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Three Cheers for Kevin Lowe!

Edmonton Oiler fans haven't had much to celebrate this July, having missed out on the major unrestricted free agents (especially that painful Michael Nylander episode), and it would appear that GM Kevin Lowe's ship is foundering. What's painful for Edmonton might turn into something exciting for fans around the league, however.

The SS Lowe

Perhaps partially in response to his dire situation, Lowe pitched a resounding 7-year, $50 million offer sheet to Buffalo Sabres restricted free agent Tomas Vanek, who was then retained by Buffalo which had the option of matching the contract. While Sabres GM Darcy Regier predictably whined about Lowe's offer, calling it "an exercise in futility," the fact is that it achieved two legitimate goals on Lowe's part.

First, he had the chance to land a promising young winger in case the Sabres were bluffing and not prepared to dole out that $50 million. Secondly, he's forced Buffalo to pay more than they would have otherwise to Vanek, giving them less room under the cap for the next several years. That is sound, competitive management practice in a salary cap era. Game-changing players are a scarce commodity, and now that teams have a limited amount of money to throw around, these RFA offer sheets become much more critical to the long-term formation of a team than they had been previously.

Last year, then-Flyers GM Bobby Clarke was widely criticized for making an over-sized offer to Vancouver RFA Ryan Kesler, but in reality that criticism is just the echo of a bygone era when owners and management colluded to keep players in the dark about their overall situation. In today's world, both supply and demand are constrained, and the economically savvy GM can use that to his advantage. I wouldn't be surprised to see a few more offer sheets getting signed in the next few weeks, particularly between divisional rivals. Soaking up a little cap room in Buffalo isn't as nice for Edmonton as if they had forced Calgary or Vancouver to overpay in a similar fashion.

We've come a long ways from 1991, when the Brendan Shanahan signing by St. Louis cost them Scott Stevens in return, which pretty much killed off the restricted free agent offer sheet as a mechanism for player movement from team to team. GM's were terrified of the potential cost, and while draft picks are still used as compensation when one team swipes another's RFA away via an offer sheet, the win-it-now mentality prevalent in so many markets makes that an easier pill to swallow for a GM on the hot seat.