The CBA talks will resume this Wednesday with indication of when or if the new agreement will be signed. That means there’s a lot that can change between now and whenever hockey returns, but what seems to be coming into clearer focus at this point is the money part. The players have pretty much capitulated when it comes to dollars, with the HRR split likely to settle in at 50-50 ("make whole" provisions notwithstanding).
That means the next salary cap will be around $60M, or more than $7M less than the Flames already have committed to payroll currently. That would be a challenging enough obstacle even with some sort of one-time amnesty buy-out compliance program, but word is the NHL isn’t interested in doing that this time around.
Larry Brooks suggests an interesting work around at the above link, but assuming the NHL stands firm and doesn’t get too creative, the Flames will have to find some completely conventional (but painful) method to get under the new cap ceiling.
We talked about this some months ago in reference to Matt Stajan, but that was when we thought the Flames would be afforded a buy-out option. Stajan remains the most desirable contract to get rid of, but doing so via trade is far more difficult than a simple buy-out given his lousy performance and the lowering of the cap.
In addition, even if somehow the Flames were able to move Stajan for pennies on the dollar, it would still leave them more than $3M north of the cap. That means at least one more big(ish) ticket would have to be moved for cap space before the club could step foot on the ice.
The candidate for trades are limited. Cory Sarich was just re-signed at $2M and moving him doesn’t even get Feaster across the finish line. Dennis Wideman ($5.25M) was just signed long-term and has a NTC. Mark Giordano ($4.02M) is an anchor on the back-end and one of the few guys within hailing distance of value for dollars.
Up front, five players other than Stajan make more than $3M per year: Alex Tanguay ($3.5M), Roman Cervenka ($3.77M), Jiri Hudler ($4M), Mike Cammalleri ($6M) and, of course, Jarome Iginla ($7M). Cervenka, Tanguay and Hulder were all relatively recent signings by this regime and are penciled in at the top of the rotation.
So dealing two mid-level contracts to get to $60M looks problematic. That leaves moving a big salary + a lesser contract to get things done. Of course, the only three big dollar deals on the club are Jarome, Cammalleri and Jay Bouwmeester ($6.68M).
From a coldly logical perspective, Iginla would be the contract to move. He’s 36 years old in July, on the last year of his current deal and is a non-trivial risk to sign elsewhere in the off-season. His clout and superficially good stats means the team would likely get a lot more for the captain if he was put on the auction block relative to JayBo as well.
Bouwmeester, on the other hand, is signed for one more year, is just 29 years old and and is far-and-away the best defensive option the team has on the back-end. His contract is definitely poor value given his lackluster offensive results, but the Flames will certainly have diminished chances of success if they deal him for picks and prospects.
Cammalleri is also overpaid as well and also has just a single year left on his deal. Michael is a decent but supplementary player at this point in his career. Im unsure what his value is perceived to be around the league, meaning moving him at $6M per year night prove difficult.
Of course, Iginla is Iginla and we know moving the captain in lieu of the much maligned and overpaid Bouwmeester would be extremely unpopular in town. The Flames have always publicly communicated their reluctance to deal Iginla and even with his free agency (and rapidly approaching best before date) looming, my guess is they would opt to shop Cammalleri and/or Bouwmeester to placate the league’s new ceiling.
The current NHL kerfuffle remains confusing if one assumes each side just wants to get a fair deal done so hockey can resume. In fact, both combatants have a deeper agenda.
The NHL would like to undermine the union and weaken its resolve so the owners can continue to wring concessions from the players. Both now and in any future CBA battles. Bettman and the owners know they have more money and a longer view of things than a majority of the players, so the leverage almost always resides with the owners in these things.
On the players side, Donald Fehr aims to counter by making these talks as painful as possible for Bettman and company. In the short term, because it means the players wouldn’t be seen as push-overs and would at least be able to mitigate some of the damage done to their revenue share and contracting rights. In the long-term, it would be to galvanize the union and protect them against entering a perpetual spiral where each successive CBA means further capitulation to league demands. This could mean either a radicalization of the union to the degree that every future battle will be long fought or bloody (suggesting predictable brand damage and revenue loss every time a CBA expires), or to ultimately decertify and dissolve the union, which would lead to chaos in the aftermath, but would at least break lock-out cycle. At this point it seems collective bargaining has simply made it simpler for the owners shift the burden of risk to players – a single neck around which one leash can easily be fastened, so to speak – so Fehr probably isn’t just thinking about how to get everyone back on the ice with a minimum of fuss.
FN on FB
Finally, I wanted to let everyone know I decided to create a FlamesNation Facebook page. Please swing by, take a look, maybe give us a thumbs up. I invite anyone to leave post ideas or suggestions there as well.