Archive for June, 2013

June 13, 2013

Salary for Sucking: 30 Teams and Compliance Buy-Outs

by Jacob Saltiel
kaberle

Reporter: “Who do you think will be bought out- other than you, I mean?”
Kaberle: “Hmm. I’d have to think about that…”
from penaltyboxhockey.blogspot.com

In order to get under the declining salary cap, the union demanded that teams be able to buy out 2 players per team at no cap hit. After the playoffs end this year and next, teams can buy-out a bad player on a bad contract, or a good player on a bad contract, or Scott Gomez. Again. The window to use these buy-outs is 48 hours after the Stanley Cup is awarded. Without further ado, here are the teams in order of most cap space to least and who they’ll buy out and why. All salary information is from the capgeek.com, the TSN of management news in the NHL.

New York “Wrong Island” Islanders
Actually, the Islanders are trying to get to the salary floor, rather than the ceiling. Rick DiPietro’s career might be finally euthanized if the Islanders make any kind of free agency pickup. Garth Snow’s shown some creativity (as with the Tim Thomas deal), and may use his compliance buy-outs craftily by intentionally trading for a player on a massive deal alongside picks or prospects. That way, he can take the bad salary of some other team’s books and use the compliance buy-out that he doesn’t need.

Winnipeg Jets
The Jets barely have anyone under contract, and even fewer players signed longterm. As such, they’ll be like the Islanders, hoping to use their buy-outs in trade.

New Jersey Devils
Does Lou Lamoriello dare amnesty Ilya Kovalchuk? It’s not because Kovalchuk is a terrible player, but the length of his contract is a ticking time bomb. 15 years. And he signed it when he was 28. If Kovalchuk retires before he’s 43 (likely?), the Devils could march onto a salary cap landmine with the CBA’s screwy calculation wreaking havoc. See, the money left on the contract when a player retires gets multiplied in dollars and years as a penalty and remains on the camp. It’s unclear the exact formula, but some projections are terrifying.

If Lamoriello chooses to try his luck with Kovalchuk, he might consider buying out Travis Zajac. Sure he just signed Zajac to that contract, but as discussed elsewhere, that was a horrible idea at the time, and Zajac sure played like it. Hell, maybe Lamoriello will burn it all down and buy them both out!

St Louis Blues
The Blues don’t have any bad contracts, aren’t near the cap, and really haven’t got much use for the buy-outs. See above for Wrong Island as to how they may decide to use their buyouts. Or they could just sign Gomez and buy him out instantly for the shock value and to send a message to the rest of the locker room.

Phoenix “Maudite de” Coyotes
The Maudites Coyotes’ best candidate for the buy-out is Shane Doan, only because he’s a whiner. He’s also their captain and it’s very unlikely they have the money to stop playing someone even if that player sucks, or whines at a Hall of Fame level.

Ottawa Senators
The Senators will use their buy-out on Mike Duffy. Whoops, pardon. Terrible joke. Actually, Mike Duffy or Nigel Wright are as likely as anyone else on the Sens to get let go, given that their only long-term contract is for Erik Karlsson, who isn’t going anywhere.

Toronto Maple Leafs
Mikhail Grabovski is signed for 4 more years at $5.5m/year, but with Bozak leaving, he might get more minutes. He’s not worth that contract, but unless the Leafs decide to make it rain on a free agent this year or next and really need to free up some salary, it’s unlikely that Grabo goes.
John-Michael Liles isn’t so lucky. He’s signed for three more years at nearly $3.9m/year. Jake Gardiner fills the role that Liles was originally brought in for, but doesn’t suck at it.

Calgary Flames
Will an entire NHL roster get bought out? Impossible, but if it could happen, this team would come closest to considering such a move. Dennis Wideman isn’t worth the longterm, $5.25m/year salary he’s making, and Jiri Hudler and Alex Tanguay are both overpaid and no longer have Jarome Iginla to pass to. Maybe Jay Feaster can buy-out the owner of the Flames, Murray Edwards with one of the buy-outs, and then use the other on himself. Cough. Sorry, Flames fans.

Columbus Blue Jackets
James Wisniewski and RJ Umberger, making $5.5m/year and $4.6m/year respectively are both useful players in some ways, but are paid as if they’re useful in all ways. They aren’t, and if the Blue Jackets decide they want to wait a year and dump either of then, it won’t be shocking. Still, they’re productive so it’s a bit of a reach.

