I received an email by reader/commenter dustin642 yesterday. He noted that the possibility of trading Robyn Regehr was rife with complications. Thanks to his points and some further thought, I’ve decided to delve further into the topic.
Although he’s been a cornerstone of the back-end since he broke into the league, Reggie has had some ups-and-downs in the last few seasons; particularly last year when he visibly struggled for a sizable bit of the first half. Robyn lost assignments and puck battles in an uncharacteristic fashion in 2009-10. The explanations for his struggles varied from his partnership with Phaneuf to continued knee problems extending from his injury the prior season. Whatever the cause, he wasn’t fully Regehr for much of the year in the eyes of many – including myself. That said, even with Jay Bouwmeester on the team, the dude still saw the toughest match-ups of any Flames blueliner. He remains a very capable, hard minutes option.
Of course, the real reason to contemplate dealing Regehr is the Flames current predicament: 8 one-way contracts deep on the backend and a budget $2.3M in the red. The assumption heading into camp is that Sutter will be able to demote the likes of Steve Staios and/or Ales Kotalik in order to make the club cap compliant. These are assumptions that may be based more on hope than reality however. While the team has set fire to money before in order to save Darryl from himself (Marcus Nilson and Anders Eriksson come to mind), the truth is the owners have never faced a potential money hole of this size before. Eriksson and Nilson were 2.5M combined a few seasons ago. Staios represents 2.7M in cap space and 2.2M in real cash and his demotion probably wouldn’t get the job done in terms of freeing up enough cap room. If you add in Kotalik, the budgetary attrition rises to more than $5M. I don’t care how rich Murray Edwards is, that’s a big chunk of change to pay guys to not play on your NHL team, particularly for an organization that missed the playoffs recently (and hasn’t made noise in the post-season for nearly 7 years).
So let’s grant for the moment that demoting the anchors isn’t a given in October. the options for getting under the cap ceiling narrow rapidly. Cory Sarich is obviously the next most expendable piece, but the truth is his salary and work over the past few seasons makes him an unattractive trade piece in the current market. My guess is if Sarich were moveable, he would have been dealt already this summer. The Flames are too thin up front to try to cut the fat there (outside of Kotalik, who is untradable). That leaves the unpleasant possibility of dealing Reggie. For cap space more than anything tangible.
Establishing whether there’s even a market for Robyn Regehr is difficult on it’s own. The comparable trades this summer have been few and widely varied in terms of return. Perhaps the most similar deal is Keith Ballard for Steve Bernier, Michael Grabner and Vancouver’s first overall pick in the draft. Ballard is a younger, smaller and less physical defender, but he’s also been a tough minutes guy since his time in Phoenix. He has more offensive upside than Reggie but a less storied resume when it comes to shutting down the big boys. Ballard’s contract is also in the ballpark (4.2M) and contains a NTC making this the most natural comparison available.
As teams have spent money over the summer, the market has gradually become less favorable. James Wisniewski got the ol’ sign-and-trade treatment by the Anaheim Ducks after winning a one year, $3.25M deal. The Islanders snagged him for next to nothing: a conditional 3rd round pick 2011. Andrej Meszaros, who was probably overpaid by a couple million dollars, was dealt to the Flyers for a second round pick. Neither of these players is technically in Regehr’s league, but nor are they chopped liver. Both are capable NHL players, both could probably play in the top 4 for most teams in the league and neither was worth a damn on the trade market. This reiterates the fact that dumping salary this summer is hard to do. Giving up quality pieces for next to nothing has been a fact of life for many an NHL club this summer. And it may yet come to that for the Flames.
Obviously, should moving Regehr become a necessity, a package similar to the Ballard swap would be the most attractive from a Flames perspective. A cheaper forward, a former first round pick and a future first round pick. Let’s consider that the upper-end of what the club could expect to recieve. After all, Regehr owns a NTC and even though the Flames have struggled to live up to expectations the last few seasons, they aren’t exactly the Florida Panthers. The options for finding a trade partner Regehr would find appealing are likely to be fewer, therefore limiting demand and a potential return.
Who would be in the market for a 30 year old, $4M defensive defensemen? The choices are slim at this point, particularly when you assume Reggie would be choosey about his relocation. The Washington Capitals are perhaps the best bet. With more than $5M in cap space, a top four featuring the likes of Mike Green, Jeff Shultz, Tom Poti (and…err…Karl Alzner?) and a reputation for being "soft" defensively, they have both the required space and apparent need for a player of Regehr’s unique talents. Tom Poti and tough guy John Erskine suffered through the tough sledding for the Caps last season in terms of quality of competition and zone starts. By adding Regehr, Washington would bump their less capable guys down the tough minutes ladder. On the other hand, the Capitals are a legitimate contender for the Stanley Cup going forward, meaning Regehr is more probable to say yes to a deal.
In terms of return, I would hope the Flames would ask for Dave Steckel. A huge center who is one of the best face-off men in the league, Steckel was absolutely buried by the Capitals last season (zone start = 40%) but managed to keep his head above water at ES. He was their top forward penalty killer to boot. His cap hit is 1.1M.
A deal involving Steckel and some future asset (prospect/pick) would result in a demotion for Ryan Stone and about $1.07M in cap space for the Flames. It would further firm up their bottom 6 with a capable face-off man and penalty killer and ease their cap woes without paying guys to play in the AHL.
It would also leave the team with this arrangement of defenders:
Sarich – White
Staios – Pardy
Not a terrible depth chart, although things get scary in a hurry when one of the top 4 guys gets hurt.
So the question is…would you do the deal?
This was obviously a hypothetical scenario based on some educated guesses. Perhaps the market for Regehr is better. Or worse. Feel free to suggest your own scenarios in the comments.
Cutting useful pieces and retaining toxic assets is technically a bad way to run a team, but here we are. With the summer rapidly aging and the Flames time to get under the cap evaporating, a deal to move a useful guy like Regehr for pennies on the dollar may become a reality before the puck drops in October. If so, here’s hoping Sutter can gain some sort of value out of the swap.