Doing the cap crunch dance – Looking for parnters



As the season approaches, so too does the need to become cap compliant.

The Flames have cap space to spare and money to spend. With the Kipper retirement, the club has about $13M+ available under the $64M cap ceiling, meaning they are positioned to potentially solve a lot of problems.

In April, the org auctioned off Jarome Iginla and Jay Boumweester. Now they can do the same, except this time it’s ample cap room that is the prize.

There are seven or eight teams in the NHL currently at or over the cap. There are few others scraping dangerously close to the ceiling. By Monday, every team in the NHL has to get under the cap and many of the easy-fixes that existed in the prior CBA (demoting guys to the AHL) have been removed or restricted in this version of the bargining agreement. Sunday is the deadline for teams to declare their demotions and waiver players, meaning, no doubt, that more than a few interesting names are going to hit the wire as clubs go fishing for an easy solution. While one or two contracts might get scooped off of waivers, it’s not a guaranteed fix for anyone.

Flames fans have been waiting all summer for Feaster and company to leverage the organization’s ample budget and cap space. Well, this is it…Calgary is positioned as the NHL’s cleaner – they can make problems go away, for a price. As the Monday deadline approaches, cap crunched clubs are going to get more and more desperate, meaning there’s an opportunity to take on a bad deal and add some useful pieces in the process.

Potential Dance Partners

Toronto Maple Leafs

The most obvious one. The Leafs are now marginally over the cap thanks to the Franson signing. They could probably get compliant by moving a few guys around or only carrying the minimum 20 players on the active roster, but that doesn’t leave them any wiggle room during the season in case of injury.

John Michael Liles is the obvious odd man out. At $3.875M/season he’s overpaid, not to mention the fact his contract stretches until 2015-16. It’s a big chunk of dough for a soft PP specialist type, which is why the Leafs haven’t been able to move him before now.

Liles is still an NHLer and could reinvigorate his value with a good season and/or opportunity a la Matt Stajan, but he’s also a guy the Flames could simply buy out next summer since they still own their compliance buy out options from this summer. Either way, he’s not a problem for the Flames like he is for the Leafs. 

Joe Colborne, Carter Ashton, a first round pick are a few of the assets Feaster could demand in return for absorbing a near $12M toxic asset. The first two are mid-level prospects who may be regular NHLers one day, but probably don’t have high ceilings. A first rounder is my preferred return, particularly because I think the Leafs will be picking inside the top-15.

Tampa Bay Lightning

A partner suggested by Elliotte Friedman on the FAN960 this morning, the Lightning are right against the cap ceiling, but probably have a more modest internal budget to worry about as well. Friedman noted Tampa is offering up certain bottom-6 forwards and might be willing to sweeten the pot for any particular team that bites.

T-Bay’s bottom-6 is an utter wasteland. BJ Crombeen and Nate Thompson are the only two guys making more than a $1M and they both suck. Ryan Malone is a JM Liles-like problem with a contract worth $4.5M/year stretching through next season. Malone is 33 years old and hasn’t played a full season in five years, although he’s a competent 20-goal, 40-point player when he’s healthy. Like Liles, the Flames could keep Malone around and see if his stock improves or just buy him out next summer. 

It may be harder to get a first rounder from Tampa Bay in return since they no doubt anticipate picking in the top-10. They have interesting high-end prospects in Brett Connolly, Slater Koekkoke and Adam Erne, but it remains to be seen if they are quite that desperate or not.

Detroit Red Wings

The Wings have three lines of bottom sixers currently kicking around, so although they are technically over the cap by a couple of million, they should be able to get under it by demoting 3 or 4 players.

Even then, though, the relief is minimal. No doubt they’ll want to dump at least one of those lesser player contracts in order to have a bit more flexibility. Jordan Tootoo is the most probable guy to be expendable, with Patrick Eaves coming in a close second. Tootoo makes $1.9M, which is at least $1M too much for a player of his limited abilities. He’d be another tough guy to rotate in and of out action with McGrattan and Jackman (so not very useful), but maybe the Wings would be willing to throw in a pick and prospect to take him off their hands.

