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As vultures circle the Leafs, Sabres should throw offer sheet into the mix

August 12, 2020, 10:33 AM ET [1153 Comments]
Michael Pachla
Buffalo Sabres Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Yeah, I said it: offer sheet.

Sure, it's a rarity (only nine since the '04/'05 lockout) and has been non-existent coming from Buffalo, but as they say, the fire's hot and it's time to strike.

The Sabres need to win now and are in no position to take some so-called high road, especially when the National Hockey League gives all teams the opportunity to poach a restricted free agent from another team through offer sheets. Buffalo thwarted an attempted offer sheet poach in 2007. At their most vulnerable point while losing Daniel Briere and Chris Drury that off season, the Edmonton Oilers sent a 7yr/$50 million offer sheet to 40-goal scorer Thomas Vanek who promptly signed it. Sabres general manager Darcy Regier had no choice but to match and Vanek was Buffalo's best player for the next 5 1/2 seasons.

This off season, a remarkably historic one because of the coronavirus pandemic and the havoc it has wreaked, has the Toronto Maple Leafs (among other teams) in a very precarious predicament.

In addition to the lives lost and lives affected because of Covid-19, sports in America has been impacted dramatically with the NHL being impacted the most. Of the four major North American professional sports, hockey is taking a huge hit because they need people in the stands to generate most of their revenue. That isn't happening during the 2020 NHL play-in games and Stanley Cup playoffs and unless something changes dramatically, there won't be fans in the seats for much of, if not all of, the 2020-21 season. It's caused the salary cap to remain stagnant for next season with projections for the same $81.5 million in 2021-22 and a minor increase in 2022-23.

The Leafs did some masterful cap-maneuvering this past season spending an estimated $113 million in salary, according to CapFriendly, while staying cap-compliant. All-in all Toronto was able to stretch the upper cap-limit of $81.5 million to over $95 million through some shrewd maneuvering but next year will provide an interesting situation for them as their cap-hit is already nearly $77 million with six more players needed to fill out their roster.

Granted, all their big-guns are signed, but they do have one restricted free agent whom they'd like to sign to a relatively cheap contract.

Ilya Mikheyev was a 25 yr. old rookie out of Avangard Omsk of the KHL who was signed to a one-year entry-level deal at $925K. The 6'2" 194 lb. winger with plenty of speed and notable aggression on the forecheck finished his KHL career with a rock-solid 23 goals and 22 assists in 62 games before Toronto signed him. In his first season with the Leafs, Mikheyev posted a very respectable 23 points (8+15) in 39 games playing in a mid-six role. Although he was held scoreless during the five-game play-in loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets (zero points, 10 shots on goal,) there was little difference between him and the rest of a Leafs team that managed only nine goals total in the series while being shut out twice.

Like most of the possession-driven Leafs, Mikheyev posted solid analytics (54.61% CF, 66.67% HDCF) but no matter what those numbers say, it's the final score that matters. Toronto didn't get the job done and despite talk of an expensive key piece being a cap-casualty as they try to become cap-compliant in 2020-21, conventional wisdom dictates it usually doesn't work that way with a core-group. What usually happens is that a high-powered team tries to cut costs in other areas while also relying on team-friendly signings (as well as cap-circumventing moves like LTIR,) and Mikheyev would presumably be at the top of the list.

Buffalo is in a great position to make Toronto squirm but the question is, would Mikheyev be worth the cost? According to the NHL's compensation rules, an offer sheet of a cap-hit between $2,113,717 - $4,227,437 would cost a second-round pick. Is a top-nine player like Mikheyev worth a second-rounder? You betcha. But what would it take financially to get Mikheyev to sign and make Toronto balk at matching?

A 4yr./$16.5 million deal might very well get it done. Should Toronto choose to match, that cap-hit for Mikheyev of $4.125 million would put the Leafs at just about $81 million with five more roster spots to fill. If they don't match, the Sabres get a top-nine player for a 2021 second round pick.

The iron is hot.

(all cap numbers via CapFriendly)
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