Lack of RFA interest a curious case

Even though he is on the free agent market, no teams have made an offer for Maple Leafs defenceman...

Even though he is on the free agent market, no teams have made an offer for Maple Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn. (DAVE ABEL/QMI Agency)

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:28 PM ET

TORONTO - From mad-spending frenzy to the sounds of crickets chirping.

When it comes to unrestricted free agents and restricted free agents in the National Hockey League, that pattern has unfolded for years in the summer, but moreso since the lockout killed the 2004-05 season.

It’s a curious pattern — players get overpaid, for the most part, on July 1 or in the days immediately following. When there is compensation involved, however, restricted free agents, who would often probably deserve the kind of money being thrown around, are ignored by the league’s other 29 general managers.

Steven Stamkos didn’t get a sniff before he re-signed last week with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The same appears to be true of two defencemen, Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings and Luke Schenn of the Maple Leafs, who are restricted free agents.

Since the most recent lockout, just six players have been tendered offer sheets, and in just one case has a player’s original team not matched. That was in 2007, when the Edmonton Oilers signed Anaheim Ducks forward Dustin Penner to a five-year, $21.5-million US contract. Brian Burke, then the Ducks’ general manager, refused to match, and the Ducks received the Oilers’ first-, second- and third-round picks in 2008.

But in five other instances in the past six years, teams would not let their players go. The Vancouver Canucks, in 2006, matched an offer sheet that Ryan Kesler had signed with the Philadelphia Flyers.

A year later, before moving on Penner, the Oilers signed the Buffalo Sabres’ Thomas Vanek to an offer sheet, but the Sabres matched.

The St. Louis Blues and the Canucks traded offer sheets in 2008, with the Blues matching an offer tendered to David Backes by the Canucks, and the Canucks matching one the Blues gave to Steven Bernier.

Last year, the San Jose Sharks tried to lure defenceman Niklas Hjalmarsson from the Chicago Blackhawks, but Chicago matched the offer sheet.

Other than Kesler, none of those players were or have developed into legitimate stars, though Backes has scored 31 goals in two of the past three seasons.

General managers have to be absolutely certain that the player they are signing to an offer sheet is worth the draft picks they are about to give up. It’s a risk few are willing to take, no matter if it’s fairly clear that there might not be another Stamkos coming for several years.

As far as the Leafs and Schenn go, his re-signing is not likely to happen this week. Though agent Don Meehan and the Leafs have had preliminary discussions, it’s probable that Schenn won’t have his name on a new contract until some time in early August.

Curtains for Draper

It’s too bad the NHL couldn’t ensure long ago that the Detroit Red Wings played in the Eastern Conference, and therefore, clashed with the Maple Leafs more than once or twice a year (including the pre-season).

One player who fully understood the rivalry that could have grown further between the clubs, Red Wings forward Kris Draper, is on the verge of retirement from the NHL at the age of 40. A Toronto native, Draper always got a bit of an extra gleam in his eye for games between his Wings and the Leafs, and often wondered aloud why they could not happen more often.

“It does not matter what time of year it is, or whoever is playing well or who isn’t — whenever it is Toronto and Detroit, it is special,” Draper told us in March prior to a game between the Leafs and Wings at Joe Louis Arena.

It’s a line of thinking Draper, who played minor hockey for the Don Mills Flyers, held through much of his NHL career.

With Draper done — the Wings have called a news conference for Tuesday morning — the NHL will be losing a player who defined hard work and integrity. The 5-foot-10 and 188-pound Draper won’t be remembered for his points production (he has 161 goals and 203 assists in 1,157 games) but his defensive work (which brought the Selke Trophy in 2004) and contributions to four Stanley Cups in Motown.

Draper will become the third veteran Wing to retire this off-season, following defenceman Brian Rafalski and goaltender Chris Osgood.

The Wings could well move into the Eastern Conference in a year or two, once re-alignment is done. It’s unfortunate that Draper won’t be around to enjoy it.

Six to go

A grand total of six players are facing the possibility of salary arbitration. Twenty-two players originally filed for arbitration, but not one case has been heard, as 16 have re-signed with their teams.

The next scheduled hearing is for New York Rangers forward Ryan Callahan, who is slated to go on Thursday. Forward Jannik Hansen of the Canucks is scheduled for a hearing on Friday, while Nashville Predators defenceman Shea Weber (Aug. 2) and New Jersey Devils forward Zach Parise (Aug. 3) would be next. Devils defenceman Mark Fraser and New York Islanders forward Blake Comeau are scheduled to go before an arbitrator on Aug. 4.

Ice chips

The Rangers re-signed defenceman Steve Eminger ... Defenceman Jamie Oleksiak, a 6-foot-7, 241-pound defenceman who was selected 14th overall by the Dallas Stars in the entry draft in June, has left Northeastern University to join the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League. A dual citizen who was born in Toronto, Oleksiak will attend Canada’s world junior team evaluation camp in August ... The SportsBusiness Journal reported that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman made $7.5 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2010. Bettman’s salary has doubled since the lockout that killed the 2004-05 season.


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