The salary cap is a cruel mistress. Without it, there would be no complaining about players being overpaid. It’s not our money; who cares how much an owner wants to chuck out to some guys? The problem arises when the cash distribution becomes finite, and signing one guy can prevent you from signing another.
The NHL is probably better off without the cap, though. It’s a warning to spend your money wisely; otherwise, you could face unfortunate consequences. (Just ask the Chicago Blackhawks.) Even if you aren’t a fan of the supposed parity it brings about, it at least keeps things interesting.
Really interesting, if you’re the Flames. With the signings of Troy Brouwer and Chad Johnson, the Flames have an additional $6.2 million on their cap. They’re now up to $56.45 in committed cap space ($58.75 if you include Sam Bennett’s potential bonuses), with just around $14-$17 million left to spend on five forwards, and probably another defenceman.
Two of those forwards are Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, and they’re expected to take up the bulk of the remaining cap space. But is there a way they wouldn’t have to?
The bridge deal
T.J. Brodie showed promise early on. His second contract, though? A mere two-year deal worth an annual average value of $2.125 million. From there, he further established his first couple of years were not flukes – rather, he was trending upwards – and earned a bigger deal from that.
There are a couple of problems with assigning the same line of thinking to Monahan and Gaudreau.
1. Players with their resumes don’t sign bridge deals
In looking for superstar or even just plain good, young players who have signed bridge deals recently, I’ve come up with the following list:
- P.K. Subban
- Ryan Johansen
- Alex Galchenyuk
- Marcus Johansson
- Jonathan Huberdeau
There are some pretty big problems with this list, though. For one thing, Subban and Johansen ended up traded out of town so, uh.
For another thing, none of these guys ever did quite like Monahan and Gaudreau have on their entry level deals. There’s been some promise in the final years of those deals – Subban put back-to-back near 40-point seasons, Johansen had a 63 point season, Galchenyuk showed steady year-to-year progression as he encroached on the 50-point mark, Johansson has hovered around that area basically his entire career, Huberdeau did hit 50+.
Monahan and Gaudreau have both had back-to-back 60+ point seasons, with Gaudreau scoring nearly a point per game in his second year and finishing top six in NHL scoring. They aren’t the same at all.
2. Players with their resumes go all-in
Vladimir Tarasenko exploded with a 73 point season in the final year of his entry deal. He got an eight-year, $7.5 million AAV deal as a result, and is thus far justifying it.
Filip Forsberg had back-to-back 60+ point seasons, and he got a six-year, $6 million AAV deal for his trouble. It’s not the max, but it’s much more significant than a bridge deal would have been. Brandon Saad and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ entry level stats fit in better with the first group, but they got six and seven-year, respectively, $6 million AAV deals as well.
And Aaron Ekblad’s second contract is already an eight-year deal with a $7.5 million AAV.
Monahan and Gaudreau’s entry level years have more in common with this group. If you go strictly off of points, Monahan should receive a deal roughly on par with Forsberg’s, while Gaudreau’s would be better than Tarasenko’s.
What’s to be done?
If we’re estimating Monahan with a $6 million cap hit, and Gaudreau at $8 million, then that’s pretty much all of the Flames’ available cap space right there – still without a full lineup in place. That’s not going to happen. There are two main ways I can think of to combat this: a trade to shed more cap space, or an expensive bridge deal.
The most obvious trade option is Dennis Wideman. As defencemen on the open market drop off one by one, this just might work out, particularly for any teams desperate for a right shot on the power play. Lance Bouma could be an option as well, if any teams are looking for young bundles of truculence that could potentially have a bounce back year. (I’d include Deryk Engelland on this list, but the Flames probably don’t want to lose his strongest points of value and off-ice style; his match up very closely with Troy Brouwer’s, and both were compared as two of the few players on this team who can supply that.)
If both Wideman and Bouma, for example, can be dealt without any monetary return coming back, that’s an extra $7.45 million on the cap saved – more than enough to finish signing the remaining players. If salary has to be retained or taken back, say at half the rate, then that’s still an extra $3.725 million for the Flames to use to fill out their roster, which is doable (particularly if they get any relatively cheap-ish players in return).
An expensive bridge deal
This sounds kind of weird, so I’ll elaborate. Most of the bridge deals discussed above fall somewhere in the $2-3 million range; Johansen’s is the lone standout with a $4 million cap hit.
I think a possible player for comparison here would be Gabriel Landeskog. He finished his entry level contract with a 65 point season, and scored 52 as a rookie. His second contract wasn’t a bridge deal – not with a seven year term – but his cap hit fell in at roughly $5.6 million.
If you could, say, shave a million off of a perceived Monahan deal and get him down to a $5 million cap hit for two seasons – as opposed to $6 million for six – do you do it? That extra potential $1 million in cap space could go a long way towards simply filling out the roster. Does Monahan agree to that? It likely carries the risk of a cap hit higher than $6 million once it’s time for his third contract, especially if he keeps up this whole 60+ points thing, and when UFA years are on the table.
But that’s if it even happens to begin with – and it’s difficult to imagine players of this caliber being willing to take a pay cut now.
Getting creative through the summer
A well-expressed idea of Treliving’s so far this off-season is that it’s a long one. The Flames aren’t playing again until October. They still have plenty of work to do in the summer, and determining their cap for the next season could take that long.
It could go down to the wire until Smid’s contract can be put on LTIR, assuming that’s the point reached. Do the Flames go over the cap via Bennett’s bonuses? Do they paper Bennett down to the AHL to fit everyone else in?
Or it could take waiting until the right time to make a trade comes up. Why trade for Wideman now when you can get James Wisniewski or, um… Kris Russell? Matt Carle? Dennis Seidenberg? Yikes… for free? But when options are gone, a team could be ready to make a deal.
Teams can go over the cap by 10% throughout the off-season. There’s plenty of time. And once Monahan and Gaudreau are signed, we can speculate on the 2016-17 cap with fewer hypotheticals and more absolutes.
It’s definitely going to be interesting to see how they manage it – and how down to the wire they get.