NHL offer sheets don’t happen nearly as much as they probably should. For a number of reasons, offer sheets just aren’t that common in the NHL and it truly is a shame. Offer sheets have led to several amazing stories throughout NHL history, none more crazy and impactful than the series of moves that affected Scott Stevens in the ’90s.
Stevens’ wild ride with offer sheets will probably never be outdone and is the perfect story to break out at your upcoming fantasy hockey draft, while waiting in line for a beer at your next hockey game, or when you meet your partner’s parents for the first time. Let’s get into it.
Scott Stevens, Hall of Famer
Stevens started his career as a member of the Washington Capitals, drafted fifth overall in 1982 NHL Draft. Since then, he went on to have one of the best careers in NHL history.
He played in 1635 NHL games which is 10th all-time in the NHL; scored 196 goals, 712 assists, and 908 points; won three Stanley Cups in 1995, 2000, and 2003; won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2000; played in 13 all-star games between 1985 and 2003; received votes for the Norris Trophy in 17 of his 22 NHL seasons including being a finalist three times; and is a first ballot Hall of Famer, inducted in 2007.
Stevens isn’t your normal hockey player. He’s one of the best defensemen to ever lace up a pair of skates, is a New Jersey Devils legend, and was an absolutely dominant player for most of his career. He’s the type of player you build a team around and can look forward to many years of success with Stevens in control of your locker room.
Players like Stevens aren’t easy to find, so it does make sense that he was the target of an offer sheet multiple times in his career. He was a sought-after asset and it’s not hard to see why.
Offer Sheet 1: Blues sign Scott Stevens to an offer sheet
July 16, 1990. After eight excellent seasons with the Washington Capitals, Stevens was a restricted free agent (RFA) and the target of an offer sheet from the St. Louis Blues. The Blues were clearly in love, head over heels, and were willing to sell the farm to acquire Stevens. They signed him to a four-year, $20.4M offer sheet ($5.1M per year) that was precedent-setting. It included a $1.4M signing bonus and made Stevens the highest paid defenseman in the NHL.
The Capitals were unable to match the offer and accepted the compensation instead. At this time in the league, the compensation for such a high-value offer sheet was immense. The Blues sent five first-round draft picks to the Capitals in exchange for signing Stevens. Just like that, Stevens’ time with the Capitals was over and he became a member of the Blues.
However, that relationship would last just one year, as Stevens would find himself caught in the crossfire of another offer sheet involving another future Hall of Famer.
Offer Sheet 2: Blues sign Brendan Shanahan to an offer sheet
July 25, 1991. Fresh off giving up five first rounders, the Blues were big game hunting the next season for another prized RFA. This time, the target was Brendan Shanahan of the New Jersey Devils. A Hall of Famer in his own right, the Blues saw Shanahan’s potential and tried to add him to their squad. They ended up signing him to a three-year offer sheet worth $9.045M ($3.015M per year).
The Devils were unable to match the offer sheet and Shanahan became a member of the Blues. However, due to the price of this offer sheet, the Blues owed the Devils draft picks, including first-round picks that they already owed to the Capitals from their offer sheet to acquire Stevens the year prior.
Now, it’s important to clarify here that this would not be allowed to occur in today’s NHL. League rules state that if a team does not have the required draft picks to satisfy compensation rules if their offer sheet is not matched, they cannot submit the offer sheet at all. In 1991 though, this was not the case. So, to settle the compensation that would be provided to the Devils, a negotiation took place.
The Blues offered the Devils a package of assets: goaltender Curtis Joseph, center Rod Brind’Amour, and two draft picks. The Devils countered by asking for Scott Stevens. Of course, the teams could not settle on what the compensation should be and the case was taken to an arbitrator.
Unfortunately for the Blues, the arbitrator ruled in favour of the Devils. Just one year later, the Blues were forced to part with their prized stud defenseman, one who cost them five first-round picks to acquire, after logging a mere 78 games as a Blue.
During this arbitration case, the Devils actually accused the Blues of tampering when they signed Shanahan in the first place. This is important, was not the first time the Blues were accused of tampering and were hit hard because of it.
The Blues were not happy, and tried to clap back three years later when Stevens’ contract expired and he became an RFA once again.
Offer Sheet 3: Blues sign Scott Stevens to an offer sheet, again
July 4, 1994. Just three days after free agency opened in 1994, it was announced that the Blues had signed Stevens to a four-year offer sheet worth $17M ($4.25M per year). This was the second time Stevens signed an offer sheet, and to this day remains the only NHL player to ever sign two offer sheets.
This time, the Devils matched the Blues’ offer sheet and retained the services of Stevens. Stevens’ first Cup was won while playing under this contract. Stevens was never involved in another offer sheet after this third one, but the offer sheet drama was far from over.
Then GM of the Devils, Lou Lamoriello suspected the Blues had tampered with their offer sheet with Stevens. His suspicion was that the Blues and Stevens’ agent had agreed to the offer sheet contract well in advance of Stevens becoming a free agent, which teams were explicitly prohibited from doing. Despite lacking the necessary evidence, Lamoriello raised this concern with the NHL and the league investigated the allegation.
It took four years, but the NHL pursued the investigation and found what they were looking for. The NHL forced the Blues to open their books which revealed the smoking gun Lamoriello had suspected was there all along: an offer sheet that preceded free agency by “a substantial period”. The NHL penalized the Blues heavily for their misconduct.
The Blues were required to pay the Devils a record settlement amount of $1.4M, give one of their next five first-round picks to the Devils, and pay an additional fine of $500K ($425K to the Devils, $75K to the NHL).
This settlement made waves across the sporting world. Commissioner Gary Bettman made it very clear that tampering was unacceptable and would be severely penalized. In a statement following the decision, he said: “I view the Blues’ conduct with respect to Mr. Stevens to be abhorrent and deserving of the harshest sanctions. Violations of the no-tampering provisions directly undermine the integrity of the league and the game.”
An experience like no other
Thus ends our story on Scott Stevens and offer sheets. Involved in three offer sheets in his career, two being ones he signed himself, Stevens was wrapped up in offer sheet drama for almost a decade. It’s crazy to look back and see all the fun things that happened with offer sheets back in the day. It’s a shame we don’t see them more often now because they really are a sources of intrigue and excitement in the NHL.