The cap implications of the James Neal deal

James Neal is a Calgary Flame. His addition gives the club a lot of options in how they’ll deploy their top two forward lines and their power play. But his deal – a reported $5.75 million cap hit over five years – is substantial, and will have ripple effects on the team’s decisions for the next couple seasons.

How freaked out should everybody be about the Flames’ salary cap situation?

The 2018-19 cap situation

Established NHL players signed to deals include:

That’s a total cap hit of $65.94 million, including Lance Bouma and Ryan Murphy’s buyouts. With a $79.5 million cap ceiling, that leaves $13.56 million in cap space to fill six roster spots (a goalie, two defenders and three forwards) and to re-sign David Rittich, Brett Kulak, Noah Hanifin, Elias Lindholm, Mark Jankowski and Garnet Hathaway. (In my mind these six guys fill those six open spots, with Lazar and Hathaway as healthy scratches.)

Let’s pay the depth players first:

  • Rittich made $725,000 last year and became the de facto backup goalie, so let’s give him a modest raise to $800,000 – I choose him over Gillies as backup because he performed better until Smith went down, and he’s waiver eligible.
  • Kulak made $650,000 last year and played 71 NHL games (a career high) and was good. He gets a raise, too, to $800,000 – a bigger raise because he played a lot more.
  • Hathaway’s a fringe body, but he should get around what Lazar gets because that precedent has been set. Since Hathaway has less NHL experience than Lazar, let’s give him $850,000.
  • And finally, Jankowski should get more than Czarnik because he’s played more in the NHL and scored more in the NHL. Let’s go with $1.5 million for Jankowski.

So what’s left for Hanifin and Lindholm? $9.6 million. Presuming a long-term deal for Lindholm that carries a cap hit of around $5 million, that leaves $4.6 million to sign Hanifin and have in-season wiggle room for injuries, acquisitions, and the general wacky stuff that teams have to deal with on the fly.

Matt Cane’s model has been almost spot on this free agency cycle – it missed Neal’s deal by $100,000 and Ryan’s by $65,000 – and predicts five years at $4.93 million for Lindholm and two years at $2.336 million for Hanifin. Rounding up to $5 million for Lindholm and $2.4 million for Hanifin would leave the Flames with $2.2 million in wiggle room.

Neal’s signing makes the cap very tight and necessitates doing a bridge deal with Hanifin, but he does provide many, many top six and power play options that weren’t there before.

The 2019-20 cap situation

Let’s assume the cap goes up by $1.5 million – a 1.8% increase and less than the smallest increase since the 2012-13 lockout – to $81 million.

Still signed for 2019-20 are: Giordano, Brodie, Hamonic, Stone, Hanifin, Gaudreau, Monahan, Neal, Backlund, Brouwer, Frolik, Ryan, Czarnik and Lindholm. The Flames have $15.94 million to sign two goaltenders, two defensemen and five forwards. The most expensive player to re-sign will likely be Tkachuk, who will probably fetch something close to Lindholm (if not higher) over the same term.

Based on the projected cap tightness next summer, that’s when the likelihood of a Brouwer buyout to gain $3 million in additional cap space likely becomes a possibility.

The 2020 expansion draft

If we assume that the Seattle Grinders join the NHL for 2020-21 and that there’s no lockout – knock on wood – then we’ll have an expansion draft in June 2020. Presuming the same exposure requirements and protection rules, the Flames are probably in good shape.

If they choose to protect a goalie, three defensemen and seven forwards, they’ll need to find a goalie before 2019-20 but everything else seems fairly simple. Giordano, Brodie and Hanifin are probably the three protected defensemen, and the seven protected forwards are likely some combination of Gaudreau, Monahan, Backlund, Lindholm, Tkachuk, Ryan, Bennett, Neal and Jankowski.

If the age curve has battered Neal already, then exposing him won’t be a big deal. If he’s still productive, exposing Ryan might work – he’s from Washington State and might be a fit for Seattle in the same way Deryk Engelland was for Vegas.

Sum it up

So how freaked out should you be about the Neal deal? It’s not a steal, but it won’t trigger a cap ordeal. The Flames have cap flexibility going forward, even without the cap leaping up by large amounts. The only “big” impact it will have is pushing the Flames towards a bridge contract with Hanifin, a direction they might have been headed towards anyway.


