Are the Flyers Vulnerable to a Nolan Patrick Offer Sheet?

I know.  You have heard this kind of thing before.

The summer of 2019 was supposed to be the much anticipated ‘Summer of the Offer Sheet’.  Why not? After all, that offseason had the youngest and most talented crop of restricted free agents (RFA’s) including names like Mitch Marner, Mikko Rantanen, Brayden Point, Sebastian Aho, Ivan Provorov, Zach Werenski, and Charlie McAvoy just to name a few.  Teams would be salivating all over themselves trying to improve their teams by pilfering the young stars of their competitors in behavior that many managers claim would be improper conduct.

While one offer sheet was offered (Montreal tried to lure Sebastian Aho to the Canadiens), the Carolina Hurricanes surprised no one by matching the offer that almost everyone in the hockey world identified as a half-hearted attempt that had no real chance of transpiring.

With all the hype of the offer sheet snuffed last summer with all of that talent potentially being available, one has to wonder why.  Yes, GM’s do look down on other organizations sticking their nose into their teams’ business and attempting sabotage; but the other main hindrance of using the offer sheet is the compensation the pilfering team has to pay in order to secure their target.  Here is a list of the compensation for RFA’s that was finalized for the 2019 season (https://www.nhl.com/news/nhl-contract-offer-sheet-questions-answers/c-308047180):

  • $1,395,053 million or below — No draft pick compensation
  • More than $1,395,053 to $2,113,716 — third-round pick
  • More than $2,113,716 to $4,227,437 — second-round pick
  • More than $4,227,437 to $6,341,152 — First- and third-round picks
  • More than $6,341,152 to $8,454,871 — First-, second- and third-round picks
  • More than $8,454,871 to $10,568,589 — two first-round picks, one second-round pick and one third-round pick
  • More than $10,568,589 — four first-round picks (can be spread over five-year period)

For example, Mitch Marner ended up signing a six-year contract worth an average value of $10,893,000.  While Marner was still waiting to be signed, there were rumors that the Columbus Blue Jackets were mulling whether or not to make an offer.  Say for the sake of argument that they put in an offer sheet similar to what the Leaf ended up signing him for.  The Blue Jackets would have had to give the Toronto Maple Leafs four first round picks (over a 5 year period) plus they would have to take on a massive cap hit although undoubtedly they would be getting a bona fide star player in exchange.

The four first round picks are a steep price to pay.  But perhaps more preventative than the compensation is the fragile ego of the General Manager.  GM’s consider offer sheets to be an underhanded way of doing business.  Even though the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) allows it, GM’s generally frown upon such tactics.  If an offer sheet does come, no GM wants to lose players and not match the offer and then subsequently look bad in the eyes of their fans.

Maybe the ego has to be taken out of it.  Rather, maybe circumstances can make it so that the offer sheet can be more effectively and successfully used by GM’s around the NHL.

 

It’s All About Cap Space

With the uncertainty surrounding the NHL amid the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone is wondering about what the loss of revenue will have on the game.

Look no further than the salary cap.

With roughly 85% of the 2019-2020 regular season played before the shutdown, the NHL is weighing all options to finish the regular season and award the Stanley Cup.  Even with all of the different scenarios presented, the absolute best-case scenario would be if the cap remained flat at $81.5 million for next season.  A flat cap would limit the amount of spending a team could have at their disposal and would be a nuisance for teams like Toronto, Tampa Bay and others who were counting on a new television deal and the new franchise in Seattle to begin play and grow the league’s revenues and by proxy the salary cap.

While not in a dire situation in comparison to the teams just mentioned, the Philadephia Flyers will have to make some important decisions in order to come through this season with as little change to their roster as possible.  As it stands, the Flyers would have about $12 million in cap space for next year with decisions to be made on Justin Braun, Robert Hagg, Mark Friedman, Brian Elliott, Oskar Lindblom, Derek Grant, Tyler Pitlick, and Nolan Patrick.

 

The Unique Case of Nolan Patrick

Nolan Patrick is quite an interesting case.  The 2nd overall selection from the 2017 NHL Draft, Patrick showed some flashes of his ability but mostly was underwhelming in his first two seasons.  With 13 goals in each season and a total of 30 and 31 points respectively, Patrick came into this season perhaps on the verge of fitting into Alain Vigneault’s new look Flyers and potentially experiencing a breakout season.  However, Patrick was diagnosed with a migraine disorder and did not play a game for the Flyers.  Still not cleared for contact, it is almost a certainty that this season will be lost and questions remain about if and when Patrick will be able to resume his NHL career.

