Looking Ahead At The Potential Cap Crunch

The Calgary Flames have made a big splash over the past week or so. They re-signed Mikael Backlund. They brought in Dougie Hamilton and signed him long-term. They signed Michael Frolik.

Besides re-signing some restricted free agents to new deals, the Flames are seemingly done for the summer. But what implications do these big, new deals have for future seasons? Can the Flames stay under the salary cap long-term?

Here’s a quick glance at how they sit, as of right now.

2015-16

The Flames presently have 26 players on one-way deals, or who would require waivers to go back to the AHL, or who are Sam Bennett, under contract for the 2015-16 season. (I use these premises to determine who is “on the team” during the off-season.) The cap hit, bonuses included, for this group is about $69 million. That does include some bodies that will undoubtedly be moved out, so I’d expect the Flames to begin with a 23-man roster with roughly a $65-66 million cap hit. The Flames will probably have around $5-5.5 million in cap space when the season begins.

I have zero inside intel, it’s just a hunch based on them needing to get down to 23 bodies for October 6.

Significant cap hits (at over $4 million) include Dougie Hamilton ($5.75M), Dennis Wideman ($5.25M), T.J. Brodie ($4.65M), Jonas Hiller ($4.5M), Michael Frolik ($4.3M), Mark Giordano ($4.02M), David Jones ($4m) and Jiri Hudler ($4M). Between the eight guys with big cap hits, there’s $36.47 million tied up in this group, which is just over half of the team’s cap.

Things get a bit hairy after that.

2016-17

Significant cap hits (at over $4 million) include Dougie Hamilton
($5.75M), Dennis Wideman ($5.25M), T.J. Brodie ($4.65M) and Michael Frolik ($4.3M). Likely to join this group? Mark Giordano is in line for a big raise, as are Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. If we presume Giordano gets around $7.5 million and Gaudreau and Monahan each get around $5 million each, that puts the cap hit for this group at around $37.45 million and, presuming a 5% cap bump to $75 million, puts the hit at about half for the seven most important players on the team. It gives a bit of wiggle room for these cap hits to be a bit higher, but also doesn’t provide much space for an established goaltender or for retaining Jiri Hudler. Or for Kris Russell to get a really big raise. Or for Giordano get a bigger pay-day.

Or if they do some or all of those things, it makes the team reliant on inexpensive players for their bottom six and defensive depth. Based on the team’s salary structure, if David Jones comes back, he’s taking a haircut from his previous $4 million payday.

The 2016-17 season will be the biggest test; important players will have bigger cap hits, and suddenly their cap room will be at a serious premium.

2017-18

If the Flames can survive 2016-17 without blowing their team up to fit under the cap, they get a lot of help once 2017-18 arrives. What kind of help?

Well, the contracts of Deryk Engelland, Ladislav Smid and Dennis Wideman will be off the books. That’s over $10 million of cap space freed up on the back end. Regardless of whatever mess they get themselves into the previous season, 2017-18 is the proverbial “get out of jail free” card. Granted, they’ll need to sign some defenders to fill those roster spots, but they likely won’t have the same ugly cap hits as those three gentlemen.

SUM IT UP

The only real salary cap trouble the Flames will get in will definitely be next season (2016-17). And that’s right when the team’s most important players will undoubtedly become their most expensive players.

So maybe, just maybe, Brad Treliving can con Giordano, Russell, Hudler, Gaudreau and Monahan to take cheap one-year deals, and then give them big raises afterwards?

Okay, probably not. But that’s probably the only way the Flames can avoid some tough decisions next summer.

  • supra steve

    When are the vast majority of PA members going to figure out that they need to work with the league to establish a “franchise player” salary cap? If Kane and Toews were maxed out at, lets say $8 million per year, that would leave more money for the rest of the Hawks lineup, and that’s what, 20 players. It’s not like the Hawks ownership would just pocket the savings, they would spend it on higher salaries for the rest of the lineup. The rest of the lineup is the majority, they need to wise up and wield the power that they have collectively in their own PA.

    Oppressed hockey players of the world unite! Ha ha.

  • Brent G.

    It would be a really smart move if BT traded away Stajan and Wideman before the massive cap crunch reduces their value.

    I like stajan but he can be replaced with any one of Arnold, Shore, or Jooris. Wideman would garner a nice return and they should look to resign Schlemko to fill out the 5/6 position.

