The Calgary Flames and the flat salary cap

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.

The Leafs found a way out of their obligation; the Blackhawks, meanwhile, are a bit more on the screwed side. And there’s even more bad news coming up for teams in harrowing cap situations.


Current circumstances

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.

Possible solutions

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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  • Bananas-are-9ft

    I reckon we should take a run at Michal Neuvirth in net. Philly has Steve Mason in net and they split this season 53-29 for Mason. Neuvirth is 28 and had a .924 this year and has been over .914 since he was with Washington. He $1.625m for another year so he’d be cheap enough and I doubt Philly wants more than a late second and a Colborne.

  • Bananaberg

    Pretty light on the buyout conversation. Here’s a whack of savings:

    Buyout the following guys who don’t have positive possession impacts when on the ice (and don’t suppress shots either):

    1) Bouma: Saves $1.45 in first year

    2) Stajan: Saves $2.17 in first year

    3) Engelland: Saves $1.84 in first year

    TRADE Wideman to a team like, oh I don’t know, Edmonton! He’s got 1 year remaining, we can even offer to eat up to $1.5 of his cap hit to entice a 2nd or 3rd round pick coming back. They need Dmen and get a cheap test for a PP/shooting guy. Heck, I’d even take a 4th rounder in that deal. The savings is even better than a buyout, which would last 2 years as a budget cost.

    I’ve alluded to this in other posts on this site, but there is value in Colborne for another team: Anaheim. We want Andersen; they need to lose some salary AND players (currently at 50 of 50 roster contracts). Here’s the deal:

    ANA Gives: Andersen + Rakell (!!! RFA)

    CGY Gives: 2nd (35th) + 2nd (50th) + 3rd (65th) + Colborne (RFA)

    Solves their Goalie situation, reduces their cap hit next year, offloads a contract, they get a big body winger to play Top 9, AND they get some valuable draft picks back.

    CGY gets a young, excellent starting Goalie, a young proven Top 6 forward with upside (and great possession stats) and cashes in on value from Russell/Hudler trades!

    Bollig will be held down in the AHL next year, just like Raymond was this year. There’s some additional savings.

    Buyouts are fully within BT’s control, so we aren’t as “cap-strapped” as many want to believe.

    • The Fall

      Wideman has a No-Movement clause AND the Oil is the number one team on every player’s list.

      It is simply not going to happen.

      Also, Bouma, will bounce back.

      • Bananaberg

        RE: Wideman

        Fine, then how about trading him to one of the 2-5 teams interested in him last year near the deadline before he Hulk-smashed a ref? Same valuation approach applies. Eat salary, as long as it’s less than buyout cost.

        It’s actually quite foolish to “buy him out”, since it’d cost us $2/yr for the next 2 years to do so. Plus, we get no draft pick in that deal! Why not offer to eat $2 for one year and get a pick back?

        There are a few teams who are seeking “offensive” dmen. You’re comment assumes Treliving isn’t aware of that.

        And your Bouma comment lacks merit. 1) Bouma will never score 16 goals in a season again; and 2) Bouma is way too overpaid as a 4th liner (his shot suppression is “off the charts” to the negative, and his teammates are worse when he is on the ice…)

        • The Fall

          There is a market for Wideman; I didn’t mean to say he CANT be traded — just not to Edmonton. Mmost teams will be aware that part of it is a salary dump situation. So, the return may be limited. Buying him out make little sense; he would walk onto another team the next day.

          Bouma is not a 15 goal scorer, agreed. But I believe his horrendous season last year will prove to be an outlier due to injury and coaching issues. 10 goals and 20 points is a fair target for him as a middle 6 forward. He’s not necessarily ‘overpaid’ by that much right now. I remember the argument last year being around $0.5M too much for him.

    • PrairieStew

      Buyouts are not a panacea.