As a reminder, check out all of Nolan Patrick’s goals from last season courtesy of Ice Hockey Vids:

Keeping in mind the best-case scenario of an $81.5 million cap maximum, the Flyers have to negotiate a new deal for Patrick who is set to become an RFA.  Coming off an entry level deal that paid $925,000, there is confusion over what Patrick should make in his next deal.  After all, he hasn’t put up numbers that would command a massive pay raise and there are significant questions about when and how impactful his career would be if and when he does return.

From the player’s perspective, Patrick does not have very much leverage.  Other than the fact that he was the 2nd overall selection from his draft class, Patrick’s camp would be going into negotiations purely selling the player’s potential.  The Flyers on the other hand, will be pushing his past performance and play up the uncertainty that Patrick’s diagnosis brings.  They will most likely be pursuing a short-term deal (1 or 2 years) and will try to sell Patrick that the payday will come on his next deal so long as he lives up to that potential.

Patrick would probably be open to the short-term deal, but the question of cost lingers.  Patrick will get a pay bump, but all of the questions surrounding him put the exact amount into uncertainty.  After all, the number has to fit with the looming flat salary cap (or potential cap rollback) and fit into the Flyers plans for the coming seasons with other significant contracts needing to be dealt with.

For the record, I do want the Flyers to sign Nolan Patrick.  Regardless of the many questions surrounding him, I feel that the best is yet to come and that he would be a valuable piece for the Flyers going forward.

That being said, the potential is there for the Flyers to be in a real uncomfortable situation and require a difficult decision to be made should teams choose to aggressively weaponize their cap space.

 

Keep an Eye on the Senators and the Red Wings

Look no further than the Ottawa Senators and the Detroit Red Wings.  These teams will have the cap space available to make moves to improve their roster.  All three teams were not close to making the playoffs this season.  While they will be adding to their prospect pools in the upcoming NHL Draft, they will be looking to improve their roster now with a low risk move that has the potential to pay medium to large dividends as soon as next season.

With the salary cap maximum in the best case remaining at $81.5 million, the cap floor would be at $60.2 million.  For the 2019-2020 season (according to Cap Friendly), the Ottawa Senators would have $39.5 million in cap room while Detroit would have about $35.25 million.  That means that these clubs have some spending to do just to get to the cap floor.

Additionally, both clubs will also be in pole position to land the top prize in this years draft class Alexis Lafreniere.  Lafreniere dominated the QMJHL with a stat line of G 35 A 77 PTS 112 in only 52 games played.  The forward from the Rimouski Oceanic is a left winger.  Detroit will be in the lottery as the favorite statistically to land Lafreniere, but Ottawa will fancy their chances as thy have two first round lottery picks (and a third later in the round).

All of this matters because both Ottawa and Detroit should be looking to make a big splash.  Detroit was abysmal this season with only 39 points from 71 games played, and many believed that this year’s team was by far the worst team of this century.  Ottawa had a tumultuous season with arena concerns, an owner that is increasingly falling out of favor with the fan base, and declining attendance.

If anyone is in a position to make an offer sheet this summer it is these two clubs.

 

Why Nolan Patrick?

Offer sheeting Nolan Patrick makes a lot of sense for the Senators and the Red Wings.

Firstly, the cap situation works within their favor.  The Flyers will most likely be looking to sign Patrick for a short-term deal (1-2 years) in the $1.5 million range (give or take).  If the cap stays flat (best-case scenario) that means that the Flyers will have to make some roster decisions on their RFA’s and UFA’s.  It would be tight, but it could be manageable although the team would most likely not be able to sign everyone.  Nate Thompson was already a long shot to stay with the team, and one of Derek Grant and Tyler Pitlick would likely stay (possibly even both – tough but not impossible).

Imagine if the Senators or the Red Wings submitted an offer sheet for Nolan Patrick worth $3.25 or $3.5 million for 1 year.  The Flyers still could match the offer, but they would be in the unenviable situation of seeing more roster turnover than they would like.  The contract becomes more complicated (and risky based on Patrick’s injury history) if an extra year is added on to the deal.  At some point, Patrick’s past performance and health concerns will dictate that there is a salary and a term that the Flyers may not be comfortable in matching.

As referenced in the chart above using last summer’s RFA compensation, the Flyers would receive a 2nd round pick for offer sheets that have an average value between $2,113,716 to $4,227,437.  The closer those teams come to that upper threshold of salary, the less likely that it is that the Flyers match.  To be clear, I do not think Nolan Patrick is worth $3.25 or $3.5 million per season, but rather those teams would think about pursuing Patrick at that price point in an attempt to improve their roster and score points with their fans.