  • Truculence

    2016-17 will not be that big of a problem unless they sign Giordano to an exorbitant cap hit. You’re assuming that (a) the roster will stay the same and (b) that there will be no buyouts.

    For example, they can save 4 million in cap space for 2016-17 by simply buying out both the contracts of Smid and Engelland in the summer of 2016. I would also assume that there would be takers for the services of Stajan and Wideman at that point if management chose to go in that direction.

    Regardless, I think Hudler is on his way out anyways if he has another season like the last. but casualties are inevitable in a cap system, and management needs to concentrate on the core (Bennett, Monahan, Brodie, Gio, Hamilton, and Gadreau) and consistently jettison other assets that become too expensive.

  • Tomas Oppolzer

    Ryan, you also forgot that Raymonds 3.1mill is off in 2017-18 as well. Not really concerned. Flames have suddenly filled the cupboards with a lot of good young players chomping at the bit to break into the NHL. You have to know that before we fire sale any valuable piece several of those players expiring could be jettisoned to create the space we need. Wideman is definitely moveable without eating salary if you want to temper the expected return (like a 2nd & a 3rd), Raymond could be sold cheap at the TDL for a mid round pick, same as Jones. There is also buyout options for guys with just 1 year left as well that can open cap space for 2016-17.

    Personally, I think the Flames have 1-2 more years transition period to a contender. I would rather see Flames try to max out some value on Wideman & resign Schlemko for an instant 4.0 mill cap savings & go into next year with 10mill in cap space avail. I just think Russell needs to be given that #4 spot so we can make a decision on his next contract. Schlemko & Engellend on that bottom pairing getting 8-9 minutes a game is very functional.

    Right now we are spending 9.0 mill on 3 goalies. After next year that changes as well & I think we will save about 3.0 mill in that position as well going into 2016-17. The key is to getting Monahan & Gaudreau to some very good bridge contracts. I have faith in BT

  • Trevy

    I don’t understand why, as much as I love Johnny and Monahan, we aren’t attempting to do a bridge deal like originally done with Brodie and what the rest of the teams do. Why do we have to jump straight into big fat long term and money deals, like the Oilers did with their trio. If we could sign them to a two yr 2.5 per, it would also bye us some time. Columbus did it with Johansson, Mtl did it with Subban so why not!?

      • Trevy

        Sorry, but I never heard of a $5 million bridge deal before. Even Johansson’s was closer to $3 million for 3yrs on his bridge deal and the sports world thought that was high!

      • disagree i think you get Mony at 5-5.5 for 6/7 and Gaudreau at 5.5-6 for 6/7 years. Neither of those kids are greedy and I think they both want to be here.

        and the reason I wouldn’t do a bridge deal is because Mony and Gaudreau have proven they can play in this league and be very successfull at it. They’ve provided this team with a huge jump at 19 and 20 years of age respectively Sign them until they’re 26-28. Then By then you never know how large the cap gonna be and should have room to pay them as ufas.

        Where it gets expensive is if Ferland gets another 2 years at say 1.5m and breaks out scoring 80-100pts in the next 2 seaons and then wants 5 million/yr or something when he is due for his next deal… those are the types of players where you have to weigh the benefit of paying them. Gaudreau and Monahan are legitimate stars you dont hvae anything to weigh you pay them and lock them up. Mony’s gonna score 30G a season in this league for a long time trust me.

        • piscera.infada

          I think Monahan, you have to sign to a long term deal. 21 year-old (at the end of the season) first-line centres, who have proven themselves for three years are extremely, extremely rare. That, right there, is your franchise (obviously there are more players, but I mean, how long has this franchise been searching for a centre like Monahan?).

          Gaudreau, I think you have to play by ear a bit. He had one great (and I mean, “great”) season. You have to see the same consistency next year. Obviously, that’s no knock on Gaudreau, the guy’s special, but you need to ensure he has the consistency to be great all the time before you give him 7 to 8 years.

          On the “cap-crunch” in general, I feel as though it’s being largely overplayed by the media. When the Hamilton deal was signed, Treliving said “this gives us a salary framework going forward”. I feel like if the Flames truly felt as though Gaudreau, Monahan, Bennett deals were going to be overly onerous on them, they wouldn’t have sacrificed the assets to acquire a particular player that they knew would cost them very real dollars and term.

