For so long in the NHL, two dirty words rarely spoken and even then, in hushed tones.
The threat of an attempted poaching of a restricted free-agent was as rare as lightning striking the same person twice. Or at least it seems that way.
Thanks to the combination of the salary cap’s small rise and lack of top-tier unrestricted free-agents available, the possibility of one team trying to swipe away a young rising star with a big-ticket contract, only surrendering a handful of draft picks, seemed very real in this year’s free-agency period.
Sure it hasn’t happened yet, but the chatter exists.
“It’s like the fish story,” Flames GM Brad Treliving said Thursday. “He was six pounds when you had him on the line but then he snapped off. When you get around the campfire and having a cold one, it was 60 pounds. These stories can sometimes grow.
“It’s a little bit of the story out there, but nobody has done an offer sheet yet, so it’s not a big story, yet. But, in terms of your planning, you have to be prepared for it.”
The Flames were aware a slight possibility existed of teams trying to sign Dougie Hamilton to an offer sheet after they acquired him from the Boston Bruins.
The chances of it happening were small, and nothing like the concerns the Bruins had when Hamilton was their property, but still existed. That said, Treliving said it didn’t force them into making a hasty deal with Hamilton.
“Did anybody come to me and say, ‘I’m gonna offer sheet him’? No. I don’t think it was likely, because of our cap situation. They weren’t going to get the player, and that’s the main reason you use an offer sheet,” Treliving said.
“Once Dougie became our property, we were in a situation with lots of flexibility and people knew we’d be matching it. You want to take care of business quickly, but we didn’t rush.”
The Chicago Blackhawks traded away Brandon Saad in part because of offer-sheet fears.
As much as the Flames were aware of the offer-sheet possibility with Hamilton, they’re doubly aware how it may come into play next summer with their young hotshots Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau.
Both will enter the coming season on the final year of their entry-level contracts.
Both have the difference-making skill-set teams are always looking for.
Both could be a potential target for teams out there if the Flames were in salary-cap jail.
“You’re planning for things. You’re aware of things,” Treliving said. “You can’t operate in a world of fear, thinking the sniper’s behind the bush, but you also have to be wise to the ways of the world. And I think we’re in a new world.
“You’re always planning for beyond the next season, planning for things on the horizon and how you’re going to address them.”
In Calgary’s case, the first step would be to sign Gaudreau and Monahan before they become RFAs, which could happen on Canada Day 2016.
To protect themselves, though, they’re making sure they have enough salary-cap space.
As of now, forwards Jiri Hudler and David Jones (both with US$4-million salary-cap hits) are in the final year of their contracts. Same thing goes for goalies Jonas Hiller ($4.5 million) and Karri Ramo ($3.8 million) and defencemen Mark Giordano ($4.02 million) and Kris Russell ($2.6 million).
They won’t be able to — or maybe even want to — keep all those players in the fold beyond next season.
To think, for the past couple of years, the Flames have openly talked about taking on salary for an asset with all their salary-cap space.
“It’s a good thing we didn’t do that,” Treliving admitted. “We’ve hit that stage now (with less cap space on the horizon), and it’s by the play of those young players, they’re going to need new contracts.
“We’ve positioned ourselves where we’ve not got into a pinch.”
It’s wise business in what may be a brave new era in NHL management.