As the NHL and the NHLPA hinge closer to finally reaching an agreement, several issues go beyond the rest of this season. Those issues are, however, key to the way teams need to manage their assets and none is more pressing than the rumoured salary cap going down to $60 million as requested by the ownership group, and implemented on time for the 2013-14 season.
PENTICTON, BC — This is the reason why the NHL is pushing to implement a one-time amnesty buyout and while the players would be given their money, not a penny would not count against the teams’ cap hit for this one contract. The players are not disputing the need for such buyout, the issue they’re arguing is whether this money should be tallied in the hockey related revenues (HRR) or not.
But which teams across the league are the most desperate to get help in order to reach the desired $60 million cap in due time? All is based on the number of players and the amounts committed to those players for next season. In order to give us a better idea, I took the figures from capgeek.com and tallied some numbers of my own, and you will see that the results are somewhat surprising.
Note that this is not a pure science as teams can trade, use regular buyouts (in addition to the amnesty) and some players may choose to retire due to injuries or other reasons. I took the cap hit already committed for 2013-14, the number of players signed, and went with an arbitrary 21-player roster, and topped the teams with players at $500,000 per season to get to the Minimum Cap hit, although most contracts are much higher than that. It does however give us a bit of an even picture between teams. When discussing the maximum savings, I took the bought out cap hit and subtracted $500,000 for the player taking his place. Of course, if the player replacing him makes more, the savings will be less. That wouldn’t be complete without knowing which players on each team are becoming free agents that year, restricted and/or unrestricted. And to finalize the exercise, I have put a few possible names and the teams’ savings in the event of an amnesty buyout.
Without further ado:
1. MONTREAL CANADIENS
Surprisingly, the Habs represent the most desperate team in need of the amnesty buyout as shown on the figures above. The team has 16 players under contract for the 2013-14 season and that’s not counting P.K. Subban who at this time, has yet to sign his new contract, and restricted free agent David Desharnais, who should be due for a substantial raise over the $850,000 he’s making this year.
The obvious amnesty buyout is Scott Gomez, whose contract expires after the 2013-14 season. Although his cap hit sits at $7.36 million, his actual salary will be $4.5 million and Geoff Molson would have to fork out two-thirds of that. As there is no way a team would trade for him, this is the logical solution as it would free up a maximum of $6.86 million under the cap. It is possible that the Canadiens might have to make another move, either by trade or by regular buyout, in order to get more comfortable under the cap. Don’t count out one of Tomas Kaberle, Rene Bourque or Andrei Markov (depending on his health) to be traded or bought out.
2. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
The Lighting find themselves in a peculiar situation. With only 15 players under contract and without any key free agents lost as UFA or RFA needing to be resigned, they are over the estimated $60 million salary cap when the roster is at 21 players.
Unlike in Montreal, there is no clear-cut player which could or should be bought out through amnesty. Some reporters have suggested that Vincent Lecavalier could be one and while the Lightning would save a maximum $7.23 million in cap hit, no owner in their right mind, as rich as they might be, would pay him two-thirds of the $45 million remaining on his contract. in addition, Lecavalier is a very popular figure in the Bay area. Ryan Malone ($4M max savings) and Mattias Ohlund ($3.11M max savings) are the two most logical options in Tampa Bay.
3. PHILADELPHIA FLYERS
The Flyers were the first ones I was thinking of before doing this exercise and while not in a great position, they are not into a huge pile of trouble either. In addition, GM Paul Holmgren has shown time and time again that he’s not afraid to make tough decisions in order to resolve what he feels are the team’s issues. They are however scheduled to lose one of their key defensemen, which could explain why they tried to go after Shea Weber last summer.
A lot of the decisions will be based on whether or not Chris Pronger can return to play. Pronger, who signed an over-35 long term deal, takes $4.92 million of the team’s cap and it is my understanding that he will even if he was to retire. The only relief, especially for a team with a rich owner, is that by placing him on the LTIR, the Flyers can go over the cap by the same amount as Pronger’s cap hit for as long as he’s out. Still though, they might have to buy someone else out. The names that come to mind are Daniel Brière ($6M max savings) and Andrej Meszaros ($3.5M max savings). As rich as they might be, it would be surprising to see them buyout Ilya Bryzgalov, who will have $34.5 million remaining on his contract.
