Going into the final week before free agency begins, the Sharks have only one Restricted Free Agent left to sign. Rules surrounding RFAs are kind of complex and interesting. Depending on the skill-level and expected compensation for a player, a lot of different things can happen. Here are how the rules shake out.
Today (Monday, 6/28/10) is an important deadline for teams with RFAs. Teams must make a "Qualifying Offer" to RFAs today. If a QO is not made, the player becomes unrestricted on July 1st (Thursday). The amount a team must offer to a player in order to "qualify" depends on the player's previous salary. Since Seto made over $1 million last year, the Sharks only have to match his previous salary (about $1.3 million) in order for the offer to qualify.
I anticipate the Sharks will make Seto a qualifying offer, most likely somewhere around $3 million/year. Seto then has the option to accept or reject the offer. If he rejects the offer, the Sharks retain limited posession of his rights, but Seto may begin negotiating with other teams. Other teams may make Seto an "Offer Sheet." For instance, the Maple Leafs (who have cap room and are looking for a top-six forward) could offer Seto $3.25 million per year. If Seto accepts accepts this offer, the Sharks have the option to match it. If the Sharks don't match it, Seto would become a Maple Leaf. The Leafs, under the rules of the CBA, would have to hand over to the Sharks a certain number of picks in next year's draft, based on the salary they offer Seto:
Offer < $994,433/year: No compensation
$994,433 < Offer < $1,506,717: 3rd-round pick
$1,506,717 < Offer < $3,013,435: 2nd-round pick
$3,013,435 < Offer < $4,520,151: 1st and 3rd round pick.
And so on.
So, theoretically, if the Leafs made Seto an Offer Sheet over $3.013435 million/year, and he accepted it, they would have to fork over their 1st and 3rd round picks in next year's draft. If they don't have both of those picks currently, they would not be allowed to offer Seto that contract, or they would have to trade for those picks some other way to make it work.
Seto, of course, could reject any and all of these offers. However, if he doesn't sign with anybody by Demeber 1st, he's not allowed to play at all this coming season. Also, if Seto rejects the Sharks' QO, the Sharks can request arbitration, whereby his salary would be set by a judge.
Background: only 5 RFAs have been given offer sheets since the current CBA went into effect in 2005. 4 of the 5 offers were matched by the player's original team. The outlier was Dustin Penner, who we all remember was snatched from Anaheim by the Oilers in 2007 for a contract that everyone agrees was greatly inflated.
The CBA deliberately makes it painful for any team to extend an attractive offer sheet to an RFA. I predict the Sharks make Seto a QO and he accepts it this week. But as you can see, anything can happen!