Lightning Round: Can anyone afford to offer sheet Anthony Cirelli?

And what does “afford” even mean?

With Mikhail Sergachev signing a three-year bridge contract this week, the Tampa Bay Lightning are officially over the salary cap by about $2 million with only 19 players on the roster. Now, at the moment, this is ok because teams are allowed to exceed the cap by 10% during the offseason, as long as they are compliant on Day 1 of the season.

Doing some math, the Lightning have about $6 million within that limit if a player like Anthony Cirelli accepts an offer sheet and the Lightning decide to keep him and match any offer. This gets into one of the reasons why we haven’t seen an offer sheet yet — because the Lightning are well within their capabilities to match any offer without, to use the technical term, getting “screwed”

Sure, the Lightning would then be over the cap and desperate to trade some contracts away, but they’re in that place today anyway so nothing really changes.

Another reason why we haven’t seen an offer sheet is a combination of teams not being able to afford a big contract on their cap, on their salary budget, and/or on their draft pick capital.

Teams Without the Cap Space

Going down the list on Cap Friendly, everyone down to the Columbus Blue Jackets won’t have enough space to attempt to sign Cirelli. The New York Rangers could do it if they lighten their roster size from 23 to 20. They just drafted Alexis Lafreniere so signing a center to play next to him would be a smart move. They have the cash, too, if they’re willing to give up the picks. More on them later.

Teams Without the Cash

Of the seven teams at the bottom of the NHL’s salary cap, I would be shocked if Florida, Columbus, Ottawa, or New Jersey would get funding from their owners on a big free agent contract, especially one that would need to be stacked with signing bonuses so that the player would be willing to leave the reigning Stanley Cup Champion that had been playing him at 2C. All of these teams have money issues and historically not much to entice a free agent of any kind to come play for them.

Teams Unwilling to Give Up Draft Picks

Back in 2009, the Toronto Maple Leafs (under GM Brian Burke) threatened to offer sheet Phil Kessel from the Boston Bruins. The two sides instead came to a trade agreement using roughly the same picks in return as the offer sheet would’ve demanded. As a result, the Leafs got Kessel, and the Bruins got Tyler Seguin (2010 first), Dougie Hamilton (2011 first), and Jared Knight (2011 second). Basically, the trade didn’t go well for the Leafs, at all.

This is the cost of a team that is bad giving up their top draft picks for a player who is good, but won’t push them out of lottery contention. As much as I love Cirelli, he’s not going to do that to any team that can afford the first two criteria (cap space and cash). The Kings are not in that ballgame, neither are the Senators, Devils or Red Wings.

Okay, maybe one. The Nashville Predators. They have lots of cap space, a desperate need for offensive centers, they love diligent defensive work, and they have $13 million in cap space with an aging roster that shouldn’t want their first round pick anyway.

Looking at the draft pick compensation, I don’t think even the Preds are going to give up their first, second, and third next year on a contract between $6.5 million and $8.7 million. But a first and a third for a contract that could squeak into the $6 million range? It’s very possible.

We don’t know what Nashville’s financial situation is like, but the COVID-19 pandemic hit teams that rely on ticket sales hard, of which the Preds are one. Another thing to note is that the Predators are not a good team anymore. There is no offense on that team and there is no help coming in terms of high-end talent. Considering they mostly shedded players this offseason, it’s possible they’re looking to tread water this year and do a sneaky rebuild before their fans figure out. In that case, keeping their draft picks will be crucial.

Offer Sheet Calculator - CapFriendly - NHL Salary Caps


I would be shocked — but not surprised — if the Rangers or Predators get bold and make a play for Cirelli. A four or five year deal just within the first and third round pick compensation range. It would take a lot of guts from Julien BriseBois to accept a contract like that, but he almost has to do it, Cirelli is a key part of his middle-six in the present and future and that’s exactly when the Tampa Bay Lightning want to be contending.

Going back to the beginning, of how an offer sheet wouldn’t actually change the math for Brisebois, he’s going to have to dump salary before the start of the season. Suddenly, a team like the Detroit Red Wings (headed by an old friend) or LA Kings will see the chance to snatch up a decent middle-six forward on a medium-term deal and probably get a first round pick out of it, instead of having to give one up. For the teams that have cap space, it is in their favour to bail out the Lightning in a trade for a cap dump rather than in an offer sheet for a player like Cirelli.

I’m sorry to all the hockey fans desperate for action, but until the NHL can fix their financial sustainability problem (that existed long before COVID-19), and make the draft pick compensation a little more fair, we won’t be getting offer sheets for a while.

Where does Anthony Cirelli play next years?

Tampa Bay Lightning234
New York Rangers11
Nashville Predators8
Another team14
He sits out8

Oh, and when it comes to Erik Cernak, I’m not too fussed about losing him as the fourth defenseman on a team heading towards an expansion draft and Cal Foote in the wings.

And in case anyone’s wondering, Anthony Cirelli’s agent says there’s nothing new to report in terms of a new contract for him. At this point, they almost have to wait for JBB to make a trade to open some cap space. It doesn’t really matter what order to moves are made in, but it would probably help the Lightning in trade negotiations if Cirelli’s contract wasn’t on the books officially. My guess on Sergachev is that he (or his agent) was starting to get impatient and wanted the contract settled. [TSN]

“Cirelli’s agent, Pat Morris of Newport Sports, told TSN Hockey Insider Pierre LeBrun there has been no progress on a new deal for the centre.”

Team Canada’s World Juniors team is in quarantine for 14 days after both players and staff contracted the virus. The team will be out of quarantine by Dec 6th, and will be entering the WJC bubble around Dec 11th. Arriving on that date gives the tournament organizers two weeks to test for positive cases before the round robin begins on Dec 25th. [TSN]

“The original announcement of the positive player tests came on Tuesday — three days after Hockey Canada said a “non-core member” of the team’s staff also tested positive. Hockey Canada said it was suspending all camp activities for the day, including a scheduled intrasquad game, at the time.”

The pandemic has caused uncertainty in North American minor-league hockey, causing talented and respected pros to find new careers. And with the ECHL starting play with some teams, there’s a rush to make sure the players who signed ECHL contracts get to play and get paid. [Sportsnet]

“For players with NHL contracts, the pandemic is a temporary nuisance — vaccines are coming and hockey business will resume again, eventually. The big money will flow, ultimately. But imagine being in your mid to late 20s as a journeyman minor leaguer, riding the buses and clinging to a dream of breaking through to the big time, at least once. Or, perhaps just putting off “real life” for a while by playing pro hockey in North America or Europe.”

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving!