On July 1, 2016, the Flames signed free agent right winger Troy Brouwer to a four-year deal worth an annual average value of $4.5 million per. Now halfway through, it’s probably safe to say Brouwer has not lived up to the expectations such a cap hit holds, and he probably never will.
Does that mean this offseason is the time to expunge Brouwer from both the lineup and the cap? Or would it be beneficial to wait a little longer?
Disclaimer: if the Flames can get anything other than a bad contract back from another team in exchange for Brouwer’s services, then they should do that without question.
However, recall that he has a modified no-trade clause as well. (As wonderful people in the comments have pointed out, this expires on July 1!) His cap hit and lack of production makes one wonder just how easy he could be to move, though.
Which turns to the next most obvious solution: a buyout. The window will open June 15 – just over a week away, and when the 2017-18 NHL season will be officially over – and there’s really only one player of consequence who fits the bill.
The Flames have utilized the buyout a couple of times lately: on June 30, 2017, they bought out both Ryan Murphy (who they had just traded for in the Eddie Lack deal) and Lance Bouma (who they re-signed to a three-year, $2.2 million AAV deal following a 16-goal, 15.4 shooting percentage season he mysteriously was unable to replicate). They saved roughly $2.2 million in cap over 2017-18, and will incur an extra $904,167 on the cap over the 2018-19 season.
Earlier, following the 2015-16 season, the Flames bought out Mason Raymond when he still had one year remaining carrying a $3.15 million cap hit; they saved $2 million in the 2016-17 season, and were hit with an extra $1.05 million penalty in 2017-18.
What would a Brouwer buyout (or Bryout) cost?
The purpose of a buyout is clear: save some coin, save cap space in the immediate, and trade that off for an extra cap penalty later. The Flames could, for example, simply not buy Brouwer out at all, and be completely free of his cap hit in two years’ time. He’ll carry a $4.5 million cap hit over those two years, but once they’re over, that’s it.
If the Flames were to buy Brouwer out this offseason, they would save $3 million in cap space over the next two seasons, but carry an extra $1.5 million in penalties over the following two seasons (2020-21 and 2021-22). Though not as great a cap hit, it’s still a bigger penalty than they’ve been willing to incur in recent years.
If the Flames were to keep Brouwer on the roster this season and buy him out in a year’s time, then they would save $3 million in cap space only in 2019-20, but only carry that extra $1.5 million penalty in 2020-21, with 2021-22 being left off the hook.
When will the Flames need cap space?
You don’t buy Brouwer out for the sake of buying him out. Is he overpaid? Yes. Is he going to come within spitting distance of 20 goals or 40 points again? Probably not. Is he the worst hockey player of all time? Absolutely not. Can he serve as a decent enough depth player? Yes.
The only reason to buy Brouwer out is if the Flames are short on cap space and need it sooner rather than later.
The NHL currently has an upper limit of $75 million. For 2018-19, that may jump up to $80 million.
For 2018-19, the Flames – including Brouwer – currently stand at $62.5 million, with another eight players still to sign: five forwards, two defencemen, and one goalie. The goalie and defencemen can likely be had for cheap – David Rittich and/or Jon Gillies shouldn’t be too expensive to re-sign, neither should Brett Kulak, and Rasmus Andersson’s entry-level contract comes in at an easy $755,833. If we’re generous and giving the other two parties $1 million each, then that’s still just under $15 million left to sign five forwards.
Of those forwards, it’s easy to see a bunch coming in at cheap prices: Nick Shore, Garnet Hathaway, Mark Jankowski, and a Spencer Foo or Andrew Mangiapane (or both?) can likely all come in together at around $5 million, which could leave the Flames still with $10 million in cap space – and that’s without a Michael Stone or TJ Brodie trade, and with Brouwer still on the team.
Now, that definitely won’t be good enough – the Flames need to upgrade their forward group – but with maybe $10 million to spare, if you wanted to dream big and pick up John Tavares, well, it’s doable, even without the extra $3 million a Brouwer buyout would grant.
There’s one other very good reason to hold off on a Bryout, and his name is Matthew Tkachuk.
After the 2018-19 season, the Flames will have a trio of forwards set to become restricted free agents: Sam Bennett (hasn’t shown enough yet to prove he deserves a major raise), Micheal Ferland (ditto), and Tkachuk (has 97 points through 144 games, all while playing hard minutes on a primarily defensive line and only just starting to get major powerplay time, is already making a case to be named the heart and soul of this team even though it’s only been two seasons, is very very very very good). Sure, an extra $1.5 million probably isn’t that much in the grand scheme of things, but mistakes add up – and considering how Tkachuk could already very easily end up looking at a $6+ million contract like Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, why spend even more on cap when Tkachuk is getting paid?
On the other hand, the only players currently signed for the 2020-21 season – the first year of cap penalty a hypothetical Bryout would incur – are Gaudreau, Monahan, Mikael Backlund, Mark Giordano, and Dougie Hamilton. That leaves a lot of room to fill up over the near future, and of course, there’s no chance any costly mistakes will be a part of that.
Ultimately, though, the Flames likely won’t be that desperately in need of an extra $3 million in cap space in 2018-19 – so why get rid of someone who can still be a serviceable player while adding unnecessary cap to future seasons? The entire discussion changes if the moves they make over the offseason require that extra $3 million, but they should have plenty of room even without it.