4. BOSTON BRUINS
The Bruins are not in as bad of shape as I originally thought. They will need to make a move, maybe two, but it shouldn’t be too hard to do, especially that Nathan Horton could come off the books as he is scheduled to become a UFA at that time and so is Andrew Ference.
It looks more and more like center Marc Savard’s career could be in jeopardy. Buying him out would result in a $3.5 million maximum savings for the team. Trading a salary for assets would put Boston in a very good position.
5. VANCOUVER CANUCKS
The Canucks are in more trouble (if we call it that) than its ranking is showing, due to the fact that one of their best defenseman is scheduled to become a UFA and that they only have 13 players under contract for the 2013-14 season.
Of course, trading Roberto Luongo’s $5.33 million cap hit will help, but if they get NHL ready players in return, the impact on the cap will be minimal. They do however have other possibilities for the amnesty buyout, regular buyout and/or through trades. Through buyout, the two most logical possibilities might be David Booth ($3.75M max savings) or Keith Ballard ($3.7M max savings). Those two players should, however, have enough market value to be traded instead if need be.
6. CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS
It’s deja-vu all over again for the Blackhawks, who went through a similar situation after winning the Stanley Cup. Having said that, with no impact player scheduled to become free agents and with 17 players under contract, their situation isn’t quite as dramatic as it was back in the summer of 2010.
For that reason, it is doubtful that the Hawks would choose the amnesty buyout, or any buyout for that matter. It is more likely that they would look at trading assets such as Niklas Hjalmarsson ($3.5M cap hit), Johnny Oduya ($3.38M cap hit) or Dave Bolland ($3.375M cap hit) instead.
7. SAN JOSE SHARKS
Not only is the Sharks’ window of opportunity with the group of players in place closing slowly, they also only have 14 players under contract for the 2013-14 season. In addition, one of their best forwards in Ryane Clowe is scheduled to become a UFA that summer.
Would the Sharks dare buyout one of their top salaried players in Joe Thornton ($6.5M max savings), Patrick Marleau ($6.4M max savings) or Dan Boyle ($6.17M max savings)? It is unlikely as they would all have some trade value. Having said that, Thornton and Marleau have a NMC attached to their contracts while Boyle can name eight teams to which he will not accept a trade to, and they would have to agree to wave it to accommodate a trade. This could make for some interesting negotiations between the player(s) and management.
8. PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
The Penguins have done a good job securing their top players to long term deals and in many cases, at a discount price. Having said that, they only have 15 players under contract for 2013-14. Not having any key player scheduled to become free agents is a good thing, but there are few dollars to get quality supporting cast to help the Crosby, Malkin and company.
Paul Martin ($4.5M max savings) is not living up to expectations in Pittsburgh and he is the most likely candidate to either be bought out under the amnesty window, or traded if a team shows interest in him. Another but not as likely candidate to find another home would be Chris Kunitz ($3.725M cap hit), but definitely not in a buyout as his market value should still be excellent.
Here’s the status of the other 22 teams in the league, using the same criteria:
Looking at the teams above, not many are likely to use the one-time amnesty buyout but a few teams might chose to do so. The Rangers will most probably buyout Wade Redden ($6M max savings) and the Sabres could very well consider their options with Ville Leino ($4M max savings). The Calgary Flames have two players who are not quite living up to expectations in Jay Bouwmeester ($6.18M max savings) and Matt Stajan ($3M max savings) but it would be shocking if they bought them out.
This exercise shows us the reason why not every NHL owner is in favour of this amnesty buyout, which will only serve a few of them. It also demonstrates that some teams have been better than others at preparing for this lockout, although recently appointed GM Marc Bergevin in Montreal really has inherited the mess left behind by his predecessor Pierre Gauthier. Either way, we should see many of the top eight teams making moves to better position themselves to comply with the newly established salary cap figures taking effect on time for the 2013-14 season and that alone should be quite entertaining.