The lost art of Offer Sheets

The Brian Burke - Kevin Low feud of the past few years has been well-documented. A lot of people would say, too well documented. But for those who don't remember the story, let's rehash, shall we?

Lowe can't sign players to play Edmonton (I wonder why...).

Lowe sees Dustin Penner. He thinks Penner will be a good fit on his team, so he extends him an offer sheet. Everything he does is well within his rights and the laws of the NHL CBA. He does the same with Thomas Vanek, offering both over-inflated contracts that they may not deserve, except in Vanek's case, it doesn't work, Buffalo matches. But Penner ended up moving to the Oilers and receiving a 5 year, $21 million contract for his troubles.

Brian Burke gets pissed and starts calling Lowe out and saying a lot of mean things about him.The subject seems to cool off after the NHL decided to get involved, and people more or less forget about it.... until last week.

In the midst of negotiations with Boston GM Peter Chiarelli over the rights of hold-out forward Phil Kessel, Burke decides to take the whole thing to the media. Here are his exact words, in a story borrowed from the Canadian Press and The Hockey News, in what seems to be a response to a media member:

"My objection was, first, I got blindsided by it. This entire process has involved dialogue with Peter Chiarelli. We were at the point where I told him I was thinking about reacquiring the pick, telling him the night before I got the pick back that I intended to get it back . . . there's been no blindside or backdoor here like Kevin Lowe did.

"Number two, I objected to the player that was the target of that, and the amount that was paid, and that's just a matter of judgement. But I pointed out quite clearly at the time that I supported and believed in offer sheets. They're part of the CBA.

"I think it's a professional courtesy that professional people would do. It wasn't extended to me. I objected to it then and I feel the same way now.

"I do not contemplate an offer sheet on Phil Kessel at this time."

Now, I could go on and on about how Burke is a whiny little know-it-all who thinks he's the crowd authority on what's right and what isn't, but there's more to this issue.

What bothers me more than the fact that he's bringing up and old quarrel that seemed to be dead, is the following, specific quote:

"I do not contemplate an offer sheet on Phil Kessel at this time."

My question in response to this is... why not?

Now, I know Brian Burke doesn't believe in offer sheets, and that's fine, if he doesn't want to use that particular tool in order to acquire player, but what really makes it so bad? Not only has it been in the CBA since the lockout, but it has been a tool used by GMs of the NHL since the mid-80s.

According to a list on Wikipedia, close to 30 players have been extended offer sheets since 1986, and while that may not be a lot, considering the timeframe, it's still over one per year. And the rules for offer sheets were much different before the lockout.

Now that a GM would know how much he would be giving up if an offer wasn't matched, why WOULDN'T they extend more offer sheets? Because Brian Burke says it isn't ok?

Please, if it isn't ok, then why is it in the CBA?

Now, I know that the decision to extend an offer sheet to a player is more complicated than that. You have salary cap implications, the fact that you're giving up a good chunk of picks going into your team's future, not to mention the uncertainty of not knowing whether the other team will match the offer or not once the offer has been extended.

Regardless, it has really surprised me that only 2 offer sheets have been extended since the whole Burke-Lowe saga, and none in the last 2 off-seasons.

But nothing surprises me more than the fact that training camps have started, and two young players, arguably better players than Dustin Penner, are still without contracts. Phil Kessel and Brandon Dubinsky would be great additions to a lot of teams that still have cap space and lots of picks stockpiled. Looking at which teams have cap space, and which teams could use a talented young forward such as Kessel or Dubinsky, I've identified several teams that could make offers to these players at considerable sums of money and successfully bring them over, including the Florida Panthers, the Atlanta Thrashers, the Colorado Avalanche, the LA Kings, the Buffalo Sabres, the New York Islanders, and a few others.

Again, there are other considerations to this discussion, such as self-imposed caps and whether the players in question would actually sign offer sheets to go to these teams, not to mention other complications we wouldn't even have time to go into. They may or may not sign such an offer, but the fact that the offer sheets aren't out there simply boggles my mind.

Not only do you screw over the Rangers or the Bruins, who wouldn't be able to fit these players under their cap at whatever amount you'd expect these offer sheets to be at, but you screw over teams like the Leafs, who have decided to take their will to acquire these players to the public.

Burke may think he's making himself look good by going public with this and once again calling out Kevin Lowe for his actions, but who's really the bad guy here? The guy who tries to do whatever he can to improve his team, no matter if it works or not, or the guy who arbitrarily decides that something is unfair and backhanded?

Rumors are now coming out that a deal for Kessel will be finalized in the next few days, and it will send Kessel to Toronto for two first round picks and one second round pick, or something of the sort. And it's the perfect time for a team who wants to make an impact to come in an ruin it.

So you make an enemy out of Brian Burke and a few other GMs... who cares? GMs should be focused on improving their teams, and nothing else.

What do you think about offer sheets in the NHL? Are you on Burke's side or Lowe's side? Leave your comments and visit our forums!