While the salary cap was a thorn in the Flames’ side throughout the 2016-17 season, it likely will not be in 2017-18. And with reports that the cap could be anywhere from $73-$77 million, it could leave the Flames with that much more room to make use of.
Projected 2017-18 NHL salary cap: $73M-$77M, depending on if NHLPA exercises 5% inflator.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) May 29, 2017
The NHL is willing to leave the salary cap flat next season, which would lower players' escrow payments. They meet with NHLPA next week.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) May 29, 2017
The Flames’ cap heading into 2017-18
The Flames currently have just over $51 million dedicated to their cap, the seventh lowest in the NHL (including the Vegas Golden Knights, who do not yet have a team assembled). This is with 13 players accounted for (plus the final year of Mason Raymond’s buyout), leaving the Flames with about $22-$26 million to fill out another 10 roster spots.
To recap, they are:
- Johnny Gaudreau ($6.75 million)
- Mark Giordano ($6.75 million)
- Sean Monahan ($6.375 million)
- Dougie Hamilton ($5.75 million)
- T.J. Brodie ($4.65 million)
- Troy Brouwer ($4.5 million)
- Michael Frolik ($4.3 million)
- Mikael Backlund ($3.575 million)
- Matt Stajan ($3.125 million)
- Lance Bouma ($2.2 million)
- Mason Raymond’s buyout ($1.05 million)
- Matthew Tkachuk ($925,000)
- Matt Bartkowski ($612,500)
- Freddie Hamilton ($612,500)
They still need to add five forwards, three defencemen, and two goalies.
With multiple restricted free agents coming up, they should be able to add some of these players at a relatively cheap cost. Sam Bennett, Alex Chiasson, Micheal Ferland, and Curtis Lazar headline the forward RFA group, while Brett Kulak is the only truly notable RFA defenceman. Of those five players, only Bennett and Ferland should really get a notable bump in salary (perhaps about $5 million combined); Chiasson, Lazar, and Kulak’s salaries should be able to fit under $3 million when put together.
Re-signing those five players – and assuming they all get NHL spots – takes about $8 million off the Flames’ potential cap space, which would leave them with $14-$18 million to sign one forward, two defencemen, and two goalies.
This, of course, isn’t taking into account who Vegas claims in the expansion draft – it could range from $4.5 million (Brouwer) to say $1 million (Chiasson or Kulak) to totally inconsequential (i.e. Michael Stone is a pending UFA) – nor does it consider any other prospects who could make the team, all of whom carry cap hits under $1 million. The possibility of burying a player – say, Bouma – in the AHL would also save on some cap space if utilized.
Assuming the status quo, though, which is the best we can do at the moment, the Flames should have enough cap space to add a couple of significant pieces – say, a top four defenceman and a starting goalie – without hurting for space as they were this past season.
The Flames’ cap heading into the beyond
Of course, that doesn’t mean the Flames can go nuts with spending; they’ll still have their future cap to attend to, as well.
This season, the Flames are greatly helped by Dennis Wideman and Deryk Engelland’s contracts ending, giving them roughly $8.15 million more in space.
Next season, they’ll be helped as Stajan and Bouma’s deals come off the books, giving them another $5.325 million to try to spend more efficiently. However, they’ll also be hurt as Backlund’s sweetheart $3.575 million cap hit expires, and he’ll get a much-deserved raise – perhaps one equivalent to Bouma’s current cap hit.
There will also be Tkachuk’s impending raise to consider, as his entry-level deal expires after the 2018-19 season, and if his rookie season is any indication, he’ll be trending more towards a Gaudreau or Monahan-style second contract than a Bennett one.
The point here being: the Flames need to be careful with how they approach this offseason, regardless of how much extra cap space they get to work with based on the NHLPA’s decision. We’ve seen just how badly throwing money around willy nilly at underperforming players hurts, and just when they were on the verge of getting out of all of their bad contracts, they signed another one in Brouwer.
Look at the cap hits of the two teams playing in the Stanley Cup Final. Both the Nashville Predators and Pittsburgh Penguins have a fair chunk of change dedicated to their star players, and the rest of their rosters are filled out with relatively cheap deals. They aren’t teams with ineffective $10 million fourth lines; they’re teams that are able to swallow the occasional misfired contract here or there because they are extremely few in number, not that expensive to begin with, and they have capable depth on cheap deals to make up for it.
For cheap deals the Flames have Tkachuk with two years left on his ELC, Freddie Hamilton, and Matt Bartkowski. There will probably be a couple more depending on RFA deals and prospect success, but that still does little to offset current problems.
Just because you can spend doesn’t mean you should. And if you’re going to, then be smart about it. There’s a very big difference between paying Monahan $6+ million and Brouwer $4.5 million: one is young and likely to contribute at a high level throughout the duration of his contract, and the other is not.