35Jakob Pelletier
Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin/USA Today Sports

Examining the challenges of fitting Jakob Pelletier under the salary cap

Few players have looked more impressive than Jakob Pelletier at this year’s edition of the IIHF World Junior Championship.

The 19-year-old product of Quebec City has chipped in three goals and four assists in seven games for Team Canada while seeing his role consistently increase over the course of the tournament. He skated on the team’s top line with Connor McMichael and Dylan Cozens on Monday in a 5-0 win over Russia in the semi-finals.

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The Calgary Flames have included Pelletier on their 2020-21 training camp roster and they expect him to report after he’s finished at the World Juniors. Despite his late arrival into Calgary, he’ll be one of the few camp attendees with recent game experience – prior to the World Juniors, he also played nine games for the QMJHL’s Val-d’Or Foreurs.

With Dominik Simon, Joakim Nordstrom, and Josh Leivo newly added into the fold, the Flames have a reasonably deep group of forwards. However, with Pelletier’s QMJHL season not set to resume until January 22—eight days after the Flames will open their season in Winnipeg on January 14—he could be an option to play some NHL games in the meantime.

That said, there are some very real financial and contractual considerations which might impact the Flames’ ability to keep Pelletier in the fold.

For one, Pelletier is still eligible to have his entry-level contract slide another year. With the shortened season, the threshold for games played before an ELC year is burned has dropped from 10 games to seven; because of this, Pelletier would only be able to play six NHL games this year before the clock on his contract starts ticking.

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Still, that shouldn’t be too much of an issue, particularly if the Flames only view Pelletier as a temporary occupant on the roster before his junior league returns to play. What might be a little bit more prohibitive is his daily NHL cap hit.

It looks pretty likely that these players will be on the Flames’ books to begin the 2020-21 season:

Rasmus Andersson Mark Giordano Juuso Valimaki
Chris Tanev Derek Ryan Mikael Backlund
Johnny Gaudreau Milan Lucic Matthew Tkachuk
Joakim Nordstrom Sean Monahan Jacob Markstrom
Josh Leivo Elias Lindholm Dillon Dube
David Rittich Noah Hanifin Oliver Kylington
Dominik Simon Andrew Mangiapane Nikita Nesterov
Sam Bennett Michael Stone buyout Troy Brouwer buyout

Collectively, assuming they remain on the roster for the entire season, these players count for $81,276,666 against the $81.5 million salary cap. That leaves just $223,334 in salary cap space; Pelletier’s yearly NHL cap hit is $894,167.

Of course, things are a little more complex than that. Teams will have access to a four-to-six man “taxi squad” this season, functioning essentially as a satellite version of an AHL affiliate. Like with the AHL, players have to clear waivers to be assigned to the taxi squad and their NHL cap hit can be buried completely if it is under $1.075 million.

The roster listed above features just 22 players (the maximum is 23). If the Flames wanted to include Pelletier on the roster as a 23rd man for six games—or more—they would have to get creative in managing his contract’s cap hit.

It’s important to consider that Pelletier is one of the few players who does not require waivers to be assigned to the taxi squad and that until the QMJHL is back in operation, the Flames have the ability to assign him to the taxi squad (or the AHL) rather than being limited to keeping him on the NHL roster or sending him back to junior. The Flames could theoretically shuffle him back and forth between the taxi squad and the NHL to maximize cap savings. Since NHL salary cap hits are calculated daily, the Flames would only be on the hook for his cap hit on the days he’d be on the roster. But, because of the nature of the taxi squad, Pelletier would still be able to practice with the team even while on the taxi squad (and not counting against the salary cap).

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Still, even just shuffling Pelletier back and forth between the NHL roster and the taxi squad would be costly. Even just having him on the active roster for six game days would cost an additional $46,250.02 against the salary cap, already eating up 20.7% of the Flames’ projected $223,334 cap space.

But Pelletier isn’t the only waivers-exempt player on the Flames. Both Dillon Dube and Juuso Valimaki can be sent down and recalled by the Flames without restriction. The Flames could send one of those players down to offset those additional costs incurred by giving Pelletier games.

Both Pelletier and Valimaki cost $7,708.34 against the salary cap each day. If the Flames opt to start the season with a taxi squad comprised of four veteran players (likely Louis Domingue, Alex Petrovic, Buddy Robinson, and Zac Rinaldo), they would have two extra spots to send waivers-exempt players down on off days to save money.

Essentially, by using paper transactions on Pelletier and Valimaki, the Flames could be able to fit both players on the roster for the price of one. This isn’t an uncommon practice at all—most notably, the Toronto Maple Leafs have been doing it for years—and it would allow the Flames to maximize the versatility of their roster.

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If Pelletier looks good in camp, the Flames would be smart to reward him with at least a couple of games at the NHL level. The salary cap might look prohibitive on the surface, but there are creative avenues that the team can explore to make it work. And if Pelletier proves to be a sizeable upgrade on a player like Nordstrom, the Flames could eventually waive the latter player to the taxi squad to make their 19-year-old rookie a full-time NHL option.