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The Pointlessness Of Restricted Free Agency

Or why the Blues aren't getting Bobby Ryan and why David Perron isn't going anywhere.

David Perron is a 22 year-old former first-round draft pick who has already played 225 NHL games. He has scored 48 goals and tallied 76 assists for 124 points. During the 2009-10 season, Perron scored a career-high 20 goals. As of Thursday, he had gone unsigned by the Blues.

Of course, thanks to the NHL collective bargaining agreement, Perron isn't likely to go anywhere. Perron is a restricted free agent. Once Perron's entry-level deal was up, he went into RFA status — where he will remain until he turns 27 or accrues seven years of NHL experience.

Technically, as a restricted free agent Perron is free to sign with any of the NHL's 30 teams. If he wants to go home, he can sign with the Canadiens. If he wants to take his talents to South Beach, he can join the Panthers. The possibilities are endless. The only catch: the Blues can match any offer Perron signs.

In all reality, the only way Perron will change his address is if the Blues decide to trade him — å la Phil Kessel in Boston last season.

Here's why Perron isn't going anywhere:

No Poaching Allowed

After the 2007-08 season, Blues forward David Backes was a RFA. The Vancouver Canucks offered him a deal and Backes signed on the dotted line. The Blues matched the deal and retained Backes, but were livid. John Davidson and Co. responded in kind and offered Canucks forward Steve Bernier a deal. The Canucks matched Bernier's offer and the message was sent by the Blues: Don't touch our free agents.

Davidson made it perfectly clear that if you go after one of his promising young players, he'll do the same to you. Apparently, other teams feel the same way.

Only six players have signed RFA offers since the lockout. GMs just don't want to run the risk of of poaching. If some team goes after Perron, the Blues have made it clear they will go after a similar player.

RFAs cost too much

Thanks to the ability to match deals, there is only one way to sign an RFA and make sure he comes aboard: Overpay.

Out in Anaheim, the Ducks are battling Bobby Ryan for a new deal. The Ducks have made it known that they have offered Ryan a deal that averages $5 million per season. Every GM knows this, so the only way to get Ryan is to pay more the $5 mil a year. How much more? Who knows what the Ducks are willing to match. It could be $6 million, it could be $7 million. The point is, for any team to land Bobby Ryan, they're going to have to pay more than the Ducks are willing to pay, which is probably more than Ryan would get on the open market.

In the capped world, overpaying is a no-no. Fitting an entire team under the cap is no easy task — looking at you Chicago — and bad deals just make it that much harder.

Some, like St. Louis Game Time's Hildymac have suggested Ryan as a target for the Blues. Setting the pay scale that high for someone so young would make it that much harder to sign players like Erik Johnson and T.J. Oshie.

Compensation

And the money is just the first part of the equation. If a team loses a restricted free agent, they get a lovely parting gift in the form of compensation. Still want to pay Bobby Ryan $7 million a year? In case clicking hyperlinks is a problem, the compensation for paying an RFA $7 million is a year is "two first-round choices, one second- and one third-round choice." That's a high price.

With the cap, draft picks are like gold. Teams need to constantly restock the draft pool. Giving away picks — and high-value picks at that — is not prudent. The Blues wouldn't give up that much for Ryan, just like other teams aren't willing to give the Blues more picks for Perron.

***

David Perron isn't going anywhere, unless it's on the Blues' terms. If the Blues can't reach a deal with him, they will trade him. Same with Bobby Ryan. His agent can keep shopping him, but the list of teams willing to take the cap hit — and the draft hit — is somewhere between zero and one.

The RFA system is a joke. The players aren't free agents and teams still have all the power. Should it be fixed? Probably. It sure would make the offseason more exciting.

How is this fixed? Simple: Eliminate the draft compensation. Teams that think they are just one piece away from a Cup will surely take the Cap hit — just look at what the Blackhawks did to land Marian Hossa. Without the fear of losing picks, teams will line up to sign talented players like Perron, Ryan and others. Instead of spending the summer wondering what Ilya Kovalchuk is going to do, hockey fans could have more players to obsess over.