      Using Stajan as an example – yes you save $2.17 this year, but then you have to replace him with a player. Let’s say it’s Bill Arnold at $825k, so your net savings is $1.345 this year. Your cap savings are only $1.17 the second year, so assuming you still have Arnold at the same rate (you don’t; he’s RFA after this year) , at best your savings is only $350 k, for a grand total of about $1.7 saved for the next 2 years. What follows is the 2 year cap penalty of $833k for a player not on your roster – almost exactly what you saved in the first 2 years. For what – to have a little more money this year when Bennett is 20, Monahan 22 and Gaudreau 23. I’d rather not hamstring the pursestrings in 2 years when those guys are 22, 24 and 25 and i need to add veteran depth to a more competitive team.

      • Bananaberg

        Agreed. I was just illustrating what I saw to be 3 guys who were better buyout candidates than Wideman. Engelland is especially attractive, since we only have a cap hit for his buyout over the next 2 seasons.

        There are some useful players out there that could be targeted to replace lost guys if we did go down the buyout path:

        Rakell (see trade commentary above; sign around $3.5 for 3 years)

        Versteeg (useful depth scoring, maybe too expensive though around $3)

        Eaves (excellent value at $1.4)

        Helm (good value at $1.5; might have to pay more though)

        Schlemko (REALLY like idea of him returning for $1-1.2)

      • Kevin R

        Widemans cap hit is $500K cheaper than MAF & they gain 5.75mill the following 2 years when Wideman falls off. They may find it hard to fit Colborne & I wouldn’t be opposed to throwing in Klimchuk or Hickey instead of Colborne. They are tight but they do have Dupuis coming off because word is he is retiring due to health.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    Treliving’s list of priorities to deal with the cap in descending order of ‘what to try first’

    1) Trade Wideman for a goalie
    2) Trade Wideman for picks (no matter how late)
    3) Trade Wideman and a better pick for a worse pick
    4) Trade Wideman for anything and retain salary
    5) Buy-out Wideman
    6) Fire Wideman into the Sun.

    Honestly the removal of that contract will do more for the Flames cap situation than any other activity.

    I only like buyouts if there is one year left on the deal an no other trade option can be found (such as Wideman, Raymond, etc.)

  • wot96

    Lots of moving parts on any trade for Wideman. I don’t think he has as much value as others here do unless the Flames keep a big chunk of salary – which they should do in a heart beat. The real problem is his NMC.

    And btw – no to MAF. No matter how good he looks he has been second best ever since that world junior goal.

  • beastmodecowboy47

    Definitely think some teams trying to get up to the cap floor may at least consider taking a look at Raymond and Wideman… Would be great for us

    • freethe flames

      Raymond cleared waivers twice last year no one wants him for his salary. Maybe you could trade him and pay 1/2 of his salary and get a 6/7th rounder in 2017.

      It is perceived rightly or wrongly that Wides has some trade value and as long as management believes he has trade value he will not be bought out. I also think you could get more for Eng’s right now than any time; he had a decent year and while we hate his cap hit it might be acceptable in an Arizona or Toronto.

      Buyouts have been discussed for weeks now and until the playoffs end all we can do is speculate: Smid if healthy buyout, Raymond buyout, Bollig despite BB in the AHL, Wides traded, Stajan stays or is traded, and Bouma likely stays but could be traded. The Flames will find a way to make it work but it’s unlikely we get many bright shiny toys other than a goalie.

    • Rockmorton65

      I keep hearing posters talking about the teams “needing to get to the cap floor”. How many teams are there that are in trouble with that? Are there any that will struggle to reach it? From what I’ve read, most teams are over the floor or close to it.

      • beastmodecowboy47

        I think New Jersey and Phoenix among others are teams looking to meet the floor and we can only hope them or any other team is willing to take a chance on one of our bad contracts…

        • MattyFranchise

          General Fanager has some projected numbers for team salaries at the end of this regular season and the Jets, Canes, Sabres, and Coyotoes all ended the season with 10 million or more in cap space.

          When looking for salary dumps I’d start looking for trades there.

