The biggest news of this past week was the signing of forward Lance Bouma to a new three-year deal. The deal has been seemingly praised and trashed by the local hockey community.
Those praising it typically are pointing at Bouma’s on-ice leadership, tenacity and determination, as well as his ability to score key goals, in justifying his $2.2 million cap hit through 2017-18. The main criticisms of the deal tend to fall into the realm of “Well, he’s a tremendous role player, but man, that’s a lot of money for a bottom-six player…”
I don’t mind the deal myself, but it does tighten the noose a bit next summer in terms of managing the salary cap.
2015-16 CAP SPACE
Bouma’s deal gives the Calgary Flames 47 players under control for the 2015-16 season – including restricted free agents Micheal Ferland and Paul Byron. In terms of committed cap space for this season, the Flames have roughly 22 players on one-way deals (or who are waiver eligible or Sam Bennett) for a cap commitment of $67.712 million before bonuses. Right now, that leaves the Flames with roughly $3.688 million to wrap up another roster player.
That’s totally doable, and that’s before Brad Treliving does his magic show and somehow makes an ugly contract disappear between now and October 6.
It’s next season that’s going to be downright ugly.
2016-17 CAP SPACE
Let’s jump in the time machine and leap to July 1, 2016.
Under contract for the Flames for 2016-17 and cemented in the NHL are Michael Frolik, Mikael Backlund, Mason Raymond, Matt Stajan, Lance Bouma, Brandon Bollig, Sam Bennett, Dougie Hamilton, Dennis Wideman, T.J. Brodie, Ladislav Smid and Deryk Engelland. The cap hit of those dozen players? About $40.592 million for a dozen players.
In a summer that will see the Flames needing new deals (or replacements, heaven forbid) for guys like Jiri Hudler, David Jones, Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Mark Giordano, Kris Russell, Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo, the club will likely have around $34 million in cap space to lock up 11 players – and that includes the team’s best (and most expensive) guys.
If we presume the NHLPA utilizes its 5% salary cap escalator next summer as it did this year, you have a cap of just shy of $75 million ($74.97 million to be precise). Let’s see how quickly that disappears…
- Mark Giordano – $8.5 million
- Sean Monahan – $6.5 million
- Johnny Gaudreau – $6.5 million
- Two goalies of some repute – $6 million combined, at least
That’s five roster spots taken up, and suddenly, you have an optimistic $27.5 million disappear, and the team has just $7.5 million to sign the rest of the team. And might I stress this, I think I’m being optimistic that these deals for these players will be this cheap. And if you want to retain Jiri Hudler or Kris Russell, kiss even more of that meager cap space goodbye.
IS IT BOUMA’S FAULT?
Once you see how tight the cap situation is for next summer, you can understand the concern about Bouma’s cap hit but let’s not get crazy here – it is in no way his fault. He obviously worked his tail off last summer and throughout this past season, and he was rewarded with a nice offensive campaign and a ton of goals – and a new contract. He did everything he was asked to during his “show-me” deal, and he was compensated accordingly.
But man, things will get hairy next summer, and I’m terrified that deals like this one may be the difference between keeping guys like Hudler and Russell in Calgary and having them ply their trade elsewhere in the future. Monahan, Gaudreau and Giordano are the top priorities, and I’m under no illusions that Bouma getting a few hundred thousand more than people thought he should get will bump any of those three gentlemen from the roster. But when you look at the success teams like Chicago and Los Angeles have had over the last stretch, it’s the secondary and complementary guys – their versions of Russell and Hudler – that chip in throughout the year and make the difference over the 100-plus games of a long season and playoff drive. Diminish your team’s depth even in tiny ways through slightly heavy cap hits for guys like Bouma, and it can have ripples throughout your salary structure.
The good news is that Brad Treliving has another year to figure out a way to make the numbers work. But as you can see, he’s got his work cut out for him.