Philadelphia Flyers

Philly is also right up against things, although they can probably make it work by demoting a few bodies and then putting Chris Pronger’s ner $5M cap hit hit on LTIR. Nevertheless, with 8 guys battling for NHL time on the back-end, they may want to get rid of a guy like Andrej Meszaros who is on the last year of a deal worth $4M per.

The 27 year old has struggled with injuries the last two seasons, but is a decent top-4 option when he’s in the line-up. He’s a guy the Flames could insert into their top-4 pretty easily (Wideman – Meszarso, Giordano – Brodie) and then try to flip at the deadline for some sort of return. If the Flyers throw in a pick or two to take Meszaros off their hands, Calgary could effectively "double dip" on the asset by taking him now and then flipping him in March.

St. Louis Blues

Like the Lightning, the Blues are within spitting distance of the cap, but are probably much more concerned about wiggle room and an internal budget than getting compliant.They have a lot of bottom-6 guys now that Brendan Morrow has been signed, including Sobotka, Reaves, Porter and Lapierre. Sobotka might be th eodd man out there given his pay ($1.3M), although the club has leaned on him as a tough minutes option in the past, so they may value him too much to give him away.

There’s more candidates than this, but the point is there are a lot of teams with a need to dump dollars. Feel free to suggest other options in the comments.

If the Flames can line up the more desperate clubs and play them off against each, there’s a possiblity of driving up the price of doing business. Adding a bad contract is more or less consequence-free for Calgary at this point since they have deep pockets, no expectations of winning this season and the ability to buy-out anyone they don’t want to keep around next summer.

This weekend will be a good test of the Flames executive’s abilities and competence. There will never be a better time to leverage cap space than right now, so here’s hoping they can extract something of value before Monday.

  • Michael

    If these teams are unable to trade away a toxic or low value contract, they may be forced to keep that contract and trade away a meaninfull top 6 forward / top 4 d man to get compliant. If I was Feaster, I would pass on the toxic contracts, and start bargaining on quality players who could actually help the Flames. If you can’t add quality, don’t use the cap space at all.

  • 25cent

    I don’t know how effective this type of strategy is. I don’t think many if any teams will be looking to offload any significant assests to take toxic assests without knowing what the cap situation is going to be next year. This year the cap is fixed, however next year it returns to an amount tied to revenues. And reading on TSN/CBC/ESPN and Twitter, a bunch of people are speculating that the cap may rise to upwards of 80 million in a few years. So why would a team divest itself of a top prospect or 1st/2nd rounder for cap help they may need for only this season. At that point they may just find a way to skirt the cap this year, LTIR or burying some of a persons salary in the minors(I know it’s much but it helps), rather than giving up significant assests for short term help.

    If the cap does not rise much in the offseason and that 80 million cap some pundits have talked about is not on the horizon, then yes, I think cherry picking a team like the leafs that needs to resign Kessel and more

    • piscera.infada

      Yo miss the fact that the loop-hole in which you can bury a contract in the minor has been closed. Thus, you really don’t have an option – other than sending your low-dollar young guys who are on two-way deals (whom they want to give an opportunity to, because a guy like Morgan Rielly has been one of their better d-men) to the minors. That in and of itself gives you very little cap room, if you run into injury/discipline problems your screwed, in a pretty big way.

      • 25cent

        You can bury up to the NHL minimum salary plus &375,000 in the minors, so close to a full million as Kittens points out.

        As the Leafs are currently only a couple hundred thousand over the salary cap right now, that 1 million if they put Liles in the minors would make them cap compliant, or heck, a team may claim him off waivers. I can see the Leafs doing something like that long before they give the Flames a first/second/Cobourne for taking him.

        Again, the idea of using our excess cap space to help out teams is a good idea in practice, however, we should slow down on expectations for a high pick/prospect coming back as I don’t think teams are in that desperate of a need to become compliant through that manner or in as much trouble as people are asuming.

        If the Flames are as bad as they are expected to be, this coming offseason might be a better time to explore this option. If the cap stays the same it will create problems for certain teams, like the leafs who have key players to resign. I think this is an option that should be best used around draft/free agent time as it can be used as an option for a team looking to create salary cap space for a draft day trade or free agent signing.