Founded in 1950, Sports Excellence Corporation represents over 150 family-owned independent hockey retailers across Canada and the United States. Our highly knowledgeable hockey specialists are available to assist all your equipment needs. Find your closest Sports Excellence retailer here: Find a location near you!

  • Kevin R

    Mr Pike, there is no way Matty signs at Lindholm $$$. Matty is so covetted by Management & coach, he will break the salary ceiling Tre has set. Flames will absolutely offer this kid an 8 year deal & it will be north of 7.0mill per, my guess Tarasenko money. & if he plays top line & pots 25 goals & 45 apples, he may close in on DrySaddle to type of money. Kid is going to be our next heart & soul Gio type of player.

    • Mickey O'Reaves

      BT has said they have started initial talks, but why wouldn’t young Tkachuk bet on himself and play out the year, and then we talk. It could be the one and only case where the Gio cap gets busted, and all 3 making that would be okay with it because they know what Byng brings to the team.

      • FL?MES

        If MT stays on the 3M line it will stifle his point production and he will be handcuffed from a negotiation standpoint. If, however, he plays on the first line it will help his negotiations but his point totals will be compared to his linemates. It will be tough for him to rack up more points than JG though, even if he’s on the same line. Hence his salary should fall somewhere between Backlund and Johnny.

          • McRib

            I’m a huge fan of Matthew Tkachuk and I know he’s going to be a big part of our future, but he needs to crack 60 Points before he is worth $7+ million for me. I recognize he does a ton outside of offensive production, but for that much money his numbers need to be a little bit better offensively. Don’t get me wrong though, I think they will be. I’m hoping though we can get him long term for 6 million, time will tell.

  • everton fc

    Kulak deserves more. I believe Stone and Frolik may be gone. And if they have to package a prospect to rid ourselves of Brouwer, make a wise choice.

    I wouldn’t move Bennett. Not yet. I think we see how Brady does in college next season. No rush, as I doubt he signs w/the Sens, and may still be a smidge less than a top-4 pick.

    Tkachuk is worth, at least, Gaudreau money.

        • LannyMac

          Sorry Doc Bennett had time on the top line last year and did nothing. If Bennett staggers around 30 pts again this year his value will be very low and then we can thank Tree for blowing a fourth over all pick. If Bennett was progressing like Monahan or Tkachuk the Flames would be a Stanley cup contender. He is absolutely without a doubt the reason they are not right now.

      • McRib

        The league has moved away from “Johnny money” when signing UFAs, but don’t confuse that with being an RFA. The Flames still have leverage for Tkachuck, let’s not forget being an RFA. Treliving has worked that well with Gaudreau, Monahan, Bennett, etc.

  • drivefastfinishlast

    Flames laughed at the Oilers over the Lucic signing. Neal will be 31 when the season starts. 5 years at $6.25 mil. Ouch! When does that contract start to look bad, 2 years?

    • Oil Spilly

      Umm you might want to check the stats there stuey. Lol Lucic and Neal both came into the league the same year.

      Milan Lucic career points- 481
      James Neal- 495

      Let’s be honest… James Neal does not bring the same scare factor that Milan punch your face in Lucic does. Ask gio what it’s like having Milan in front of the net lol poor smith tried to come to Gios rescue last year only to be pummelled. Then Mr tanner glass had no choice but to answer the bell for Smiths foolish actions. Well we know how that fight ended up. That was and will be glasses last nhl game.

          • Speed Kills

            LOL Hey super genius OS, Yeah I’m talking about Derek Ryan, but of course over paying is what the Oil do so I understand the inflated $$$ you’re going on about… Its well known the Oil have to pay 20%-35% more for a player to go to EDM… and sometimes that isn’t enough to keep their wives happy and then demand a trade out of there. But by all means, please keep posting here, it’s always good for a chuckle… (tee hee)

      • Mickey O'Reaves

        It is usually going to be a rare day in Hades that I agree with an Oiler troll. But Mr. Spilly’s last paragraph is 100% true. But I know a guy who could have stopped all that. And that’s why you f’n pay ‘that guy’ and throw the supposed rule book of what a 4th liner should make down the elevator shaft.

