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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The Flames’ cap situation is very tight

The Calgary Flames have had a busy summer. The good news, friends, is that most of their heavy lifting is done. Heck, all their heavy lifting will be complete once they sign Noah Hanifin to a new contract. They’ve re-signed the remainder of their core pieces, including getting Elias Lindholm signed for several seasons.

The bad news is their salary cap situation is fairly precarious heading into the final month before training camp.

The cap situation, in handy table form

Pos. Player Cap Hit
G Mike Smith $4,250,000
G David Rittich $800,000
D Mark Giordano $6,750,000
D TJ Brodie $4,650,400
D Travis Hamonic $3,857,143
D Michael Stone $3,500,000
D Noah Hanifin $3,387,500*
D Brett Kulak $900,000
D Dalton Prout $800,000
F Johnny Gaudreau $6,750,000
F Sean Monahan $6,375,000
F James Neal $5,750,000
F Mikael Backlund $5,350,000
F Elias Lindholm $4,850,000
F Troy Brouwer $4,500,000
F Michael Frolik $4,300,000
F Derek Ryan $3,125,000
F Sam Bennett $1,950,000
F Mark Jankowski $1,675,000
F Austin Czarnik $1,250,000
F Curtis Lazar $950,000
F Matthew Tkachuk $925,000
F Garnet Hathaway $850,000
N/A Bouma buyout $766,667
N/A Murphy buyout $137,500
N/A Tkachuk bonuses $850,000
Total $79,249,210
Cap $79,500,000
Space $250,790

*Based on Brandon Montour’s new contract.

Check out Calgary’s contracts at NHLNumbers. 

Some assumptions

Let’s dive in!

Tkachuk’s performance bonuses are budgeted because (a) he’s going to hit most of them, so it’s smart to prepare for that and (b) any performance bonuses that push them over the salary cap will count against the 2019-20 cap. That’s bad news because the cap might only go up a tiny bit next season (let’s say it bumps up to $81 million for argument’s sake) and the only major money coming off this season’s books belongs to Mike Smith, who’ll need to be replaced.

In other words: they really need to stay under the cap this year because they absolutely need every bit of space they can get to (a) give Tkachuk his new deal and (b) re-sign or replace Smith as top goaltender.

Hanifin’s cap hit is based on the presumption that there’s no way his agent lets him sign for less than Montour’s two-year cap hit of $3.3875 million. If he signs for longer, the cap hit will go up. Thus, please treat this cap estimate as the floor for what it’ll take to sign him (not the ceiling).

Based on these factors and the notion that the Flames will keep all their one-way players on the NHL roster, they have $250,000 left to spend during the season. That’s way too low to be tenable.

Some solutions

The Flames could carry fewer than 23 bodies with them this season, but that won’t save them a ton of cap space and actually hinders Bill Peters’ ability to mix and match his lineups.

They could place some veteran players in the minors in favour of less expensive options:

  • In goal, using Jon Gillies rather than Rittich saves $50,000.
  • On the blueline, Juuso Valimaki ($894,166) and Rasmus Andersson ($755,833) are cheaper than Prout or Kulak.
  • Up front, Dillon Dube ($778,333), Andrew Mangiapane ($705,000), Buddy Robinson ($700,000) or Alan Quine ($700,000) are less expensive options than the likes of Hathaway, Lazar or Brouwer – though they’d only save $1.025 million by burying Brouwer in the minors.

All of the above moves are rather piecemeal and don’t gain the club a lot of wiggle room.

They could trade somebody, but it’s unlikely that any team will take the salaries of, say, Brouwer or Stone back without sending the Flames something they’d like to be rid of. And even then, a trade is dependent on another team being willing to help ’em out.

The other option, and our friends in the comment section have been banging this drum literally for years, is buying out Brouwer. It would gain the Flames $3 million of much-needed cap space for each of the next two seasons (and buy them two years to figure out a way to work around the $1.5 million cap sinkhole it would create for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons). A buyout is the only way of giving themselves space for injuries or mid-season acquisitions (or signing Hanifin to a long-term contract) without moving a key piece and, all due respect to the player, but Brouwer’s essentially a blockage in a pipe right now. The Flames have oodles of inexpensive depth pieces that could step in and learn the NHL on the job, rather than sitting and cooling their heels in Stockton.

Long story short: the Flames have several iffy options, and their best bad option at this point is to cut bait with Brouwer and give themselves the space to maneuver.