Kesler’s experience with his offer sheet might offer some lessons for Elias Pettersson.
Memo to Elias Pettersson: signing an offer sheet with another team might buy you a boat but you might still regret it.
At least, that’s the message from former Vancouver Canuck Ryan Kesler, who should know. He signed an offer sheet with the Philadelphia Flyers after negotiations with the Canucks stalled prior to the team’s 2006 training camp.
In the wake of the Carolina Hurricanes’ successfully signing Jesperi Kotkaniemi to an offer sheet, all eyes have turned to the Vancouver Canucks and Pettersson. An offer sheet for Pettersson once seemed unlikely, but the Hurricanes’ successful offer sheet for Kotkaniemi has suddenly rendered it more plausible.
The Canucks are cognizant of the possibility. Canucks general manager Jim Benning admitted that several of their moves, such as buying out Braden Holtby and signing Jaroslav Halak to a contract with bonuses that can be pushed to the following season, were to give the Canucks enough flexibility to deal with an offer sheet.
“We’ve created a lot of cap space, so if there’s an offer sheet or anything, we’re going to match it on Petey,” said Benning. “That was part of why we did that,” he added, specifically referencing the structure of Halak’s contract.
The potential for an offer sheet for Pettersson is also likely why the Canucks have yet to re-sign their other big-name restricted free agent, Quinn Hughes. The Canucks’ star defenceman is not eligible to receive an offer sheet, but as soon as he signs his contract with the Canucks, that will restrict the Canucks’ cap space and create an opportunity for another team to make life difficult for the Canucks with a Pettersson offer sheet.
“I mean you always have to account for that possibility,” said assistant general manager Chris Gear earlier in the offseason. “Certainly offer sheets haven’t been in use very frequently… We’ve got a lot of room right now, and we’re conscious of that in terms of not doing Quinn before Petey to put ourselves in a bad spot.”
Canucks’ history of offer sheets
While offer sheets are rare, it’s understandable why Canucks fans might be more worried than fans of other teams. Only the Edmonton Oilers have had more of their players sign offer sheets and they haven’t seen one since 1995.
It started with Petr Nedved in 1994, who was signed to an offer sheet by the St. Louis Blues. The Canucks didn’t match and, eventually, after a trade, received Jeff Brown, Bret Hedican, and Nathan Lafayette, who all played key roles in the Canucks’ 1994 playoff run.
In 1997, the Toronto Maple Leafs signed Mattias Ohlund to an offer sheet before he ever played a game for the Canucks, tagging on a hefty $7.5 million signing bonus that alone tripled the expected three-year contract he likely would have signed with the Canucks. The Canucks, thankfully, matched the offer.
After the 2004-05 lockout, the new collective bargaining agreement changed the rules around offer sheets for restricted free agents. Since then, there have been just 10 offer sheets and only two of them have not been matched, including Kotkaniemi this offseason.
Two of those ten offer sheets were for Canucks. One, to Steve Bernier, is generally considered to be revenge on the part of the Blues, as it came just a week after the Canucks signed Blues winger David Backes to an offer sheet, which they matched.
The other was to Kesler and it happened to be the very first offer sheet signed after the new CBA went into effect.
In an interview with Matt Sekeres and Blake Price this week, Kesler narrated the circumstances surrounding that offer sheet, including the truly hilarious detail of what he named the boat he bought with the extra money.
Never thought I’d be on a boat
The first thing he had to do was incredibly awkward: he had to pick up his equipment from where the other Canucks players were training at Burnaby 8 Rinks. None of his teammates knew he had signed an offer sheet yet and he needed his gear so he could continue to skate while he waited to see if the Canucks would match.
“I’m a second or third-year guy and I’m going in there and I’m like, what do I say?” recalled Kesler. “Oh yeah, I need to grab my gear, I’m doing a charity thing — all a lie. So I grab my gear and I head down to — I think I was in Seattle, so I’m on the drive and the news starts getting out. I turned on the radio to listen in and people are just blasting me on the radio for signing it.
“And I’m like, ‘Huh. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.’”