        • Baalzamon

          I kind of wish the Flames had signed Reaves, just so you could see how ineffective he actually is. The cheap shots would have continued, and you would have been forced to admit that deterrence doesn’t exist. Either that, or you would have suggested signing the next trolloc on your list, because Reaves is “too gentlemanly” or something.

          I remember when bringing in McGrattan was supposed to bring an end to the cheap shots. And then Ivanans. And then McGrattan again. And then Engelland. And then Glass.

          Are you getting the idea?

          • Mickey O'Reaves

            You were doing pretty good until the first comma. Then you sort of hinted that you would sink the team just to prove a point. Glass was too small, Engelland was the best they had at the time, and Big Ern was too slow.

            I’ll stick with my convictions, but will change my mind if I see evidence to the contrary, which I haven’t. Ryan Reaves, if nothing else, is a perfectly fine 4RW. The rest of the intangibles are a truckload of gravy.


            A 5 second clip for ya, and lighten up already.

      • McRib

        Milan Lucic can’t skate, James Neal can. If you look historically at bad skaters (like Lucic) once they hit 32+ they always fall off a cliff, therefore Neal is going to stay more effective longer. Plus on a PPG note its not even close: James Neal 0.70 PPG, Milan Lucic 0.59 PPG. Milan Lucic is also making $250,000 more.

      • LannyMac

        Sorry, flames fan here but oil spills is entirely right with his comment. God forbid after the recent changes I have to watch lucic make a mockery of the flames in front of there own net like last year. What an absolute joke gio and the other four on the ice where in that moment. The only flame that resembled a man was Smith

    • supra steve

      Everything I’ve seen says $5.75 cap hit, not $6.25 for Neil.

      And how many ON articles over the past month have been on the topic of “how do we get rid of Lucic?”? It’s been A LOT.

      • Still no edit button?

        Oilers trolls gonna be jealous. I mean I don’t blame them. They tied for worst franchise in nhl history. They were so bad they had to create a rule so Oilers couldn’t ruin more first overall picks

        • Brian Burkee

          Funny I remember the oilers this past year being voted as the best nhl team ever lol funny a team with 5 cups, the best player on the planet and the nicest arena on the planet being jealous of Calgary lol
          – 1 cup
          – oldest ugliest rink in the league

          Great resume

          • Still no edit button?

            Typical Oilers fan. Living in the past. It’s all they have after being garbage for over a decade. I get you being jealous and wanting to be on this page talking about a real team.

          • Rockmorton65

            You can always tell when an Oiler troll is losing an argument. 5 cups…new arena…McSuckandluck…bla bla bla.

            McSaviour only matters if he helps you win. So far…um…(crickets).

          • LannyMac

            Hey is that still no idiot button. I am a flames fan but if your trying to boost your flames ego by putting down the oilers. Your franchise has been as pathetic as the oil so shut your useless mouth

        • supra steve

          Yeah, well they also had to create a rule, back in the day, so a dominant Oiler team couldn’t feast on 4 on 4 play quite as often. They did have their very good times.

        • Mickey O'Reaves

          How’s that PoolParty fella working out for you guys up there? The kid with an IQ of an over-ripe turnip, and who skates like a freshly-born foal trying to get up in a puddle of mud.

          Deep breath…there, that’s better. The hockey universe has been recalibrated.

  • Flaming moe

    Brad Brad Brad. So it’s win now mode again. Prospects take a back seat in development. Draft picks are all traded away. The picks wasted on Lazar and stone are exactly that now. Wasted. These two won’t be in the lineup next season. Good luck getting those picks back for them. Flames will probably have to include picks now to trade them away. Hamonic better improve 10 fold or were in deep trouble. Tkachuk will want 5-6 mill and we know he won’t take less. After next year Gio and smith will be done. It feels like we are making the exact same mistakes the coilers have been making for years. Payroll all tied up in fwds. Who ever say defence and goaltending won championships right???

