First of all, let me preface this by saying I don't like the idea of offer sheets to Restricted Free Agents. I think it drives up the price of business in the NHL, I think it is going to force teams to take players to arbitration whom otherwise could have gotten deals made and I think it's going to cause prices to inflate in the NHL once again. The CBA, as it stands in the NHL, was to create pariety and equality amongst teams and, for the most part, it has done so. The biggest portion that I do not agree with is that of Restricted Free Agency, mostly because it gives the General Managers a different, more competitive role.
That being said, everything that Kevin Lowe has done this off-season has been legal and has been very shrewd. Many, including myself, think it an underhanded move. But, in reality, it is a completely legal tactic of improving his team. Many conspiracy theorists believe that he is offering these contracts to players in the thought that he won't actually get them. But consider who he was offering at. Thomas Vanek. Yes, the contract was FAR overvalued for him, but imagine if he continues to improve as he did last year? He led the league in plus/minus in his second year in the league and was a 40 goal scorer in his second year in the league. If he continues to improve, the $7M per year will seem like a steal, especially if the salary cap and max contract keep rising. Penner, on the other hand, is an interesting player in and of himself. Yes, $4.5M is a lot of money to spend on a player who only scored 45 points last year. But look at his stats. In his first full season in the NHL, he was one goal shy of 30 goals. He has proven his worth, both offensively as well as defensively with the Ducks and has proven to be a near immovable object in front of the net. Is the contract overvalued for what he has done? No doubt. But will it be 2 or 3 years down the road? Probably not.
Also, look at the teams that Lowe made these moves against. The Sabres were caught napping with both Briere and Drury and were dragging their feet with Vanek. There was every indication that Lowe had an opportunity (no matter how small) to pull a fast one on the Sabres and improve his team and he took it. With the Ducks, Lowe managed to do a couple things in one fell swoop. First, he forced the Ducks and Niedermeyer's hand. Should Burke match the offer, he's either going to need to clear up cap space or hope and pray that Scott Niedermeyer retires. Either way, they could be losing a big part of their team. In my opinion, I think Lowe targeted these two RFAs on these teams specifically because of their initiative in re-signing their players and cap space respectively. By doing this, Lowe not only sends a message to his fans of "Yes, we missed out on free agents, but we're still trying to get better" as well as sending a message to the league of "Make up your minds or we will for you."
Another curious thing that not too many people are talking about is the players' roles in all of this. You can hardly blame Vanek and Penner for signing these offer sheets, but neither player had to sign. In fact, Vanek's agent was openly approaching teams, asking them to tender him an offer sheet. It does, ultimately, come down to the player's discretion as to whether or not to sign these sheets, and I find it interesting that Lowe is getting a bad rap for offering them, but Vanek and Penner are not for signing them.
When it comes down to it, I don't like the new rules in the CBA involving Restricted Free Agency. I don't like what the offer sheets have the potential to do to the landscape of the league and I don't like the freedom that the GMs have to use them. At the same time, however, as a fan of neither Edmonton, Buffalo or Anaheim, I must applaud Kevin Lowe for doing all that is within his power to improve his team. Though a move that many consider underhanded, Lowe has shown to the fans and to the owners of Edmonton that he is willing to do whatever it takes to field a winning team.