Burke: ‘Kind of a bargain to offer-sheet a guy’

Offer sheets rarely happen in the National Hockey League, but unsigned restricted free agents certainly whet the appetites of fans around the league.

Sports talk radio is built for these kinds of conversations, and the general topic of offer sheets came up related to William Nylander and the Leafs during a Wednesday morning segment with former NHL executive Brian Burke on the Starting Lineup on Toronto’s Sportsnet 590.

“An offer sheet is part of the CBA,” said Burke. “It’s one of the tools you have available to you. There’s guys in our league that wouldn’t hesitate to offer-sheet any player. The compensation, actually, was rigged or fixed - in the CBA, the way it is now - rigged on old values. It’s actually kind of a bargain to offer-sheet a guy now with what you have pay to get him. So that’s a real threat, I think.I think everyone thinks that the teams will match it if they get him.

“In my case, I couldn’t match it on Dustin Penner. So the Oilers offer-sheeted Dustin Penner, we were at the cap, we had just won a Cup, I couldn’t do anything about it. We knew we were vulnerable. We knew we were probably going to get offer-sheeted. We didn’t think it was that player that was going to be offer-sheeted.

“That’s a real threat, but I don’t think it’s a real threat here because I think people think, ‘Well, they’ll just match it.’”

Burke was asked about any potential concept or misunderstanding of an ethical code - “I wouldn’t say gentleman’s agreement, that’s different than ethical code” - to not offer-sheet players, “because then you’ll get it done back to you.”

“I think there was a time when that’s the way people felt,” allowed Burke. “Not a gentleman’s agreement, not a code, but a feeling. I think you’re right. That was my view, ‘I’m not going to offer-sheet guys. I don’t want it to happen to me.’ But no agreement.

“You can never trust anyone. If you’re a GM, you can never trust a group to behave rationally or ethically. They’re going to do what they have to do to win.

“I remember when Bobby Clarke offer-sheeted Ryan Kesler many, many moons ago, and Dave Nonis’s comment was, ‘Everyone knows Bobby Clarke would kick his grandmother down a flight of stairs to win a playoff round.’

“So, I mean, I just don’t think that there’s any kind of code or any kind of agreement. First off, that’s not legal. But more importantly, I think in the competitive world I don’t think there’s such a thing as - no one cares about you if you’re a GM in this league. They’re worried about their team.”

There have been a few particularly interesting offer sheet-related anecdotes shared via the Insider circuit in the past few years.

Hyperbolic as the comment the GM made to LeBrun was, given how difficult it would be to actually have the draft picks necessary to offer-sheet a team for 10 straight years, it does go to underscore the old school mentality that still exists on some level.

Then there was this recent quip relayed from Elliotte Friedman after the Toronto Maple Leafs landed John Tavares from the New York Islanders in free agency.

Nothing in that comment indicated a timeline for that potential offer sheet, incidentally.

Friedman has also been the one over the past year or so who has occasionally mentioned that there are GMs in the NHL who feel the day of the offer sheet is coming, especially as fewer and fewer quality free agents hit the market each July.