Ah, the salary cap: a tool used in order to have greater parity throughout the league, even as it annoys both richer teams and teams who make stupid decisions with their money alike. You wanna sign Bryan Bickell to a four-year, $16 million deal? David Clarkson to a seven-year, almost-$40 million one? You do you, but it’s either going to bite you, or you’re going to have to find a way out of it.
Next year’s NHL salary cap is expected to remain “relatively flat,” per Bill Daly.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) May 30, 2016
A “relatively flat” cap should see teams have roughly $71 or $72 million with which to work for the 2016-17 season. As things stand today, the Flames have just roughly $48.2 million committed, which should give them about $23 million with which to play.
And by play, I mean fill out the rest of their roster. Because that $48.2 million only covers 14 players: seven forwards (Frolik, Backlund, Stajan, Bouma, Bollig, Bennett, and Ferland) and seven defencemen (Giordano, Hamilton, Wideman, Brodie, Smid, Engelland, and Jokipakka). It also covers Mason Raymond staying buried in the AHL: $2.2 million of dead money.
The $23 million the Flames have left needs to go to another seven forwards and two goalies.
Spending that cap space
One of the two goalies should be an obvious re-sign: Joni Ortio, who should be able to play as a backup in the NHL this upcoming season. He’ll also come cheap, which is paramount for the Flames at this point. He had a cap hit of $600,000 this past season; let’s just pencil him in at that.
That still leaves $22.4 million for a starting goalie, three depth forwards, and the impending raises of Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau.
How the Flames will structure their cap not just for next season, but for several future seasons, is all going to come down to just how much Monahan and Gaudreau get paid.
The most pressing issue now, though, is this upcoming season. With too much money thrown about in previous years, the Flames are in a bind for 2016-17. Wideman, Smid, Engelland, Raymond, Stajan, Bollig, and even probably Bouma are all getting more than they’re worth: that’s about $20.5 million being taken up, or almost half of the Flames’ current cap obligations, by overpaid players. The good news is all the Flames have to do is make it through this season, and $15.2 million of that will be gone.
But they’ll still have that money on the books when Monahan and Gaudreau’s raises kick in, and so, less flexibility in present time.
Let’s say Gaudreau ends up with a Vladimir Tarasenko-like deal, but put him at $8 million; let’s say Monahan gets something akin to Taylor Hall, and ends up with $6 million. (Maybe they’ll split the difference and take $7 million each.) That’s an estimation of $14 million tied up in two players – two players who are worth it, but have also just given the Flames only $8.4 million left with which to sign a starting goalie and five depth forwards.
Now, that’s doable: depth forwards can come cheap, especially if they’re in the form of rookies. Hunter Shinkaruk? An $863,333 cap hit. Daniel Pribyl? He’s at $925,000. Josh Jooris was at $975,000 the past season, and it’s difficult to see him rising much above that. That’s roughly $2.7 million spent on these three forwards – that is, assuming they’re all prepared to be NHLers (we know Jooris is, but the other two are question marks).
We’re now left with $5.7 million to acquire a starting goalie and round out the forward group. Joe Colborne still needs a new contract, and if he’s really after that rumoured $3.6 million, then wow, no, goodbye. Not only is that a tough sell – at my most optimistic earlier in the season I was giving him $2.4 million – but we’re basically at the point the Flames cannot afford that.
At this point the Flames probably end up rounding out the forward group with, say, Derek Grant and maybe Kenny Agostino. Let’s say they combine for $1.6 million, thereby leaving the Flames with $4.1 million left to sign a goalie.
Okay, phew, they can do that – $4 million would be a reasonable price for, say, James Reimer or Frederik Andersen.
Coming in tight
I’m making a lot of assumptions in the above section. A lot. But quite frankly, assumptions are really all we can do until we know just how much of the cap Monahan and Gaudreau will be taking up – and from there, we’ll still have more assumptions to make.
They’re the two big ones, though, and they’ll set the tone for just how the Flames will be able to fill out the rest of their roster for 2016-17. But it’s going to be a tight squeeze.
There are some major flaws with my above scenario, too. For example, I’ve got the following forwards pencilled in: Shinkaruk, Pribyl, Grant, and Agostino. None of them are proven NHLers. Sure, we’re talking about two healthy scratch spots in all of this, but that’s still two regular, every day NHL spots going to two completely unproven guys.
Best case scenario, all four prove themselves; worst case, the Flames are essentially functioning with only three actually usable lines. That’s definitely a pretty big risk.
And all of this isn’t even going into the Smid conundrum. If he can’t play, the Flames will need another defenceman – but they can only place Smid’s $3.5 million cap hit on LTIR after the season has started. Say the Flames re-sign Jakub Nakladal – how do he and Smid fit under the cap until Smid can go on LTIR? The Flames are already basically as close up against the cap as they can be.
We’ve established the Flames will have a lot coming off of the books for 2017-18, so really, they just need to find a way to make it through 2016-17. Dumping salary via trade to cap-strapped teams could be one option. Does Raymond really need to be buried in the AHL, or would another team be willing to take him on as a reclamation project for a year? Can Smid be another Chris Pronger, which is a sentence I never thought I would type?
Players like Engelland and Bouma may be easier to dump salary in a trade. After all, while they probably aren’t worth their contracts, at least they’ve got the truculent touch; they present more value through intangibles.
It’s tough to try to get other teams to take on your trash, though, even if you can tantalize them with offers such as “have this mediocre player for way too much money!”
This is where the buyout comes in.
Buying out Wideman saves the Flames $4 million this upcoming season: more than enough to not only upgrade the defence with another player, but get a bit of breathing room.
If Smid is healthy enough to buy out, the Flames can save $2.67 million in cap space for 2016-17: easily enough to upgrade his spot and not have to worry about fitting an extra body in under the cap.
No matter what, though, the Flames are going to have to get creative.
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