Calgarians spent the past weekend hand-wringing over the state of the local weather. But as the National Hockey League roster deadline looms, the only thing dicier than the weather is the Calgary Flames salary cap situation.
On the eve of the season, it’s worth looking into how challenging the situation could be and the options the Flames have available to them.
First, a distinction. Salary cap space is calculated by the NHL every day at 5 p.m. ET (3 p.m. MT). In essence, there’s not one big season-long cap – it’s 186 daily caps. And that’s important.
Regular cap space
Barring anything weird – we’ll get to that in a second – the NHL’s salary cap ceiling for 2019-20 is $81.5 million. Each day, teams are required be beneath that cap ceiling. Whatever cap space isn’t used up each day is pro-rated and pushed forward for future use. (If you’ve read any salary cap site and notice the “end of season” cap is different than “current” cap, it’s because past savings can be used later in the year.)
The distinction for the Flames carrying 22 players (rather than the usual 23) and choosing between carrying Oliver Kylington ($730,833) or Andrew MacDonald (on a speculated league minimum $700,000 deal) is because of the need to bank “regular” cap space. With Kylington on the roster, the Flames have roughly $154,958 in space – the equivalent of 41 days of a league minimum salary player – and with MacDonald instead that number swells to $185,791, 49 days of that player.
The Flames are tight against the cap and vulnerable the cap impact of injuries, so being able to afford an added week of a replacement player is actually pretty important.
LTIR cap space
If the Flames burn through all their “regular” cap space, they have the option of dipping into the Long-Term Injury Reserve space afforded to them by Juuso Valimaki’s anticipated season-long (or close to it) injury. Simply put, LTIR bumps up the cap ceiling by the difference between the cap hit of the player the team is replacing and the cap space they have when you place him on LTIR. (The Flames infamously signed Nicklas Grossmann in camp during 2016-17 to maximize the LTIR benefit of Ladislav Smid’s contract.)
But here’s the important difference: you cannot accumulate unused LTIR space. If the Flames placed Valimaki on LTIR, they could bump their cap ceiling up to about $82.4 million. If they spent less than $81.5 million, not using up the “regular” space, they could bump their savings forward. But if they spent between $81.5 and $82.4 million, they couldn’t use any of the unspent space on future dates.
In essence, LTIR space is short term gain for long term pain, as it allows teams to get out of an immediate cap jam but doesn’t allow them to accumulate any longer term flexibility.
So what’s the solution?
The lack of cap flexibility, particular during a period where the club feels they can win a Stanley Cup, is why so many around the club believe they’ll be looking to make a trade to open up cap space. Simply put: the Flames don’t want to be in a position where they lose key games down the stretch because they don’t have the cap space to call up extra bodies at key times or to add somebody at the trade deadline.
Without a trade, they’re extremely dependent on inflexible LTIR cap space to make ends meet.