  • Getpucksdeep

    He’s a great shooter and and a great addition and I would have thought someone somewhere would have given him the 6 x 6 deal. The team lost Ferland, Stajan, who needs to retire and Versteeg, who was always hurt. Neal’s a big guy who can work the cycle, get open and give JG two targets to shop for. Cap will be tight but there are trades, buyouts next year and AHL assignments. It hard to see many openings for the next wave of prospects for a bit. Foo’s an offensive player for example and needs 12-15 minutes a night to fairly assess and he won’t get that on a 4th line.

    • Baalzamon

      It seems a bit high. I think I read that Lindholm was looking for 6 years at 5 per? If that’s the case, I’d have signed him to that yesterday. Even if it is a tad high for his production to date, he’s young enough that he’ll likely be worth quite a bit more than that in a couple years.

      I’ll take Lindholm over Hertl. But that cap number seems a bit high for either of them tbh, at least for now. Sharks definitely paying for potential there.

      • LannyMac

        So balz on mom so you figure Lindholm will develop nicely just like Bennett has. That’s right sign a 17 goal scorer for 5 mill a year on the chance he may get better. Brilliant

  • The GREAT WW

    I love it how BT was waving the Maroon signing around so that everyone is looking that direction…..only to sign Neal behind the scenes….



  • Leichs

    I don’t even know what you flamers are bragging about. We’ve been kicking your ass for three years straight. It was the same spew after you got Hammonic, and Hamilton, and Smith and Jagr… Sign a few dusters and plan the parade and talk about how many beat downs are coming Edmontons way. When was the last time yall won a playoff game? What are you like 2-11 in the last three years against the Oil? How can you even say anything lol. Sign some players and before a puck is dropped declare how amazing you are. Classic flamers. October is going to be a rude awakening. Just be glad you don’t have to start the year off with an easy loss to the Oil again this year.

  • oilcanboyd

    According to a tweet by Steinberg: Treliving also says the team is still looking at ways to add more depth to the team’s blueline.

    Wow! Now, do they offload Brouwer?

  • Joe Flames

    First line from the most recent ON article:
    “The Oilers needed to upgrade their roster. So far they’ve added Mikko Koskinen, Tobias Rieder, Kyle Brodziak, and Kevin Gravel.”
    You have to like how much the flames have improved this offseason. Looking forward to training camp.

        • FL?MES

          Good question. Working for oneself has its benefits. I have to get on the Highway to Hell early tomorrow morning but thankfully I will exit just north of red deer.

          I feel like it’s xmas. I can’t believe all the good roster changes. The last two years were unfortunate but I’m getting excited for the upcoming season.

          • Off the wall

            Nice reference to AC/DC Puck!
            I guess a lot of us old farts won’t listen to others, so we’re self- employed.

            Me too Puck.I was excited last year, this year Im piss my pants happy !!!

            Old humour..
            Be safe out there Puck!

      • oilcanboyd

        For a guy who only has lint left in his pocket to make any moves, Chia did all right signing 2 former oiler FAs…and Paul Coffey can step in to play that offensive D-man type that he couldn’t buy.

  • Eggs Bennett

    This post reminded me of the imminent expansion draft. The list provided implies we would have to not protect Hamonic (under the Vegas rules). I don’t think that would happen unless Hamonic doesn’t perform well the next couple seasons, and there is a chance we would protect 8 skaters instead of 7+3 (Johnny, Monny, Tkachuk, Lindholm, Gio, Brodie, Hanifin, Hamonic), leaving Backlund, Neal, Bennett, and Jankowski unprotected. This doesn’t even factor in potential upside players who may break into the league the next couple years like Andersson, Dube, Mangiapane, Valimaki, etc… (not sure about contract statuses…) Yikes.

    But I suppose the flip side of that coin is that it’s better to have this problem than too few players to protect…

    • Baalzamon

      I believe Valimaki will be exempt if he plays less than 10 NHL games this coming season (has to do with playing in the AHL while still junior eligible. Sort of the same reason that Kylington was exempt last time ’round in spite of entering his third pro season).

      My (too early) prediction is that the Flames will do the normal 7 fwd 3D route. They’ll protect Giordano, Hanifin, and Andersson on defense, exposing Brodie, Hamonic, Kulak, Kylington. Not sure what they’ll do with forwards.

      To be honest, I hope they just protect who needs protecting and leave the rest to Seattle. None of the side deals went well this go round. At the end of the day: they’re only losing one guy.