Restricted free agency in the NHL has stood as something of a forbidden fruit. It’s there. It’s right in front of you. You want to take a bite, but can you? Should you? The initial bite might tingle your tastebuds, but that momentary joy can turn to the bitterness of a rotten lemon in a millisecond. It’s a rarity to even broach the topic, let alone maintain possession of the fruits of one’s labor. How rare? There have been just 35 offer sheets made to restricted free agents in NHL history. In the past twenty years, only eight, yes EIGHT offer sheets have been extended to another team’s restricted free agent. It just so happens that two of those eight – a staggering 25% – have been offered by your team, your town, your Philadelphia Flyers.
Will Chuck Fletcher become the third Flyers GM in thirty-three years to make an offer to a restricted free agent? There are plenty of reasons to believe that it’s going to happen.
Reason #1: Influencers
I mentioned earlier that only two Flyers general managers have ever made an offer sheet to a restricted free agent and you’ll recognize the names: Bob Clarke and Paul Holmgren. The latter is the man who officially hired Fletcher and currently serves as the Flyers Team President. The former is a man who played a bigger role in the hiring of Chuck Fletcher than he might let on. Clarke first hired Fletcher as an Assistant GM of the Florida Panthers back in 1993. He’s spoken glowingly of Fletcher including this:
Reason #2: Bob Clarke Said As Much
When Anthony and I sat down with Bob Clarke, who now serves as Flyers Senior Vice President, for an exclusive interview for Snow The Goalie, I asked about why more teams don’t make offer sheets to restricted free agents. Then Clarke dropped this bombshell:
— Russ Joy (@JoyOnBroad) March 10, 2019
“You’re gonna see it with restricted free agents, just because of the salary cap. Teams get a restricted free agent coming up… they’ve got three or four million dollars in cap space, someone’s gonna come in and offer five or six, maybe overpay, but it’s gonna happen.” One could take that quote a couple of ways. Could Clarke have been talking league-wide as he referenced “teams”? Sure. But, remember, this wasn’t the question asked. Clarke’s got Fletcher’s ear. This was about as much of a pronouncement of off-season strategy as I think we’ll ever get. As for teams he could be referencing, I’ll get to that later. I wondered if Fletcher – or any GM for that matter – has been/would be hesitant to burn bridges with another member of the sacred front office fraternity:
.@NHLFlyers Hall of Famer Bob Clarke joined @AntSanPhilly & @JoyOnBroad for an exclusive sit-down for #SnowTheGoalie. NHL GMs rarely submit offer sheets to Restricted Free Agents. Does Clarke think they fear burning bridges with their counterparts? Watch: pic.twitter.com/qxoQxqSEit
— Kyle Scott (@CrossingBroad) March 8, 2019
Ultimately, he’s right. Another front office shouldn’t hold it against Fletcher professionally if he were to poach a top RFA away from a contender, but it’s easier said by a guy who by his own admission spends much of his time golfing in Florida than for someone actively working in the NHL.
Reason #3: An Exorbitant Amount of Cap Space
With a projected salary cap of roughly $83 million for the 2019-20 season, the Flyers find themselves with slightly less than $47 million committed to players against the cap. That leaves them with about $36 million in cap space, third most in the entire league behind only Ottawa and Colorado. It looks tantalizing until you take into account the fact that the Flyers have critical restricted free agents of their own to re-sign long-term including Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, Travis Sanheim, and Phil Myers. The team could also choose to bring back Ryan Hartman and they’re also expected to re-sign UFA netminder Cam Talbot.
Assuming the team makes reasonable offers: Provy ($5m), Konecny ($5m), Sanheim ($4.25m), Myers ($3.25m), Hartman ($2.25m), Talbot ($3.25m), that leaves them with $13 million in potential cap space. That’s more than enough to pry away a top RFA or deliver a Shea Weber sized poison pill to a team at the top third of the conference.
Side note: Don’t look past 2020, when the team will also have to offer deals to Nolan Patrick, Oskar Lindblom, and potentially Robert Hägg.
Reason #4: Fletcher Could Irreparably Damage An Eastern Conference Foe