          This may mean some tough moves like saying “bye” to Hudler, or Gio if they can’t get a salary done that fits into their framework (“their” being the operative word). However, that’s all part of the “rebuilding” process.

          • exactly!

            Only rebuttal: every year of College Johnny got better.
            Not to say he’ll for sure progress the same in the NHL. I think we’ll see another step this year as Johnny will be more comfortable in his element,followed by a bit of a plateau the following year where he’s considered just “that good” as everyone realize he has all the tools. That being said I agree we should be cautious there. however, im expecting him to prove himself this year just like mony, and so contract talks with him will likely be in the same neighborhood as Monahan, maybe a little less, maybe the same, maybe a little more.

          • piscera.infada

            Agree. I’m just saying that at this particular juncture, don’t pencil Gaudreau in for a long-term deal. Sure, management will have contingencies based around him having a 100 point season this year. If he does that he’s worth the money. But let’s say, for sake of argument (and not that I think it happens-in fact I’m praying it doesn’t), but he gets injured for 30 games, and puts up 40 points. It’s a similar ppg pace, but it brings a lot of questions to the surface. Is it fair then to offer him a bridge deal?

            As I said, it’s all contingent on this season. If he runs in place, perhaps more of a “show me” deal is warranted, maybe it isn’t. It all depends on the numbers, whereas even if Monahan runs in place this season, I’m much more confident giving him term.

            Again, none of this is to imbue any negativity towards Johnny. Guy’s my favourite player on the team right now–I have his Flames and Boston College jersey–but you have to be pragmatic with every player.

          • “no chance” huh? we’ll see šŸ˜› depends on the year he has this year only reason I think he gets a bit more is because yes Monahan is a centre and Piscera made a great point about this above. Johnny, however, has the ceiling to put up bigger points. I think it’s very much in the realm of possibility Johnny benefits from playing with Monahan in counting numbers which elevates his contract above Monahans. Is that fair or right or correct from a contractual pov? No, but it is the way these things work sometimes. Points matter. Posession matters less in terms of contract talks.

          • Gaudreau and Kane are very similar players right down to impact.

            Toews is in a completely different tier from Monahan unless Monahan’s offense, defense, and faceoffs take as big a stride next year as they did last year.

            I see Bennett as our Toews and Monahan as our Sharp.

            Monahan should not be paid as a Toews.. 20 year old Toews was a much better player.

          • Tomas Oppolzer

            Kane was also a first overall pick you moron. Of course he put up disgusting points. If Gaudreau even hits 45-50 points next year he gets paid. He’s putting up the numbers of a top 3 pick

    • TheoForever

      I think the answer is pretty simple. The age of Offer sheeting top end 22-23 year old players that have proven themselves is going to become more & more prominent in the NHL. Agents aren’t stupid. They know they can use this to up the value of a bridge deal. So you may as well offer 7-8 year deals & try to buy some of the UFA years & wrap up as much of their prime as possible for reasonable costs. Overpaying for 1-2 years to gain on the back 4 or 5 may be the way of the future. You think the Leafs won’t OS MacDavid in 3 years if the Oilers show an unwillingness to give him his 8-9 mill per. You may as well negotiate your own deal rather than have to match another GM’s deal on your player.

      • Trevy

        I understand your point, but don’t really agree. I think the lack of successful OS’s in the past have proven they’re not as common as one might think. Yes they do pose that unknown risk, but I believe they are more targeted to teams that lack the cap space and are trying to sign their young stars…see Chicago and Saad. I don’t think Calgary would ever position themselves to be in another cap hell as in the past, especially with BT at the helm. If you sign JG and SM to 6-7 year deals just for the sake of securing their services and possibly burning off 1 maybe 2 yrs of their UFA years, then at the end of that, they’ll become free agents and can sign for huge bucks with anyone, so you risk losing them at that point for nothing!

        I still say if we wrap them up with a bridge of 2yrs @ $2-3/per, then followed by a 8yr, we keep them longer without compromising the core of the team. Just my opinion.

        • Greg

          I agree, with the exception that even a bridge deal won’t be in the 2-3 million dollar range. If you nickel and dime them now you could end up having to over pay to sign them long term later. Better off shooting for a win-win situation: $4m for 1 year. It’s a very reasonable amount for a bridge deal and asks them to only forgo a small amount of cash for 1 season, while buying the team the time to get through their 1 year cap crunch. Then lock them up long term after that.

