Q: I was just browsing NHL.com and noticed that Anaheim Ducks forward Bobby Ryan is a restricted free agent. I would think someone of his age (23) and caliber (71-60-131 in 168 gp) would be a prime target for an offer sheet from an opposing team. Or would an offer sheet be pointless knowing Anaheim would match almost any offer? It is hard to imagine someone trying to swoop up James Neal when they can take a chance at Ryan.
HEIKA: I believe both the Ducks and Stars would match offer sheets for Bobby Ryan and James Neal, unless the offers were ridiculous. I know that if the team making the offer tried to front load a deal, it would be difficult, but my guess is either team would find a way to get the money and then would benefit in the long-term as the rest of the deal (after a year or two) would likely be very affordable.
I do believe that if the offer was in excess of an average of $4.6 million (and it would seem it would have to be because the Ducks already have offered Ryan a five-year, $25 million deal), then either Dallas or Anaheim would have to consider taking a first, second and third round draft pick as compensation from the signing team. One of the reasons it would be difficult for a team to make an offer that big is they would have to have their first, second and third round picks in next year's draft, as well as the cap space and the money to make an offer like that.
I'm not saying it's impossible (I think the Kings could do it), I'm just saying it's unlikely.
Bottom line, agents for Neal (Pat Morris) and Ryan (Don Meehan) (they are both with Newport Sports Management) have probably been out there for more than three weeks trying to drum up RFA offer sheets, and have not been able to accomplish that task. The offer sheet is key for the RFA who does not have arbitration rights, as it is the best leverage a player can have. Honestly, the only other leverage is withholding services once training camp begins. I'm not sure how Anaheim views that situation, but I think Dallas would just wait Neal out.
The last CBA put a deadline in on RFAs that says if they are not signed by Dec. 1, they cannot play for the rest of the season. That puts pressure on both sides to get a deal done, and if the Stars and Neal waited that long, a decision would have to be made, but my guess is it never will get to there.
The funny thing about the RFA with no arbitration rights is while either side can use comparables (Ryan has been offered $5 million a year for five years and has turned it down because he wants a shorter term while St. Louis just signed David Perron to a two-year bridge deal at $2.15 million average), they don't mean that much if a team wants to use its leverage. That means that while it is interesting to list last season's stats as: Ryan at 35 goals, 29 assists and 64 points; Neal at 27 goals, 28 assists and 55 points; and Perron with 20 goals, 27 assists and 47 points, it doesn't matter in the real world of hardball negotiations.
If the Stars believe that all they can afford to give Neal right now is two years at $2.5 million a year, then they don't have to offer anything more. They might lose Neal's services for a season, but they have left-handed left wings and could easily plug someone like Jamie Benn in Neal's place. Then, it would be up to Neal to decide if he would rather sit out for a month or two (or even the whole year) to get what he feels is fair. It's certainly not the best way to foster a good long-term relationship with a player, but it is an advantage that teams get through the CBA.
If I had to make a prediction on this thing, it will be that Neal and his agent will eventually propose a one-year contract at what they believe is a rate the Stars would take. That way, Neal could go into camp on time, try to hit a home run with a 40-goal season and then have the option of arbitration next summer. In addition, if new ownership is in place for the Stars by then, my guess is the negotiating environment would be a lot better.
But, like I said, I think that an RFA offer sheet is unlikely for either, and now it is up to the teams to decide how tough they want to get in negotiations.