The backlash evidently caught Kesler off guard but he noted that it was easier for him than compare to now. He had to turn on the radio and seek out feedback from fans to “absolutely annihilate me,” but fans now have a direct line of communication with young players via social media.
If the backlash was difficult to deal with, Kesler at least had the comfort of a significant raise. Frustrated with how long negotiations were taking with the Canucks — he signed the offer sheet just days before the start of training camp — the Flyers gave Kesler an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“The Canucks offered me 800 and I wanted a million for that second contract for two years,” said Kesler. “Philly came in at 1.9 and I’m like ‘Well, how do I how do I turn this down?’ If Vancouver really wants me, they could have had me for 200 extra thousand. If they really want me, they’ll pay for me. If not, this team really wants me and I’ll go over there.”
It’s a big blue watery road
Just like that, a difference of $200,000 in contract negotiations turned into a difference of $1.1 million. It also gave Kesler some extra spending money to splurge on a big expense.
“I bought a boat that summer and called it Offer Sheet — that’s a whole ‘nother story though,” added Kesler.
That’s not another story. That’s the story! Of course, Kesler had the cheek to name his boat after the thing that gave him the money to buy it, even if that thing earned the ire of both Canucks fans and management.
This isn’t the first time Kesler has brought up his boat named “Offer Sheet.” He casually dropped it into a Twitter conversation with Kevin Bieksa back in 2012.
There’s no word on whether Kesler also purchased a nautical-themed pashmina afghan at the same time as he bought the boat.
As anyone who watched the Kes’ House series during the 2021 playoffs would know, Kesler lives on Lake Michigan and has a dock with a couple of boats. A perusal of the series didn’t reveal any boats with “Offer Sheet” emblazoned on the side, but he may have sold and upgraded that boat since 2012.
Kesler was quick to clarify to Sekeres and Price that he didn’t sign the offer sheet because he wanted to leave the Canucks. Instead, he wanted the Canucks to match the offer, as they did two days later, just as training camp was opening.
Still, then general manager Dave Nonis wasn’t happy.
“I came in and I had a meeting with the GM, which wasn’t a good meeting,” said Kesler. “Thank God I had [Markus Naslund], [Todd Bertuzzi], [Brendan Morrison], Trevor [Linden], all those guys to kind of settle me down after that meeting because I just got ripped a new one…Noni gave me an earful to say the least, and kind of made me feel bad.
“He kind of asked me if I would do it again and I was like ‘Well, would you sign me to a million if you had a do-over?’ and he didn’t like that answer.”
Poseidon, look at me
The experience appeared to have a lasting impact on Kesler, who changed his tune in later contract negotiations, in particular the six-year contract worth $5 million per year that he signed in 2010. Unlike his 2006 contract, where fans were up in arms that a 10-goal scorer got a $1.9 million contract, no one complained about the $5 million cap hit for a player coming off 75 points in 82 games and a second-place finish in Selke voting. Instead, it was clear he took a discount.
“If you want to win, leave some on the table,” said Kesler to Sekeres and Price. “I made more than enough money to support myself for the rest of my life and, unfortunately, we fell short but you look at that team — I’d say 90% of the players took a pay cut. They know they could’ve made more.”
According to Kesler, this applies directly to players in the position Pettersson and Hughes are in currently.
“You look at the guys nowadays, they’re taking their big contracts right away,” said Kesler. “Toronto struggles because they have two young players that are making way too much money. Whatever happened to the bridge deal to set yourself up for a championship team, so you can add on one or two pieces that could make the difference? Instead, they lose in the first round every year.”
Perhaps that’s slightly hypocritical coming from someone who signed an offer sheet for his second contract that allowed him to buy a boat. Or, perhaps it’s a lesson Kesler had to learn the hard way.
Still, it’s a tough sell to ask Pettersson and Hughes to take a discount to build a championship team when you look a the team that Jim Benning and the Canucks built around their two young stars when they were still on their cheap, entry-level deals.
There’s a lesson both ways, here. Management has to be careful not to get hung up on differences of a few hundred thousand dollars but players also have to be aware of the consequences of going for the big payday.
Hopefully, Pettersson’s contract negotiations will get resolved without an offer sheet.