  • Trevy

    I really wish we could keep Wideman and Hudler (extend Huds for 10 mill two years) for at least 2-3 more years, to help out the youngsters. Getting Jones, England and Raymond off the payroll would be great because we have young players that can take their place. I have no idea how we move Jones, Raymond or Engelland though. Oh ya and Bollig as well.

  • First Name Unidentified

    They should trade wideman even for a late 2nd rd pick. Raymond, Jones, Colbourne, have got to go. There’s simply no room for them on this highly skilled Flames roster. They are taking up space that Arnold, Ferland, Poirier, Smith et al could use

  • TheoForever

    No big deal when comes to the cap, there is a bunch of players that will be gone from the team, and the young guys will take their place.
    No need to panic.

  • I can see the Flames moving Smid, Wideman, Hiller, and a few smaller contract players before next summer. IF you assume a 5% increase $4M + $13.25m (those 3) + 5m left from this yr will give the Flames $22.25m to sign Gio, Mony, Gaudreau and maybe Hudler, I could see the Flames letting Jones walk as they’ll have Frolik, Ferland, Hudler (if they resign) + kids from the farm to fill out the line up there so there’s another $4m you can save. It’s gonna be tight. But the Flames should be able to manage it. Thankfully they’ve replenished the system you just keep shuffling in players liek Arnold, Poirier and Klimchuk. ANd hey if Poierier takes a big step this year. Hudler might be moveable after we win the cup!!! (here’s to dreaming)!! šŸ˜›

  • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

    Why do people insist on saying trade for a “late 2nd round” or “mid 1st round” pick etc…

    The terminology is a “1st – 7th round pick”.
    Whether it is a “late, mid or early 1st – 7th round pick” depends on where the team finishes the season.

    • First Name Unidentified

      Wideman would be useful for a team in contention, to get them over the hump. Hence my suggestion of a late 2nd round pick. Which, intuitively, means trade him to one of the better teams in the league for their 2nd rounder. Does that spell it out for you?

      • Tomas Oppolzer

        And whom would you target as a potential trading partner for Wideman? He has a no trade clause or limited trade clause. At this point is he npt more valuable to this team than a late second rounder?

        • First Name Unidentified

          He would certainly be useful to Washington, again, as they just lost Green. Similarly, Detroit, NYI, etc.
          And no, at this point he’s not more valuable to The Flames. I’d much rather see a bottom pairing of Schlemko/Engelland/TSpoon. Even Morrison.
          This is the highest value you’d ever get for Wideman. How many of us have sold a stock at its perceived peak? Rarely!
          Our top 4 of Gio, TJ, Hamilton, and Russell is as good as anybody’s or better

          I’d also put money on Wideman becoming a liability for this team at some point during this season. He isn’t really a very good defenseman. Our top 4 can easily put up similar points in easier ice

  • Trevy

    Wideman, Jones, Raymond, Engelland, Smid, Hiller will all be off the book over the next two years…Brad is a very intelligent contracts negotiator as well and will get value when signing some of these guys to new deals go-forward, gives me hope we’ll be able to retain all the guys we need moving forward.

    God willing the Canadian dollar rebounds as well, that will allow the cap to increase at a more enhanced rate than the current environment we’re seeing.

  • Outside the cap concerns, I think the larger problem is this is it. This is the team. Say they do sign Gio, Monahan, Gaudreau, ect ect, and they all fit under the cap. Okay, you still have a situation in net where you are praying Ortio becomes the next Kipper. And if he does, well then how much is that gonna cost. And even if he does and he fits under the cap then again, that’s it. That’s the team. A cup for this team means Bennet, Monahan, and Guadreau all progress. It means Hurlder’s career year will not only be repeated but improved upon. And yes the adds of Hamilton and Frolik should help improve the team, but enough to compete against teams in the playoffs?

    Basically my point here is I think the flames have again built a bubble team, and that’s only if everything breaks right cap wise.

    • Greg

      I’d be pretty comfortable going into the next decade with a core of Bennett, Monahan, gaudreau, Brodie and Hamilton. You need to manage the support around them well, but they won’t need everything to break right for them to have a lot of success.

      • Greg

        It is an impressive core. Especially if some of the role players surrounding them continue, which under Hartley, could easily do so. I am not discounting the flames as last proved that was a stupid thing to do. However, given how even teams like St. Louis have failed to break through the insane competition in the Western conference playoffs, I’m just not sure those pieces going forward will bring home a cup one day.