        Trying this option right now has it’s faults because teams have had all summer to game plan, they are not going to through out a pick/prospect because they are suddenly not cap compliant, my guess is they all have a plan.

  • seve927

    Well, it’s not going to be 80 million next year when they need to resign Kessel, Phaneuf (or replacement), Franson, Reimer, Bolland, Ranger, Raymond next year and Kadri the following year. And just because the cap goes up doesn’t mean their problems are over. When the cap goes up, so does salary. Kessel will command more with a 70 million cap than he would have with the 64, etc.

    I tend to agree that you’re not going to get a lot, but it would seem to me that Liles is a special case, because the Leafs are in a worse cap situation than anyone and he’s a 3 year inflated contract that doesn’t fit on their team. They really do need his cap space.

    • seve927

      I do agree that they are probably in the worst of cap situation, but do you really believe Phanuef is getting a significant raise? Or Bolland, or Ranger for that matter. Raymond is a depth player and I doubt he gets the time or oppurtunity to make the kind of impact that gets him any sort of big deal. Reimer may not get the time with Bernier there to get a huge raise either, the big two will be Kessel and Franson. If Kessel has a big year he could command upwards of 8 or 8.5 million using recent comparables as an example, that will add an additional 3 million and Franson who knows.

      But I don’t see the Leafs making that snap decision at the start of this season and giving up an assest like a first or second to fix a problem for next year that might not be as big a problem as people are thinking right now.

  • piscera.infada

    I don’t think the “bury the contract in the minors” loophole has been completely closed – I think you can still bury up to $925K of a person’s contract in the minors.

  • 25cent

    So Emile Poirier and Ryan Culkin both have two points so far in their respective games tonight. That’s six in three for Emile and four in two for Ryan.

    Just thought you’d like to know.

  • Parallex

    Yeah, I don’t think that the Flames are going to end up doing any eating of bad contracts for futures. I think that if they were you’d have seen (or heard of) them being more active in the UFA market (acquiring short-term assets they could flip at the deadline by eating cap) and I think we would have seen them eat money on the Iginla and Bouwmeester deals to sweeten the pots. I think the chequebook has been taken away for the immediate future.

    My own theory is that the Cap space will be left fallow this year and after trading Stempniak, Cammy, and Stajan for futures (along with their own high pick) the Flames will go hard after the Toronto UFA’s (Kessel, Phaneaf, Franson) via Burkes existing relationships with those players using the 40M in cap space they have open for next season.

    I mean maybe we’ll see something like Jackman for Tootoo + 3rd rounder or something like that (along with maybe some waiver pick-ups) but if Liles is a “toxic” asset and he comes with a price tag of 12M… I’m sorry but I just don’t see Murray Edwards saying that it’s okey to trade $12,000,000.00 for an asset of such variable future value.

    • Big Ell

      Please no; we had Dion and he did not work out and has never developed into the player we thought he might, if we go after Kessel(the coward) I will take my loyalties elsewhere, and we could have picked up Franson this year.

      There is no way we should pursue any toxic player in the rebuild; Feasters’ quote yesterday about how he wants this team to play and if players don’t do so then they don’t fit in. Why would we waste money on players who don’t fit this criteria in other cities. This idea during a rebuild is almost as silly as pursuing 30+ vets who are injury prone via free agency. This rebuild must use the current assets as best they can and allow the prospects to develop along side the vets.

      If during the cuts of other teams a claim can be made on a 23-27 year old who the management team believes can develop with the others then maybe they should pursue him.

      Right now this team has about 6 young forwards in Abbottsford who could be brought up as replacement forwards during the season without a tremendous drop off if it is for another young player. On D they also have the same situation (last I looked the Heat had 13 dmen and that did not include Sieloff and Breen). In net assuming Berra goes down they will have two European goalies whom they will give a look this season.

