Joe Colborne is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. The Flames didn’t qualify him, relinquishing their exclusive rights over him – but by doing so, they denied his ability to elect for arbitration and, potentially, bind the Flames into an expensive contract.
Colborne had a career season. He scored 19 goals and 44 points, all at a bargain $1.275 cap hit. He’s earned every right to want higher salary, and try to negotiate for it.
But even if you ignore the possibility that this was a fluke season of Colborne’s, the Flames may not be able to bring him back at his desired price, because they’re facing a cap crunch – one that Colborne may not be able to fit into at all.
Dreger/Colborne: “Whatever that term is, the money is going to come in probably between $3.5-4 million per year.” Had good arb case. #Flames
— Chris Nichols (@NicholsOnHockey) June 28, 2016
The current cap situation
The 2016-17 season is going to have a $73 million cap, so that’s $73 million the Flames have to work with.
They currently have nine forwards signed, including Mason Raymond. They currently total $22.45 million, and that’s including Sam Bennett’s bonuses, but excluding Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan’s impending contracts. In addition to those two, the flames will still have to sign (or promote) another three forwards.
Seven defencemen are currently signed, totalling roughly $29.7 million. This includes Ladislav Smid’s $3.5 million, which will have to fit under the cap before the season starts as long as he is still a Flame. If he cannot play, he will be placed on LTIR after, giving the Flames that much more in leeway – but to start the season, his cap hit has to fit. Because of Smid’s situation, the Flames will probably have to sign (or promote) at least one more defenceman.
The Flames have just one goalie signed for next season: Brian Elliott, coming in at a very affordable $2.5 million. They will still need to sign somebody else, whether he be Joni Ortio or another free agent.
That’s roughly $54.65 million already committed, with another six or seven players left to sign. They have $18.35 million with which to do this, and Monahan and Gaudreau are likely to take up most of it.
Fitting everyone in
Let’s say Monahan and Gaudreau make a combined $14 million. It’s a number we’ve been going with for some time now, and it feels like a higher end estimate – which we want, because we don’t want to underestimate just how much these two are going to get. They’re core pieces of this team; they’re going to get paid.
Now let’s add Colborne’s lower end to that – $3.5 million – and that leaves the Flames with just $850k left to sign two forwards, a goalie, and possibly a defenceman (thought the defenceman may be able to come later, after Smid has been placed on LTIR – assuming he is still injured).
That’s not going to happen. The Flames can get their backup goalie and pretty much nothing else, leaving them with only 12 forwards. They’d have to dress a 21 man roster to start the season.
If you factor out Bennett’s bonuses – $2.3 million if he hits them – then the Flames would have $3.15 million with which to work. That’s still really tight, but doable. Except then any bonuses Bennett hits would go to the 2017-18 season’s cap, and leave the Flames with virtually no cap flexibility for 2016-17.
Do you do it?
So we’ve established that it is possible to keep Colborne at his asking price, but it comes at great cost to the rest of the team.
Now, let’s go back and revisit Colborne’s season. He had a fantastic one. He also had an uncharacteristically high 19.0% shooting percentage – something that’s likely to come down, which will likely see him score fewer goals. He also has Mikael Backlund to thank – and he’s asking for Backlund money (or more!).
Is it worth it to pretty much destroy any cap flexibility for the season to retain this player? He could be en route to several more 40+ point seasons, or that could be as good as he ever gets. For the risk he carries, not to mention the cost to the team to retain him, I’d lean towards no. Either Colborne’s price will have to come down significantly – his next contract would have to start with a “2”, and even then it’s tight – or he’ll have to find a new team.
I like Colborne. I think he has value on a team. But I don’t think he’s a player worth handcuffing for, and that’s essentially what his contract asks are asking the Flames to do.