For those who follow me on Twitter (@RivardNHL if you don’t), you already know my thoughts on offer sheeting Elias Pettersson. Having said that, I believe in objective journalism. I’ve been wrong before and I’m certain I’ll be wrong again. This has brought us here: the crossroads of a potentially large move. About a month ago, Prashanth Iyer wrote a piece on what he would do if he were Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman. In it, he traded Jakub Vrana, signed Dougie Hamilton, and sent an offer sheet to Elias Pettersson, the Vancouver Canucks’ star centre.
To say it was a controversial idea in the Red Wings community was an understatement.
Setting the Stage for an Elias Pettersson Offer Sheet
For those unfamiliar with the offer sheet system, allow me to give you a quick overview. When a player is a restricted free agent (RFA), their ability to seek out contracts with other teams is limited. An offer sheet allows teams to circumvent this restriction. Offer sheets can give teams the chance to poach players from their rivals with competitive contract offers. The team that receives an offer sheet can either match the offer or allow the team to take away the player in exchange for draft compensation. Below is a table detailing contract offers and the compensation required for offer sheets:
Here are the compensation thresholds on offer sheets if any NHL teams want to take a swing on a restricted free agent this off-season. pic.twitter.com/MpzWjOrUzW
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) October 9, 2020
To put it simply, the higher the offer, the more draft picks a team will have to give up in return. The last offer sheet happened in 2019 when the Montreal Canadiens tried to net Sebastian Aho from the Carolina Hurricanes. The Hurricanes opted to match the offer; if they hadn’t, they would have obtained Montreal’s first, second, and third-round picks in the subsequent draft. Offer sheets are rarely utilized in the NHL. In fact, 2019’s Aho offer sheet came six years apart from the last one, which occurred in 2013, when the Calgary Flames tried to obtain Ryan O’Reilly from the Colorado Avalanche.
It’s hard to say why they’re so uncommon. Offer sheets may be viewed as a slight against the other team. If a team’s offer sheet goes south, it may sour possible trade relations in the future. Personally, I believe offer sheets add an intriguing layer of excitement to roster management. The NHL’s salary cap isn’t set to grow significantly over the next few years. Teams will seek affordable, cost-controlled contracts to keep their rosters competitive. According to CapFriendly, the Red Wings currently have nearly $26M in cap space. Weaponizing that cap space is more than an effective strategy for the Red Wings.
This is where Elias Pettersson comes into play.
Why Elias Pettersson?
Pettersson is one of the most electrifying young centres in the NHL. In 165 games with the Canucks, Pettersson has scored 65 goals and 153 points — nearly a point-per-game pace. His injury-shortened season last year saw him limited to just 21 points in 23 games. Despite this minor setback, the 22-year-old appears ready to take the next big step in his career. His vision, awareness, and play style have earned him comparisons to Detroit’s old captain, Henrik Zetterberg. The former Red Wings captain, for the record, ended his career with a Stanley Cup, a Conn Smythe Trophy, a King Clancy Memorial Trophy, and 960 points in 1,082 career games.
Elias Pettersson would immediately become the top-line centre that the Red Wings have craved since Zetterberg’s retirement. He’s an exceptional playmaker in his own right, but his true ability comes through his patience. When Pettersson has the puck, the game slows to his pace. The Swedish centre checks all the boxes needed in a Detroit centre. From his great two-way play to his offensive creativity, there’s never a dull moment when Pettersson is on the ice.
According to CapFriendly, the Canucks only have $14 million available in cap space. In addition to re-signing Pettersson, the team will need to offer contracts to Olli Juolevi, Jason Dickinson, and star defenceman Quinn Hughes. The Athletic interviewed a series of NHL player agents to try and project Hughes and Pettersson’s next contract, landing on $6.5M for Hughes and around $7.5-8M for Pettersson. Canucks general manager Jim Benning mentioned in an interview with TSN that he would match any offer for Elias Pettersson. This would render them unable to sign Dickinson, who they just obtained from the Dallas Stars for a third-round pick, and Juolevi, a top-five selection in the 2016 draft.
With all those factors in place, could Benning hypothetically match a seven-year, $9M offer sheet? Let’s take a look at the benefits and setbacks of offer sheeting Pettersson.
The Pros of an Elias Pettersson Offer Sheet
Over the last six years, the Red Wings have fallen behind their projected draft lottery five years in a row, losing 11 spots in the process. Luck has not been on Detroit’s side with the draft lottery. Putting all of your hopes on winning the draft lottery has been a one-way ticket to Disappointment Island. Pettersson is young and fits the Red Wings’ rebuild timeline. He’s a bonafide first-line centre and has a bright hockey future on the horizon. There’s very little to dislike about Pettersson. Like many of the top players in the NHL, any team would immediately benefit from having his skill and creativity on their roster.
Still, can an argument be made against signing Pettersson?
The Cons of an Elias Pettersson Offer Sheet
A $9M offer sheet would put the Red Wings firmly into the second-highest tier of offer sheet territory. In this range, the Red Wings would need to offer two first-round picks, a second-round pick, and a third. The 2022 and 2023 NHL drafts feature some of the most electrifying talents the NHL has seen in years. From the spectacular Shane Wright to the colossally talented Connor Bedard, there are a wealth of high-ceiling players available in upcoming drafts.
Even picks like Brad Lambert and Matvei Michkov are more than worth the risk of the draft lottery. Should the Red Wings hit big on any of these players, they’ll be secured for years with elite or generational talent on their top line. For a patient man like Steve Yzerman, the gamble may be worth more than the guarantee of a player like Pettersson. Why settle for a slice when you can have the whole pie?
Yzerman appears to be taking a slow, steady approach to the Red Wings’ rebuild. Whether it takes him three years or more than five, he’s willing to take the long route if it guarantees consistent success. While Pettersson would make an impact right away, the risk of losing five darts on the board might be too high for Yzerman to take. In an interview this season, the general manager mentioned specifically that he enjoys having a large amount of draft capital at his disposal. It’s hard to imagine that Yzerman would be willing to give up five draft picks for a player that he might be able to secure in the coming drafts. Even if he sees the benefit with Pettersson, his conservative approach suggests that he isn’t prepared to swing for the fences just yet.
It’s hard to tell what to make of the Pettersson situation. Fortunately, Yzerman has plenty of time to make his move.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images