get back below the cap. If you're already above the cap, rival GM's aren't going to do you any favors. In trying to shed that couple million in salary, they're going to ask for draft picks or prospects in return for helping you get back under the cap. Getting into cap trouble late in the summer is a pretty bad situation to be in.

Because of the Bruins cap situation, an offer to Kessel doesn't need to be somewhere north of 5M, as Blueland Chronicle suggests. Unless the Bruins have a transaction in their back pocket that is going to create more cap room, their offer to Kessel has to be 3M at the top end. Kessel obviously would be most happy with a contract in excess of 5M, but the reality is that his options are somewhat limited. The Bruins aren't going to be giving him 5M/yr any time soon, unless someone forces their hand. Kessel has to be aware of this, and so if he gets an offer sheet for say 4M-ish a year, it's going to look pretty good by comparison. A 4M/yr offer sheet would be a little harder for Boston to match.

The second important thing that I think Blueland completely missed here is that Blueland seems to think that an offer sheet that does not land a player on your team is a failure, and I think that supposition is patently wrong. In the article, Blueland Chronicle discusses an offer sheet of 5M/yr for Kessel, and guesses that Boston would match it, making the offer sheet a lost cause for the Thrashers. I would argue that making Boston spend 5M on a player they don't want to spend that much money on would be a victory in and of itself. If Boston is forced to spend 5M on Kessel, suddenly, they're forced to rid themselves of 2.2M in salary to get under cap. This means they're going to give up depth in terms of roster players, as well as probably draft picks or prospects in order to get other people to take on the salary when they're in a pinch. That definitely helps the rest of the Eastern Conference to help knock down the recently competitive Bruins back to the rest of the pack.

In the 2010-11 offseason, when the cap is expected to fall down at least a couple million, the Boston Bruins already have 37.675M committed to 10 players. If this hypothetical 5M/yr offer sheet for Kessel were matched by the Bruins, that would grow to 42.675 for 11 players, with raises due to Lucic, Wheeler, and Rask, and players like Aaron Ward, Marc Savard to be resigned, as well as filling out a 20 man gameday roster. Depending how much the cap shrinks, that could be a bit of a pinch for Boston. Forcing them to skimp on other positions or lose depth or flexibility under the cap is a big help to their rivals. In this case, while the hypothetical offer sheet wouldn't get another roster player onto the Thrashers squad, it would still be striking a blow against an Eastern Conference power. Knocking your opponent down is often just as good as elevating yourself, and this is one way to do that.

All that said, if I were a rival GM, especially one in Boston's division, I'd try to float Kessel an offer for about 3.9M/yr for 3-4 years. If the Bruins fail to match, you're out a 1st and 3rd, which would be a great trade, and you still get the kid at a decent price. If the Bruins match it, then they will have to give up some sort of depth or pick/prospect, and you're no worse off than you were before.

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