Speaking of compensation, does it make sense for the Senators or the Red Wings to give up a second round pick and a hefty salary increase to a player with so many question marks?  As specified earlier, the Ottawa Senators have three 1st round picks in the NHL Draft this year.  They also have four 2nd round picks meaning that they will go to the podium seven times in the first two rounds.  The Red Wings have one 1st round pick to go along with three 2nd round picks.  The only stipulation here is that the compensation must be the team’s own draft pick and not one that has been acquired from another team.  Admittedly, Patrick has a lot to prove in terms of production as well as health wise but the draft pick compensation would not be an issue for either team.  Especially the Senators who will be improving on their widely regarded prospect pool in this years draft.  It goes without saying that either of these teams would be very comfortable to give away their 2nd round pick as compensation to take a swing at acquiring a former 2nd overall pick.

Patrick playing the Center position also will make him an attractive target.  As mentioned above, there is a very high probability that either the Red Wings or the Senators will select first overall and take LW Alexis Lafreniere.  With the high probability that Lafreniere makes his NHL debut next season (first overall selections generally do make their NHL squads), he will need to be paired with a Center.  Where he slots in the Senators or Red Wings squad would need to factor in a whole host of variables that would make it an impossibility to try to predict.  Why not add a Nolan Patrick to your team as a secondary option (behind Dylan Larkin or Colin White respectively) to pair him with Lafreniere (or perhaps another young prospect or player) to increase both players chances of success and foster chemistry?  In both cases, Nolan Patrick adds depth at the Center position that is not really there and needs upgrading.

 

Conclusion

I know what you are thinking.  This is all pie in the sky because there are still health concerns surrounding Patrick and he may or not be able to resume his career.

To review, let’s assume the offer sheet happens and the worst case scenario occurs and Nolan Patrick doesn’t play hockey next season.

Both the Red Wings and the Senators will not suffer salary cap wise.  They have a massive amount of cap room and if needed he can be placed on LTIR.  In terms or real money, Patrick’s salary would be covered by insurance should he be placed on LTIR and is not able to play (or if he misses significant time).  Money and cap room will not be an issue for the Senators or the Red Wings (although it will create difficulties for the Flyers).  The offer sheet helps them get to the salary cap floor whether he plays or not and in the event that he doesn’t play, his salary can get paid by insurance if and when he gets placed on LTIR.

The 2nd round pick as compensation will also not be an issue for either Detroit or Ottawa.  Both have a bevvy of picks in this year’s draft and have already been accumulating highly regarded prospects in their respective systems.  They will be adding to them in the first round (multiple 1st rounders in Ottawa’s case) and both have multiple 2nd round picks.  One of those 2nd round picks would most certainly be expendable in order to acquire a former 2nd overall pick who has not lived up to or realized his potential even if it happens to be a high pick.  Again, the risk of getting Nolan Patrick with all of his question marks in terms of health and performance are well worth the gamble of a 2nd round pick.  It gives the club credibility with their fan base because they are attempting to improve their respective hockey club, and it has the potential to be a very solid acquisition that addresses roster depth at the Center position and puts younger players in better positions by surrounding them with more talent.  If Patrick cannot get back on the ice, the team throws away their own 2nd round pick but still have more (Detroit with two more and Ottawa with 3 more).

To be clear, I do not think Nolan Patrick is worth $3.25 or more per season, but rather those teams listed should think about pursuing Patrick at that price point in an attempt to improve their roster and score points with their fans.  This is the absolute definition of a no risk move that has the potential to pay real dividends should Nolan Patrick be able to resume his NHL career.  He is a former 2nd overall pick that has not reached his potential and has been hindered by health concerns.  If he is able to return, this move from Ottawa or Detroit’s perspective could be a home run (or at the very least a ground rule double).

I want Nolan Patrick to be a Philadelphia Flyer.  I still believe that the best is yet to come for him and that he will resume his NHL career.  The Flyers need to try to get him signed at a reasonable cap hit sooner rather than later to avoid a situation like the one outlined.  There will be challenges if the cap stays flat at $81.5 million for next season but they intensify greatly if the cap goes down.

If I was Pierre Dorian (GM of the Ottawa Senators) or Steve Yzerman (GM of the Detroit Red Wings), I would totally offer sheet Nolan Patrick.  There is almost never a scenario where there is no risk for those teams in making this move with potentially lots to gain.  This is one of those scenarios.

***

Do you agree or disagree?  Feel free to leave a comment or leave a response via twitter.

Until next time from Preaching to the Flyer on BrotherlyPuck.com,

I remain,

Manny Benevides

@mannybenevides

 

photo credit: nbcsports.com

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