The offer sheet is not something many NHL fans ponder all that much, and rightfully so. Since 1986, less than 40 players have actually signed an offer sheet. So, what is it exactly? An offer sheet is a contract that a team offers to a restricted free agent who has yet to sign a deal with his current team. It can be presented to a player on the first day of free agency.
If the player accepts and signs that offer, their current team has seven days to match that offer or they can opt to let the player sign with the other team. If they match, they have to abide by the offer as worded. That means the bonus, the length of the contract, and the amount of the contract all have to be the same. If the offer is matched, the team cannot trade that player for one year. If the team lets the player sign with the team making the offer, that team will be compensated in draft picks from the team making the offer.
The number of draft picks is based on the amount of the contract. That compensation can range from four first-round draft picks to zero draft picks. Of the last 10 signed offer sheets, only one was not matched — the 2007 offer that the Edmonton Oilers extended to Dustin Penner of the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks received first-, second-, and third-round draft picks as compensation. That’s a little background on the offer sheets. Read on to learn who signed five of the craziest offer sheets in NHL history.
1. Shea Weber
This is the big boy; an offer sheet that pretty much guarantees that Shea Weber will retire as a member of the Nashville Predators hockey club. In July 2012, the Philadelphia Flyers offered Shea Weber a 14-year deal worth $110 million. Weber, being a sane person, signed the offer sheet. At the time, the Predators were not known for having particularly deep pockets, and some thought that they would not match the deal. (Weber’s previous deal was a one-year contract worth $7.5 million.) The Predators eventually did match, which gave Weber an annual salary of $7,857,143 on top of a mind-boggling $68 million signing bonus. The contract expires at the end of the 2025-26 season; Weber will be 40 years old.
2. Thomas Vanek
Thomas Vanek was a 23-year-old member of the Buffalo Sabres coming off an 84-point (43G, 41A) 2006-07 NHL season when the Edmonton Oilers gave him an offer sheet for a contract worth $50 million over seven years. At the time, Vanek had played a total of two years in the NHL. Buffalo, who had the best record in the NHL in 2006-07, wasted little time in matching the offer. The deal paid Vanek $10 million in the first year, $8 million in the second year, and $6.4 million in each of the remaining five years.
Vanek would never again reach the production numbers that spurred the offer from Edmonton. His best season under the new deal was 2010-11 when he scored 73 points (32G, 41A). The Sabres would trade Vanek in the last year of his deal to the New York Islanders for Matt Moulson, a first-round pick in 2014 and a second-round pick in 2015. The Islanders, unable to sign Vanek to an extension, moved him at the 2014 trade deadline for a second-round draft pick and Sebastian Collberg, who has yet to play an NHL game. Vanek entered free agency at the end of the season, signing a three-year deal with the Minnesota Wild worth $19.5 million.
3. Chris Gratton
This one was a bit of a stunner. In the summer of 1997, the Philadelphia Flyers decided they needed a power forward, so they went after the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Chris Gratton. Gratton had just come off a 62-point season (30G, 32A) while running up 201 penalty minutes. All of those numbers were career highs for Gratton.
The offer the Flyers extended was for $16.5 million over five years. But wait, the Chicago Blackhawks claimed they had worked out a trade with the Lightning for Gratton. And oh yeah, the fax the Flyers sent the offer sheet on was smudged, so it was invalid — at least according to the Lightning. An arbitrator ruled that the fax was legible, and therefore, the offer sheet was valid.
After some wrangling between the Lightning and Flyers, the teams eventually agreed on a trade. The Flyers would get Gratton, and the Lightning would get Michael Renberg and Karl Dykhuis. Gratton would play one full season and part of the next for the Flyers before they traded him back to the Lightning for Renberg and Daymond Langkow.
4. Sergei Fedorov
Sergei Fedorov had spent the first seven seasons of his NHL career with the Detroit Red Wings. If the Carolina Hurricanes had gotten their way, the 1996-97 season would have been his last in Motor City. With Fedorov holding out from the Red Wings while looking for a new deal, the Hurricanes threw an offer sheet in front of Fedorov. The offer was $38 million for six years.
The craziest part was that only $12 million of the offer would be salary; the other $26 million would be a signing bonus. The Red Wings matched the offer, and in effect, paid Fedorov $28 million for a few months of work in 1998 (Note: The Red Wings went on to win the Stanley Cup that season). Fedorov played out the six-year deal with the Wings before moving on to the Anaheim Ducks, who signed him to a five-year deal worth $40 million
5. Joe Sakic
What do you do if you’re a general manager and your captain moves on? Well, if you’re Neil Smith of the ’97 New York Rangers, you throw an offer sheet at another team’s captain. Mark Messier left the Rangers at the end of the 1997 season, signing with the Vancouver Canucks. So, with a leadership role to fill, Smith offered Joe Sakic of the Colorado Avalanche a contract worth $21 million over three years.
Like the Fedorov deal, it was front-loaded, giving Sakic a $15 million signing bonus to go along with a $2 million salary in each of the three years of the deal. The Avalanche matched the offer, and Sakic would go on to play his entire career with the team, retiring in 2009. He is currently the general manager of the Avalanche.
Statistics courtesy of NHL.com.