        But, remains to be seen. Either way it’s nice to see the Pacific get competitive again.

    • Well you got the right point, you just interpret it wrong. Yes it is the team. Even without Hamilton and Frolik, just taking this year’s team and adding Giordano and Ferland and developed Bennett and you are much better. Now add Frolik and Hamilton, both of which are huge, and the team is MUCH improved.

      And yes, that’s the point. We were top 8 this year with major injuries and raw rookies. The adds are MAJOR and significant. We have the potential, as is to be a major playoff contender. And the kids are just improving and new, likely better kids are on the way. Will we reach that potential? Who knows, lots of factors, lots of injury luck, and in the end, we will see.

  • I have a feeling that Gaudreau and Monahan will be given the exact same or very similar contracts to each other. Happens quite frequently with other pairs (Toews/Kane, Getslaf/Perry, Carter/Richards). As for Trevy saying why not do a bridge deal? Subban is a good example of what can happen (not saying it will) when you ask a player to “show me” what their worth and they explode. Montreal paid the price having to pay top dollar instead of signing him to a longer term on a more reasonable deal. I would be happy if both Monahan/Gaudreau signed 5 years at 5-5.5 mill. For those that think Gio is gonna be signed for anything less than 7 mill per, you’re dreaming.

    As for how to prepare for our cap crunch for 16/17 season I would like to see:

    1) Hiller or Ramo traded asap
    2) Trade Wideman now when’s his value is at the highest
    3) Trade Raymond/bollig/Smid/Stajan for anything. Buy out all the above if there’s no takers except for stajan. He can be our 4th liner. I would throw in Engelland but Burke loves him so no chance he’s going anywhere
    4) Let David Jones walk after the 15/16 season

    If all the above happens, then we should be ok to signing everyone in our core and preparing to sign Bennett and whoever else worth keeping (hudler)

  • MontanaMan

    I struggle with Player A ending his 3 year deal and expecting a 4 million dollar a year raise. At what point do we get these salaries under control? Milan Lucic at $6 million? Denns Wideman at $5 million? I don’t begrudge the players from getting a good contract but when the entire oilpatch is taking a 10 to 20 percent shave (or termination) it’s hard to comprehend the raises some of these players are getting.

    • piscera.infada

      I don’t mean any disrespect to anyone, but while perhaps reasonable meta-analysis, it’s wholly unrelated to the issue at hand. Pro sports, and the NHL itself, are entirely separate economies in many ways. If you don’t pay Monahan, or Gaudreau, or GIordano the money they’re worth, other teams will. If there was a severe lack of capital within the league itself, you’d see players salaries take a nosedive, and many of those players would look for other options.

      I get it, the economic fortunes of the province and country right now effect us all, but let’s not mince words: these athletes are immune in large part. Your point sounds nice ideologically, but it’s not realistic in this case.

      • MontanaMan

        I get it and don’t disagree. I’m not normally comparing athletes or entertainment stars to real workers as it’s apples and oranges and I’m a capitalist at heart so I get it. I guess with many of my friends and family getting a pink slip with the recent downturn (and our company projected to terminate 30 percent of our staff) it’s difficult to get excited about a guy looking for 7 million a year. But in a capitalist world, if he can get it, go for it. Happy 4th of July everyone.

    • The Last Big Bear

      I think fans would have a lot less butt hurt about player salaries if they were expressed more accurately.

      Player A isn’t getting a $3m raise per se, he’s going from 1% of Team X’s salary allocation to 3.5%. Or more accurately, he’s going from 0.03% of the NHL’s hockey related revenues to 0.1%

      If the NHL’s revenues drop, his salary drops by exactly the same amount. The NHL player’s salary is more directly related to economic trends than the oil patch worker.

    • The Last Big Bear

      I think fans would have a lot less butt hurt about player salaries if they were expressed more accurately.

      Player A isn’t getting a $3m raise per se, he’s going from 1% of Team X’s salary allocation to 3.5%. Or more accurately, he’s going from 0.03% of the NHL’s hockey related revenues to 0.1%

      If the NHL’s revenues drop, his salary drops by exactly the same amount. The NHL player’s salary is more directly related to economic trends than the oil patch worker.

  • MontanaMan

    How possibly can there be a cap crunch when the Flames have players with expiring contracts?? Also you are not considering player turnover that includes trade or buyout…. Very one dimension article…