Aside from the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the trade deadline, there is perhaps no time of the year more exciting in the NHL than free agency. While “Free Agent Frenzy” definitely isn’t what it used to be, thanks to the salary cap, fans still get excited in seeing who will change teams and to see if their team will land a new star.
Before the days of the salary cap, free agency was a lot more wide open. Teams were willing to spend, especially big market teams. Another dimension of free agency that isn’t explored much today was offer sheets. Today, it has become taboo for NHL GMs to go after RFAs, as they risk losing a team as a future trading partner. With the increased importance of draft picks today, it also has caused teams to be less willing to pay the price of draft picks in signing other teams’ RFAs.
This list today will explore past players signing offer sheets with other teams, only for their original team to match the offer, nixing any potential free agent signing. It will also show you past UFAs and who they almost signed with. With all that explained, here are 15 huge NHL free agent signings that almost happened.
15. Ryan O’Reilly To Calgary
This is the most recent example of an offer sheet signing, and it just shows you how rare it is today. Coming off the 2012-13 NHL lockout, Ryan O’Reilly still remained unsigned by the Colorado Avalanche with the shortened season in full swing. Sensing that a long-term offer wouldn’t be going O’Reilly’s way, the Avs’ division rival Calgary Flames took a shot at prying the two-way center away, signing him to an offer sheet of two years, worth $10 million.
The Avs and O’Reilly would continue to have squabbles over money and the Avalanche eventually traded O’Reilly to the Sabres with Jamie McGinn for Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko, J.T. Gompher and a first round pick. You have to wonder if the Avs would have been better off taking the compensation from Calgary.
14. Mats Sundin Nearly Ends His Career In New York
Mats Sundin began his career with the Quebec Nordiques, but by the time the end of the 2008-09 season ended, his legacy was cemented as perhaps the greatest Toronto Maple Leaf of all time. However, with the Leafs five years removed from a playoff appearance, it was obvious Sundin wasn’t going to win a Stanley Cup in Toronto. With Sundin about to become a free agent, the Leafs gave the Canadiens exclusive negotiating rights to Sundin prior to July 1st. After that deadline passed, Sundin also received offers from the Canucks and the Rangers. Sundin decided to sit out the first half of the 2009-10 season, as he was mulling retirement.
In December, Sundin’s decision was down to the Rangers and Canucks. Finally on December 18, 2008, Sundin chose to sign a one-year, $8.6 million deal with the Canucks. He would retire following the 2008-09 season.
13. Thomas Vanek To Edmonton
Thomas Vanek recorded his best statistical season in 2006-07 and the timing couldn’t have been better. Vanek was set to become a RFA and he picked a good time to record an 84-point season. His production got him a seven-year, $50 million offer sheet from the Edmonton Oilers, which Vanek signed. This put the Sabres in a very tough spot, because they had already lost two stars in free agency that year; Daniel Briere and Chris Drury.
Sabres GM Darcy Regier and Oilers GM Kevin Lowe then had a very public feud, as Regier was livid that Lowe tried to poach Vanek. The Sabres would continue to get productive years out of Vanek while the Oilers continued to wither away. It just goes to show you how frowned upon giving offer sheets is.
12. Ryan Kesler To Philly
Due to the 2004-05 season getting wiped out, many players lost a year of eligibility on their contracts. The young Ryan Kesler finally got to play his first full season with the Vancouver Canucks in 2005-06. Kesler didn’t disappoint, recording 23 points in a limited role and showing great potential as a shutdown center. Kesler rejected a $564,000 qualifying offer from the Canucks, opting to become a RFA. It turned out to be a good decision for Kesler, as the Flyers gave him a one-year offer sheet worth $1.9 million. The Canucks decided to match the offer, so Kesler essentially nearly quadrupuled his salary by going to restriced free agency.
Kesler would remain with the Canucks for another eight years before being traded to Anaheim.
11. Milan Lucic Joining An Old Enemy
Milan Lucic was public enemy no.1 in Montreal, having spent many years with the archrival Boston Bruins. However the Bruins traded Lucic to Los Angeles a year before Lucic became a UFA. From that point on, Montreal fans began to wonder if the power forward would make his way to Montreal.
Reports emerged this past July 1st that the Canadiens had serious interest in Lucic and even offered him the most money. That’s crazy to think, considering Lucic got a six year deal worth $42 million from the Edmonton Oilers. Lucic commented that the Canadiens trading for Shea Weber, while also having his friend Brendan Gallagher on the team, made the offer enticing, but he settled on the Oilers for a chance to play with Connor McDavid. You can’t really blame him, can you?