Florida Panthers
The Panthers have some expensive defenders in Brian Campbell ($7.1m/year) and Ed Jovanovski ($4.125m/year) who might be ripe for the buy-out. But then, Campbell is still productive, and Jovanovski’s best days are long past. Up front, they might be tempted to dump Scottie Upshall and his $3.5m/year salary because Scottie Upshall still has a few more NHL teams to play for before he collects all 30.

Buffalo Sabres
Ville Leino is almost certainly gone, but what about Tyler Myers? The young defender’s only gotten worse with each passing season, and he’s paid $5.5m/year until 2019. Maybe Darcy Regier will give Bryan Bickell $6m/year in perpetuity to play alongside Leino and then buy them both out next year when they combine for 8 goals playing on either side of Steve Ott.

Edmonton Lowes Oilers
Assuming Kevin Lowe continues to rule the Edmonton Oilers through a system of magical rings and undead lieutenants, it’s unlikely anything good will come out of giving the dark Lowerd Kevin the use of this tool. He’ll probably get rid of Shawn Horcoff and then tell the media that he knows a lot about winning before asking them to please tell him the location of the One Ring.

New York Rangers
Bob McKenzie’s already gone on record stating that Brad Richards is as good as gone, only that it’s a question of which year he gets bought out in. Like Kovalchuk, Richards’ deal can be a disaster if he retires early. Unlike Kovalchuk, Richards deal is already a disaster. Otherwise, the Rangers managed to get out from the contracts to Gomez, Redden, and Gaborik before anything terrible happened to them. This proves once again the old saying that “With 29 other general managers in the league, you only need to find one stupid one.”

Dallas Stars
Assuming new GM Jim Nill halts former GM Joe Nieuwendyk’s policy of signing players no younger than 37 years old to multi-year deals, the Stars won’t need to buy anyone out. But here comes Sergei Gonchar from Ottawa! 2 years, $10m is a lot of money for a 39 year old, 1-way defender whose contract is on the books regardless of retirement, spontaneous combustion, or world-level catastrophe as depicted in films such as Comet, The Day After Tomorrow, Planet of the Apes, etc… The Stars aren’t near the cap, so they probably won’t need to use a buy-out until they trade Jamie Benn and Alex Goligoski and a 1st round pick for Lecavalier.

Nashville Predators
Like Kovalchuk, Shea Weber’s contract is a riddle that needs solving. They need him, but what happens if he retires early? The Flyers really put the gears to David Poile when they bombed the Predators’ salary cap with that offer sheet. Due to operating on a shoestring budget that caused the David Poile to unload Lombardi on Toronto with Cody Franson for not much in exchange, it’s unimaginable that the Preds would use a buy-out. In a parallel universe where the Predators were financially solvent, would they consider dumping the $3.25m/year face-off taker, Paul Gaustad? He’s got 3 more years at that deal, which is a hefty salary for someone of his, uh, talents.

Detroit Dread Wings
The Wings have cleverly offered deals to their stars that keep them under contract at bargain prices. Exhibit A, Niklas Kronvall, whose cap hit is a mere $4.5m/year, or almost the same as Mike Komisarek. Think about that. Johan Franzen’s signed until his 40 with one of those cap circumventing deals, and considering the cap hit’s only a shade under $4m/year, his performance would have to drop off a cliff or he’d have to suffer a career-threatening injury for a buy-out to be worthwhile.

Los Angeles Lannisters
The Kings’ salary cap is in trouble next season. They aren’t due to lose any of their core players, but with about $7m available to pay a series of depth players requiring raises, they might be hard pressed to pay their debts. Trevor Lewis, Jordan Nolan, Kyle Clifford, Slava Voynov, Jake Muzzin, Alec Martinez, and Jonathan Bernier are all out of contract. Of that group, Voynov is most likely to get a big raise due to his offensive value on a blueline where only he and Drew Doughty are currently relied upon to move the puck forward. While they gave up way too much to acquire the putrid Robyn Regehr, who according to his possession stats must be allergic to handling hockey pucks, they may need buy him out for the $3m in cap space. That, and finally trading Jonathan Bernier should give them some breathing room this coming season and the following.