          Kings, Penguins, Blues, Lightning, Wings, and, holy cow, the Canucks are all projected to have a cap space of 0.

          Those are also teams I might be willing to work out a deal with if I were Treliving.

  • Howie Meeker

    My thoughts are to play all the pending UFA’s and see who is interested at the deadline regardless of playoff implications…..rather simple. Then next year you’ve got the cap space and trading chips to make the moves needed to turn this franchise into a contender.

  • Dale Denton

    Wouldn’t Wideman net a decent return at the trade deadline next year? If Russell got us that package, why can’t Wideman get us a few picks? Also why not keep engeland for that same reason?
    As for a goalie, teams like tampa and Anaheim and the blues might want to get 1 more year in with their tandems, so why not sign another cheap goalie for a year and then pounce on something good right before the expansion draft?

  • The Last Big Bear

    Even if haters are trying to make the argument that Wideman is the worst 35-40 point defenceman in the NHL, he’ll still very likely be the highest-producing offensive defenceman available at the trade deadline next year.

    And while the Flames are drowning in defenceman scoring, there are teams for whom a healthy Wideman could realistically be the top scorer on their blue line.

    That’ll likely be worth a solid asset at the trade deadline, when his cap hit is pretty much a non-factor.

    • Baalzamon

      As I tell you every single time you bring up Wideman’s supposed value at the trade deadline: the Flames need cap space now, not in February.

      Also, you can’t rely on Wideman being available at that point. Remember when he was going to be traded at this last trade deadline? And then he got suspended for 20 games?

      Yeah, I really wish the Flames had moved him last summer when they had the chance. You know, after his career best season.

  • freethe flames

    Arguments for keeping Wide’s and Eng’s are valid as are buying them out/trading them to create cap space. It depends on whether you are defending the status quo(being prepared to not be in the playoff hunt next year) or whether you think your team needs to move forward. Hiring BH suggests to me that BT wants this team to move forward sooner than later.

    Personally I think BT will be aggressive on the draft floor and I will not be surprised at all if he another Dougie Hamilton move that finds us a starting goalie and top 6 forward. Last year he traded the 15th, 45th and 52nd for a #2/3 defender and few of us where upset. He has better assets this time: 6th, 35th, 53rd and 55th, to work with. He either finds a way to move up and get who he really needs or trades the pick away to get what he needs. Personally if he sat on his picks and signs one of Reimer or Johnson as his goalie for the next 2-3 years I would be okay with that.

  • capcurago

    The safest way (I see) to manage this difficult cap bottleneck is to trade for Greiss and/or Neuvirth and gamble on cheap goaltending for a year. Signing a comparable goalie eliminates the ability to shed a contract. For example, Bollig and a 2nd for Greiss is better, IMO, than signing Johnson.

    The biggest problem with not trading Wideman and Engelland is that re-signing Nakladal to a long term deal likely can’t happen (three RHS for your bottom d pair and one guy slightly over-promoted to the top-four). If he’s signed to a long term deal and outperforms his contract (seems likely, I like a 5 year, $2M per year deal for Nakladal) than we can easily trade him if we need to make room for Rasmus.

    MayRay will have an interesting year and offseason. The move by many teams to prioritize speed all through four lines means he could be gambled on. If we can get a Neuvirth deal done, I like the idea of trading Raymond for Matt Read. We get the RHS with more upside and they get to drop a year of expensive term from their cap structure. It kind of replicates the logic of their Umberger/Hartnell deal and how smart do they look for that deal now?! I wouldn’t worry about us looking as dumb as Columbus though.

    BT is executing like a Boss.

    • Bananas-are-9ft

      > The safest way (I see) to manage this difficult cap bottleneck is to trade for Greiss and/or Neuvirth and gamble on cheap goaltending for a year. Signing a comparable goalie eliminates the ability to shed a contract. For example, Bollig and a 2nd for Greiss is better, IMO, than signing Johnson.

      Neuvirth is cheap but he’s not a gamble – he’s a .924 on a team that was worse than us on shots against. He stood on his head against Washington despite being hung out to dry by his own D.

