With the hockey world on the verge of implosion in light of the Philadelphia Flyers' 14-year, $110 million, bonus-laden offer sheet to Nashville Predators RFA defenseman Shea Weber, one somewhat under-reported angle of this story is that, should the Predators choose not to match Philadelphia's offer, the Flyers will once again find themselves in familiar territory, bumping up against the salary cap's upper limit.
Philadelphia currently has about $7.81 million in cap space, an amount almost exactly equal to the $7.85 million cap hit Weber's new contract carries. While it should prove fairly simple for Paul Holmgren and company to stash Andreas Lilja and his $737k cap hit in the minors, it's going to be tough for the Flyers to create any semblance of a cap cushion for themselves post-Weber unless they can find someone to take Andrej Meszaros and the 2 years and $8 million remaining on his contract off their hands.
Which brings me to Jakub Voracek, the Flyers' 22-year-old winger acquired last offseason from the Columbus Blue Jackets as part of the Jeff Carter trade. Voracek just completed a one-year, $2.25 million contract with the Flyers and is currently an unsigned restricted free agent who didn't file for arbitration, meaning he's fair game for an offer sheet from any of the other 29 teams in the league. And it's unlikely Philadelphia would be able to match. The major roadblock that would currently prevent the Sharks from being the team to do so is a matter of draft pick ownership. Per James Mirtle, the draft pick compensation figures for offer sheets tendered this summer:
$1,110,249 or below - No Compensation
Over $1,110,249 to $1,682,194 - 3rd round pick
Over $1,682,194 to $3,364,391 - 2nd round pick
Over $3,364,391 to $5,046,585 - 1st round pick, 3rd
Over $5,046,585 to $6,728,781 - 1st round pick, 2nd, 3rd
Over $6,728,781 To $8,410,976 - Two 1st Round Picks, 2nd, 3rd
Over $8,410,976 - Four 1st Round Picks
Unfortunately, the Sharks traded their 2013 third-round pick to Minnesota for James Sheppard last year and since the CBA stipulates that teams can only provide offer sheet compensation with their own picks (and not ones they traded for), that prevents San Jose from offering Voracek any contract in the $3.36-$8.41 million cap hit range. There are ways to work around that, though. The easiest would be for the Sharks to re-acquire their pick from Minnesota which shouldn't be difficult considering the strong relationship between Doug Wilson and Chuck Fletcher. They could limit their offer to $3.36 milion per season on a multi-year deal, although it's likely Voracek won't sign the sheet unless it's in the $4 million range. Or the Sharks could just try to trade 1st and 2nd round picks for Voracek while threatening Holmgren with a potential offer sheet a la Brian Burke in the Phil Kessel deal three years ago. After the jump, we'll take a look at why the Sharks should care enough about Voracek to go to all this trouble anyway.
Voracek is a skilled, playmaking winger with great wheels and good size in the mold of his countryman and Sharks forward Martin Havlat, albeit with a nonexistent injury history. Voracek has averaged 50 points per 82 games each of the past three seasons, more than the likes of Andrew Ladd, Brandon Dubinsky and James vanRiemsdyk have totaled over that span. His even-strength scoring rate has been even more impressive, as Voracek ranked 35th among NHL forwards last season in 5v5 points per 60 minutes, 101st the year prior and 76th the season before that.
But where Voracek's value really becomes clear is when looking beneath the surface. Eric T. and Geoff Detweiler of Broad Street Hockey have done phenomenal work over this past year in tracking and analyzing zone entries for the Flyers. According to their findings, when carrying the puck through the neutral zone at even-strength in 2011-12, Voracek was able to retain possession while gaining the blueline 66% of the time, third-best on Philadelphia behind only Jaromir Jagr and Claude Giroux. This is significant because they also discovered that, on average, teams generate over twice as many shots and goals when entering the offensive zone with possession as opposed to dumping or deflecting the puck in. Voracek was also extremely efficient once he was in the offensive zone compared to his teammates, with only Brayden Schenn generating more shots per controlled entry among Flyers forwards than Voracek. For a Sharks team that's struggled with their transition game at times over the past two seasons, Voracek could be a boon. Additionally, for those who were excited about the Sharks' prospects of landing Rick Nash, there's some pretty compelling evidence Voracek was the one carrying the water for the Blue Jackets captain when the two were together in Columbus.
While adding a center to the Sharks' bottom six who can relieve Michal Handzus of his third-line duties would be preferable, the goal should always be to add the best players possible, regardless of position, and Voracek definitely fits the bill there. San Jose would have a slew of options for utilizing him, either by constructing an undersized yet potentially high-scoring soft-minutes line of Tommy Wingels between Voracek and T.J. Galiardi, gambling on Wingels and Voracek ensuring Handzus is less of a liability and putting those three together or icing three legitimate scoring lines of Wingels/Thornton/Pavelski, Galiard/Marleau/Havlat and Clowe/Couture/Voracek. If the Sharks can ink Voracek to a multi-year offer sheet in the $4 million cap hit range, the Flyers will likely be unable to match and San Jose won't have overpaid for Voracek's services, especially considering he's more than capable of taking over top-six duties should Ryane Clowe bolt through free agency next summer.