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.

  • 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.

  • seve927

    Oooo, I like the idea of getting a first from the Leafs. If they could pull that off, we could be picking twice in the top 10.

    I’ve always kind of liked Meszaros too, but can’t say I really know much about him. His possession number were terrible last year, playing against tough competition, so he really doesn’t fill a need for the Flames. If he could put up some points though, he’d be a good asset to flip at the deadline.

    Liles is the very clear target. The Leafs aren’t just in trouble this year. They may have to sign a starting goalie (depending on who wins the Bernier-Reimer battle), their top scorer, and a top D-man next year as well. They could really use that 3.8 mill. But I would be completely shocked if they gave up a first, and I don’t really have any interest in Colborne or Ashton or any of their prospects outside of Reilly.

    I think it’s going to be very difficult to extract much value. It sounds to me like teams are going to be more willing to contract their roster than give up assets. I hope I’m wrong!

    • Liles is the very clear target. The Leafs aren’t just in trouble this year. They may have to sign a starting goalie (depending on who wins the Bernier-Reimer battle), their top scorer, and a top D-man next year as well. They could really use that 3.8 mill.

      That’s an excellent point which I neglected. The Leafs want to get rid of the Liles deal for reasons extending beyond this year.

        • seve927

          I might believe (and be in favour of) getting Liles and TO’s 2014 first for our 2015 2nd. We’d be pretty well stocked by next year with some more added picks this year, Leafs would think they’re getting equivalent of a late first rounder back, pretty much a wash. But we have the potential of getting a high first rounder.

    • Stockley

      The Flyers D has been atrocious forever. Hard to say whether Meszaros was part of that or if he was just a victim of being part of a corps that is underwhelming at best.

      I remember him more from his Ottawa days when he was very well-regarded.

  • Here’s hoping the Flames make big on this because KW is right, I’ve been (impatiently) waiting for this for a long time and to me this is the final verdict on Feaster.

    Whatever they do, no quick fix type moves. Play poker, get the highest bid and land some quality pick(s) or prospect(s).

    The vet with the bad contract that comes back doesn’t even matter to me. As Kent stated, buy it out if you have to, but this a golden and rare opportunity to build faster by acquiring additional assets that would be otherwise unattainable.

  • DoubleDIon

    Kent, I like the theory of what you’re saying here. But I think it’s a little bit of wishful thinking. There’s no way the Flyers give you assets to graciously “take Meszaros off their hands.” He’s not Kotalik, heck even a player as overpaid as Horcoff returned an asset. I think you’re over-estimating what we’d get for relieving teams of their cap problems. Kotalik was terrible and made 3 million. Meszaros is a 2nd pairing guy who makes the proper amount. He has value unlike Kotalik.

    Liles on the other hand is overpaid enough to return an asset, not a 1st round pick like you suggested, but perhaps something a little less like a 2nd, Colbourne ect.

    • In a normal environment, sure, but things are getting tight for these teams right now and with the cap taking a big nose dive, it’s a tough situation to be in.

      It doesn’t have to be Meszaros in particular. If the Flames can manage this like an auction, there’ll drive up the price for whoever is the MOST desperate to make a move. There’s lots of candidates, so it’s possible.

      • DoubleDIon

        I just think with the dearth of quality top 4 options Meszaros has value or is at least moveable without giving up another asset. There are options like sending player to the minors for a season (unless I’m missing a new CBA angle) and cash rich teams like Philly and Toronto would sooner do that I’d have to think. I get your point, we can pick up cap and a quasi-useful NHLer and acquire assets. I guess we just disagree on the value of the assets we’d pick up. I see it more along the lines of 2nd rounders or B level prospects.

        • piscera.infada

          You can’t just bury crap contracts in the minors and not have them count against your overall cap hit. That’s a loop-hole they closed in the latest CBA. That, coupled with the lowering salary cap is the reason they offered two ‘compliance buyouts’ as opposed to the previous buyout structure.

    • Rockmorton65

      One thing I don’t think you’re considering is that these teams NEED to trade these players. When that happens, you’re not going to get full value. In fact you’re in a distinct negative bargaining position. Philly’s not saying “what’ll you give us for Meszaros”, rather “what can I give you to take him?” The sell for Liles would be even tougher.

      This might be too aggressive, but I’d rather see Feaster make a move that’s too aggressive rather than timid;

      Meszaros+1st for Smith & Butler

      Liles+Colbourne+1st for Niemsz+Jones

      If Cammy has a good year and/or doesn’t want to resign, we’ll get a good pick/prospect. If Meszaros doesn’t fit in, move him for a pick.

      Consider the rebuild supercharged.

    • Bean-counting cowboy

      Hard to say… Agree taking on Liles would return the greater asset, but what is $3.8 million worth to the owners that they wouldn’t have otherwise had to spend? That money is in their pockets otherwise. Like Friedman said on the Fan this morning, you’re not gonna spend that kind of money on a toxic contract without getting something significant back in return. It’s just that this is new territory when it comes to bargaining in this specific set of scenarios. So the price will be determined I think by pitting cap strapped teams against eachother.

  • piscera.infada

    Any chance of lessening the perceived weight on a team like Toronto by taking a 1st round pick in 2015 (as opposed to 2014)? Of course, you’d hope they don’t become a playoff team in 2015, but assuming they don’t perhaps you get another ball in the McDavid lottery.

    I’m not advocating this, I just wonder if a 1st in 2015 is more palatable to a team that sees itself on an upward trajectory than a 1st in 2014.

  • Lordmork

    I love the idea of getting an asset for taking a potential asset off someone’s hands. Even if it doesn’t turn out, we still come out ahead. Someone like Meszaros seems like a pretty good deal.