Rooting for one GM to throw NHL free agency into chaos

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There is potential for such drama up in Toronto that it’s almost hard not to root for a renegade general manager to really throw a wrench into the mix.

There is no bias here for or against the Maple Leafs (or any other team, for that matter). But there is a bias for wanting action, for seeing people pushed and seeing how they react. That’s kind of the point of sports, no?

The Leafs currently have one restricted free agent, William Nylander, who is unsigned and has not played a game yet. They could have two more huge RFAs coming next summer in Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.

So would somebody, please, try to sign one of those guys to an offer sheet?

Of course it’s improbable. Just to recap, the most recent time there was an offer sheet signed by a restricted free agent that was not matched by the original team, it was 2007 and it almost brought brought the two general managers — the Ducks’ Brian Burke and the Oilers’ Kevin Lowe — to blows. Since then, there have only been five offer sheets signed, all matched, the most recent being Ryan O’Reilly in 2013.

There are plentiful inherent risks involved, the first of which being that the outside team needs the draft picks available for compensation should the original team decide not to match and let the player leave. The compensation scale can be a little complicated, but just for reference, if somebody offered Nylander an annual average value (AAV) of $7.5 million, they would owe the Leafs first-, second- and third-round picks. (Relax, Islanders fans, your team doesn’t own its second-, third- or fourth-round picks next year.) If Matthews made it that far and the offer was, say, $12 million per, the compensation would be four first-round picks.

That’s an absurd bounty, made with the far-reaching assumption that Matthews would even consider signing it. And really, the only way the Leafs would possibly not match the offer is if it was a one-year deal that was wildly out of proportion — say, $16 million or something. Even then, is there a team out there that would be so short-sighted they sacrificed four first-round picks and $16 million against the cap for one player, for one year? And even then, odds are the Leafs would just match it. The only time that would work is if the original team was in a bind with money or the cap ceiling — neither of which are issues for Toronto.

There is also the idea that any GM proposing an offer sheet is going to be blackballed. As much as an old-boys’ club the front offices around the NHL can be, that doesn’t mean they’re not cutthroat. If somebody thought they could make their team better at the price of being looked at differently by their peers, and by possibly skewering the market value of current and future contracts, it still wouldn’t stop them.

Coyotes GM John ChaykaGetty Images

Which brings us to the possibility of this renegade GM, which brings us right into the heat of the desert. John Chayka is the 29-year-old analytical man running the cash-strapped Coyotes. Right now, they have five picks in the first four rounds of 2019 (two third-rounders), plus about $8 million cap space.

Would Nylander think about signing an offer sheet, at least to force the Leafs’ hand right now? That would likely get him traded at some point soon, but it would get him on the ice. Or would Chayka wait to see if he can get Marner to sign one after the season? Is either even an option with the amount of money the Coyotes organization has?

The most enticing idea is that Matthews would want to return to his home state of Arizona, but it’s assumed he will work out a Connor McDavid-like deal with Toronto — eight years, $100 million — and then, if he wants, have a chance to return to the desert when he is in the twilight of his career (with a couple rings in his dresser).

There are a couple other teams that might be interested parties — say, maybe the Bruins if they think they could win right away, or a key building block is available for the Islanders, Hurricanes or Devils. But those teams would likely be more inclined to try to work a trade rather than go the complicated way of an offer sheet.

But boy, it would be nice to see one, just to see how everyone reacts. Wouldn’t it?

Austin Watson, what now?

How does the NHL and the NHLPA even let it get to this point? When the Predators Austin Watson was suspended for 27 games after pleading no-contest to a domestic assault charge in the summer, the case was appealed and went to a neutral arbitrator. That man’s name was Shyam Das, and he reduced the suspension to 18 games.

What kind of message does this send? The NHLPA had a chance to show that hockey treats these kinds of things seriously — in direct contrast to the NFL. Instead, they appealed on behalf of their constituent, and this is how it went. The commissioner’s office said in a statement that they were “disappointed with the arbitrator’s decision,” continuing:

“We firmly believe that the right of appeal to an arbitrator of league discipline was never intended to substitute the arbitrator’s judgment for that of the commissioner, particularly on matters of important league policy and the articulation of acceptable standards of conduct for individuals involved in the National Hockey League.”

It’s a bad look all around, but especially on the Players Association.

Sweet Carolina

Not like we’re trying to toot our own horn here, but we did pick the Hurricanes to make the playoffs. Just so happens they’re in first place in the Metropolitan Division at 3-0-1, which included a win over the Rangers this past Sunday. In the days after, the Rangers were quick to mention just how fast Carolina plays.

Maybe it’s because they’ve been doing this after each victory …

Stay tuned …

… to the Jets. Speaking of preseason picks, we picked the Jets to win it all. They’re now 2-2-0 and aren’t looking great. They took eight minor penalties in the second period alone Thursday night against the Predators, and it got Tyler Myers to clap at the official — earning him a 10-minute misconduct.

They’ve taken a league-leading average of 22:15 of penalty minutes per game — a whopping 89 minutes thus far through four games. Ugly in Winnipeg so far.

Parting shot

For my part, this is the goal of the season — and it’s going to be hard to eclipse.

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