Colorado Avalanche
Figuring out who the GM of the Avalanche is right now is like playing a game of Guess Who?! Patrick Roy is the coach, but also a VP. Joe Sakic is a VP, but not the GM. Greg Sherman is the GM, but he’s not allowed to make any decisions. Whoever’s throwing the levers in the machine, they might start by undoing Sherman’s signing of David Jones ($4m/year, 3 years), and getting rid of the amusingly bad Shane O’Brien ($2m/year, 2 years). They aren’t hard up the cap next year, but the following season Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, and Jamie McGinn are RFAs, while Steve Downie’s a UFA. That quartet will need some numerical incentives to stick around, and the $6m they’d save by dumping bad players can come in handy.

San Jose Narcs
Whether or not he’s any good, Martin Havlat’s been alternated between the rink and the trainer’s office during his time in San Jose. It might not be totally his fault, but at $5m/year, he might be done. Consider also that, after next year, Joe Pavelski is an UFA and that Logan Couture will be a RFA, and the Sharks’ll need the cap space, even with Dan Boyle’s deal running out.

Anaheim Ducks
As discussed earlier on this blog, the Ducks are gambling that the salary cap will rise sooner rather than later. They’ve already locked up Getzlaf and Perry for the rest of recorded history (global warming and all that…), but the rest of their roster is signed to manageable deals. They have a horde of free agents to sign, including Methuselah the Wise Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu though, but no obvious candidates to buy out. If they continue with their recent trend of playing rookies, they should be fine.

Minnesota Wild
Their villainous owner, Craig Leipold might be loathe to spend money on trifles such as buy-outs, but the Wild aren’t far from the cap. They could use more depth players and have to re-sign a couple of young guys if they want to improve. So who might be walking the plank? Chuck Fletcher might try to unload the always tradeable Dany Heatley (COLUMBUS CALLING!?), but if he can’t find a taker for the last year of that $7.5m cap hit contract, he might just have to toss him like a message in a bottle, to be picked up on some other shore, in some other time. Adieu, Heater.

Pittsburgh Maringouins
With today’s news that Evgeni Malkini’s been signed to a more expensive contract than Sidney Crosby, Ray Shero begins the task of finding complementary forwards at bargain rates. On defense, the Pens’ are loaded with young prospects, who if they can develop sooner than later should keep their blueline affordable. Up front there’ll be problems sooner than later. The only other forward signed past next season is James Neal. That’s it. Kris Letang will almost certainly get a fat raise on his $3.5m/year deal to keep him from becoming a free agent, meaning the Penguins need only about 11 forwards, while more than half of their salary cap will already be eaten up by the team’s core. Oh, and a goalie. Given his recent exposure as a total fraud, the most obvious move is to cheer Marc-Andre Fleury over a sea wall. Do you see that kid in the clip? That’s not Jason James Richter, that’s Pittsburgh fans everywhere.

Carolina Hurricanes
The ‘Canes are pretty much stuck with the core that they have, since they likely won’t have the cap space to add any impact free agents. The only pseudo-candidate for shameful dismissal on this roster is Alex Semin, only because everyone hates him and he’s a maddening Russian Enigma and because the last time he backchecked was before the wall came down and because he’s only playing for the money and because he couldn’t pick the Stanley Cup out of a police lineup. Whoops, pardon, I briefly channelled about 54% of Canadian hockey commentators.

Boston Bruins
The evil but talented Bruins are facing a cap crunch. Nathan Horton’s an UFA and Tuuka Rask is a RFA. Next year is the last on Patrice Bergeron’s deal, too. For next year, there’s $5.8m to be split between the former two players, which’ll be hard to do. Would Peter Chiarelli, so adept at locking up his core long term, consider buying out a complementary player such as Rich Peverley ($3.5m/year) to keep Horton? Marc Savard’s still on the books, and he and his $4.5m/year contract is almost certainly done, which’ll help. Even with that, signing Horton is a risky proposition. He’s undeniably one of the few talented power forwards in the league- if Bickell’s getting paid, imagine what Horton would get- but he’s also struggled with severe concussions since the 2011 final. Whatever the case, Chiarelli needs to and will proceed prudently to keep his team together, even if the current situation is a difficult one.

Washington Capitals
With about $5m in cap space and Karl Alzner a RFA, the Caps will have to say goodbye to the Michael Ribeiro experience unless they can jettison some driftwood. It’s hard to pick who needs to go, but perhaps a complementary forward like Joel Ward should go. He had a strong year in the shortened season, and his size makes him useful even when he’s not scoring, so buying him out would hurt. It comes down to how badly McPhee wants him some Ribs.