      We could do a lot worse than Neuvirth

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    According to generalfanager.com, NJD are at 50 contracts and have lots of cap room. So, Wideman and a pick for Jiri Tlusty and David Schlemko. Or if Wideman won’t waive his NM, Engelland for T-Lusty and Schlemer.

    • Kevin R

      Probably not an issue with contracts with Jersey, they have a lot of expiring ELC’s on some prospects they are probably ready to walk from. They also have a lot of expiring contracts on their main roster. Also Schlemko is a UFA July 1, why sign him for a cheap contract to trade him to us & eat a salary for us. I see Wideman being a fit on their team but I don’t see much of a return back & we would really need to sweeten the deal for them.

  • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

    Surely Smid is going to be on the LTIR?

    Here’s how the conversation goes…

    Brad to Laddy “we are putting you on LTIR, stay home with your baby and rehab yourself. With you now having a family that is the most important thing in your life. We are just looking out for you and your well being. GFG”

    • Kevin R

      Still doesn’t alleviate the 3.5 mill cap hit to the starting lineup. I think the conversation is Laddy, we like you but if you try to play 1 more year you’ll need a walker to go play with your kids in the park. If you retire, we have this cushy assistant coaching position down in beautiful Stockton California.

      • PrairieStew

        Over the summer you can send Bennett to the farm on paper and Smid is on the roster. As soon as camp opens you LTIR Smid and his $3.5 effectively comes off the cap. If he retires – he doesn’t get that money – that’s not going to happen.

      • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

        Basic Formula Example:
        The league upper limit is $69M. A team has an averaged club salary of $68M and a player with a cap hit of $5M becomes injured and the team places him on LTIR. The team is now permitted to spend up to a new limit of $72M:
        Cap hit of LTIR player is $5M
        Amount of cap space available to team = $69M – $68M = $1M
        Amount team can exceed the cap = $5M – $1M = $4M
        New limit = $68M + $4M = $72M

  • Brodano12

    Trade Wideman for anything whatsoever (retain salary if necessary).

    Buy out Smid.

    Gives us 5.25 million from Wideman (2.63 if we retain) and 2.67 million from Smid. Total of 5.3 million – 7.9 million in cap space. Replace the with two of Kulak, Tspoon and Nakdaddy for under 1.9 million, and that’s a net savings of 3.4 – 6 million. That will give us just enough cap space to sign someone like Brouwer, who is imo a solid complementary forward for the top line. That gives us ~4-5 million more to get a goalie too.

    Relying on Prybil and Shinkaruk to fill NHL spots is just plain bad management, and BT has stated that both most likely need more AHL seasoning unless they really show up to camp. Getting Brouwer or a similar forward will fill one of the two open top 9 RW spots, while adding size, veteran presence, and defensive responsibility to either top top line or Bennett’s wing.

    A line up of:

    Gaudreau-Monahan-Brouwer

    Ferland-Bennett-?? (maybe cheap one year deal FA like PA Parenteau, Patrick Eaves (hometown boy), Colton Sceviour or Dale Weise. Otherwise, hopefully at least one player surprises at camp, whether it be Shink, Poirier, Agostino, or even our 2016 first).

    Colborne-Backlund-Frolik

    Bouma-Stajan/Grant-Jooris

    Brodie-Hamilton

    Gio-Nak

    Jokipakka-Wotherspoon

    Engelland

    Reimer

    Ortio

    is pretty decent considering the cap constraints we have this year. This is a playoff team imo, but not a contender (yet). Our real cup window will be starting in 17/18, when this year’s pick is ready, along with Shink/Poirier, and we’ll have cap space out the kazoo due to Engelland/Wideman/Smid/Raymond all coming off the books.

  • Baalzamon

    For the record, this is why I scoff every time someone suggests pursuing Okposo. The Flames can’t fit him under the cap in any marginally realistic scenario.

    At least, it’s the main reason why.