The Flyers had just fleeced the Tampa Bay Lightning in their quest to return to glory mere weeks after being bounced from the Stanley Cup Finals by the Detroit Red Wings in a shocking four-game sweep.
It took nearly an entire Summer to do it, but in the madness that was the Offer Sheet scramble of the 1997 offseason, Bob Clarke had apparently just increased his chances to return to the title round ten-fold.
He acquired the services of Group II restricted free agent and hulking center Chris Gratton from the Bolts on August 20, but not by the traditional means.
Under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement of the time, signing FA’s of that type required that the signing team relinquish a whopping four first-round draft picks as compensation.
But Clarke found a way around it, agreeing with Tampa GM Jacques Demers to ship forward Mikael Renberg and defenseman Karl Dykhuis to Florida’s Gulf Coast to get those draft picks back. He then signed Gratton (whom Tampa agreed not to try and match an offer sheet) to a five-year, $16.5 million contract that included a $9 million signing bonus.
Aaron Portzline from the Columbus Dispatch reported the following through his Twitter account on Thursday in the wake of the Shea Weber offer sheet: “Theory floated by NHL GM this morning: Predators tell Flyers they’ll match the offer sheet and keep Weber if Flyers don’t agree to swap…players for those four first-round picks the Predators would acquire.”
Gratton’s tenure lasted a stormy 108 contests plus a five-game first-round defeat to the Buffalo Sabres in 1998. He totaled 22 goals and 62 points in all 82 games during his first year in Orange and Black, but shifting of his role and and issue of playing time under Roger Neilson the next season paved his way out of town.
After just one goal, eight points and 26 games, Gratton was shipped back to Tampa, along with Mike Sillinger for Renberg and Daymond Langkow on December 12, 1998.
The Weber offer sheet now is just as big a gamble as Gratton’s was then: the money and the years based on an awful lot of promise revealed in some heady numbers regarding point production, height and weight.
What is markedly different is the perceived value of both men. Weber, according to reports, was going to cost young stars Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier and another asset. David Poile is no sucker when it comes to hardball.
Gratton, on the other hand, only cost a struggling winger and disappointing second-pair defenseman. It was a clear defeat for Demers, an otherwise affable man with good hockey sense who was over-matched in the business department.