      While I do not expect this team to be in the playoffs (like most of the other talking heads) I do agree with Feaster that I expect this team to play hard and compete every night and players who take nights off can and should be given a few nights off and maybe sent down. There is finally enough depth in this organization to do so,the high end talent still needs to be developed and found but at least they can now begin the process. Also the kids with potential to higher end must be given proper linemates to allow them the chance to develop; they can’t be played with checkers and expect to score. Again players like Sven and Monahan need to play with at least one vet with offensive upside.

      I am excited about the season but the discussion about free agents etc seems to be distraction for many. Blazing Saddles away.

    • seve927

      If Cammalleri and Stajan (possibly more) are traded this year, acquisitions will have to be made to reach the floor. If they’re clearing out high salaries, some salary has to be acquired as well. The other option is going for useless free agents and getting no additional assets. Liles would fit the bill perfectly as his contract expires about the time we’d be hoping to be competitive again. Until then, his salary is actually providing us value.

  • seve927

    This is an interesting question. I’m not sure I would want the Flames to get into a game of taking back contracts unless you are getting sure fire prospects and players in return.

    To me such a decision has got to be about the pure maths of what a team is willing to pay for a prospect or a high draft pick.

    When I look back at the Robyn Regehr trade to Buffalo, which included a second round 2012 draft pick and Ales Kotalik for Paul Byron and Chris Butler, it seems that Buffalo essentially took on Kotalik and his US$3.0mn salary (as he only had 1 season left) for the Flames second round draft pick if I recall the background of the trade correctly.

    So if I was the Flames I would be at least asking for a combination of a minimum of (a) 3 second round picks or (b) 1 first round and a second rounder or (c) 1 first round and a good prospect to take on Liles’ salary. I don’t think Liles adds and value to the Flames d-core, particularly since he appears to be poorer version of Wideman.

    The addition of Joe Colborne is simply not enough compensation in my view.

    It also seems that Flames are not the type of team that are willing to use its compliance buyout ability to get rid of Liles’ contract. Plus I think the Flames will need to keep the 2 compliance buyouts in case they need to use them on David Jones or Dennis Wideman. Those appear to be the only two long-term contracts on the Flames team that could prove to be a drag down the road.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    I had an epiphany last night while trying to fall asleep. This is how the Flames should capitalize on this “cap crunch”… bear with me:

    Step 1: Trade Kris Russell, TJ Galiardi, Blair Jones + 2015 2nd (or 2014 3rd maybe?) to Tampa for Ryan Malone, Sami Salo and Tampa 2014 1st.

    Tampa clears 8.25 million in cap space while only taking back 3.40, a net gain of nearly 5 mil. Owners will love it.

    Step 2: Trade Chris Butler to Philly for Meszaros + 2014 2nd.

    Philly clears a net 2.3 million in cap space (and people around the league still think Butler is a 4/5 defenseman.)

    Step 3: Trade Derek Smith and Philly’s 2014 2nd to Toronto for J.M. Liles + TOR 2014 1st.

    The logic: This leaves Calgary with still over $2 million in cap space and a veteran roster prime for deadline selloffs, plus another 3 1st round picks. Make it 4 if you can get one for Cammy (retain some salary?). Also a net loss if 1 contract!

    Tampa likes it cause it gives them cap flexibity and gives them needed forward depth as their bottom six sucks. Russell basically = Salo so their compete isn’t really affected either. Throwing in the 2nd softens the blow of losing their 1st which will again be a high pick, but they don’t think it will be 🙂

    Toronto stomachs giving up the 1st by getting the 2nd back. They also don’t know yet that their 1st will be a top 10 pick, and getting Derek Smith maintains their depth on defence.

    Deadline time:

    Trade Meszaros for a 2nd & Salo for a third round pick. Trade Cammy for a 1st, Stemp for a 2nd and Stajan for a 2nd (his value will increase; mark my words)

    Next draft we have four 1sts, four 2nds, two 3rds. Combine this with our 3 1st round picks from this year and other prospects and we might have one of the best prospect systems in the league.

    Bring up the kids at this point to help erase the half decent record we have emassed.

    Next year Liles & Malone’s contract helps get us to the floor and Malone is sold at deadline as the tank for McDavid continues.

    After thinking this through, I’ll have you know I got up in the middle of the night and faxed my resume to Brian Burke.