Montreal Canadiens
The Habs’ll only need to sign a couple of depth forwards and possibly a defender for next season. When- not if, when- they shove Tomas Kaberle into space, Bergevin will have about $10m in cap space, meaning they can make some moves. Patience might still be the best thing, considering the thin free agent market this year. If, however, a player like David Clarkson of the Devils becomes available, it might be worth it to back up the money truck on him. No matter what happens, good bye Kaberle! You might have been Pierre Gauthier’s worst move.

Tampa Bay Lightning
Steve Yzerman has about $2.5m in cap space and only 10 forwards. In other areas, the team is fine, but needs at least 3 more bodies and wiggle room for call-ups, etc… To consider the unfathomable, might he be tempted to end the Vincent Lecavalier show in Tampa? Lecavalier’s a local celebrity, and there’s still $45m left on his deal, which is a tough hit to absorb for any millionaire. On the other hand, Lecavalier’s become injury-prone, is declining in effectiveness (he hasn’t scored more than 29 goals since 2008), and his $7.27m cap hit is only going to get worse. It’s also a back-diving contract, meaning that if he retires, the Lightning are royally screwed. This year, it’s hard to see Yzerman waving goodbye, but what if Lecavalier struggles next year? WHAT THEN?!

Chicago Blackhawks
With an army of young players ready or nearly to play in the NHL, the ‘Hawks aren’t in as dire shape as their $2m in cap space might indicate. They need to re-sign Nick Leddy (RFA) and Marcus Kruger (RFA), and face the decision of whether or not to keep Bryan Bickell (UFA). Bickell’s going to get an out of control contract- remember, it also only takes 1 of the 29 other GMs to screw everything up- but if he takes a pay cut, and if Bowman the Younger uses his buy-outs, he might be persuaded to stay. Steve Montador ($2.75m/year) is as good as gone, and if Bowman decides to get rid of Michael Frolik ($2.33m/year), that makes an extra $5m in cap space while losing nothing more than a depth forward.

Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks have $47,222 in cap space. They need 3-5 more forwards and likely want to re-sign Chris Tanev (RFA). The first thing they need to do is resolve the Luongo/Schneider crease clogjam(TM), which’ll save them about $5m if they finally admit that they aren’t going to get back comparable value for Lalongo. It’s laudable that Gillis is trying to get some form of equal value back for Luongo, but given the cap situation, simply removing him from the payroll is worth more strategically than anything any other GM is likely to give up. Well, there’s still the possibility that Gillis finds a dance partner, but otherwise, he might consider buying out poor David Booth and saving $4.5m/year in progress. Booth was a good player once upon a time, but then he got concussed repeatedly and is a huge injury risk.

Grilladelphia Deep Fryers
Having acquired Mark Streit when they were already about $2.5m over the cap, the arithmetic-destroying Flyers will almost certainly use all of their buy-outs, and maybe some other teams if Paul “It’s all Monopoly Money to Me!” Holmgren can work some of his magic. Danny Briere and his $6.5m/year cap hit? Gone. Chris Pronger and his 35 and + contract at $4.9m/year? Seeya! That’s $11m right there, but what about goaltending philosopher Ilya Bryzgalov? It’s much easier to buy out the remaining two years of Briere’s deal than the remaining decade or so on Bryzgalov’s contract. Will they try and pack Briere off to some other team and then allow Bryzgalov to entertain reporters in some other city? Whatever they do, it’ll be fascinating since they clearly want whatever Mark Streit is selling and are already flirting (making out with, really) with CBA Impossibility. Holmgren is the ideal GM for this situation, not just because he created it, but also because he doesn’t blink twice when trading Jeff Carter in cold blood to Columbus, weeks before a no-trade clause kicks in. Holmgren doesn’t care what you know about the CBA, hockey, or fan favourites; he will keep the music playing on his musical chairs of trading as long as he has to.
What’s that?

I think he just left the party in a cab with CBA Impossibility.

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June 8, 2013

Change We Can Believe In: Looking Back On Bob Gainey’s 2009 Free Agency Madness

by Jacob Saltiel
freeagent

That worked out…
from habseyesontheprize.com

Flashback to summer 2009, Habs fan. The Canadiens had just been ignominiously dumped by the Bruins in the playoffs. Several players from the team that had finished 1st the previous season were entering free agency. Most famously, the much-loved Saku Koivu was out of a contract, as was the lusted upon Alex Kovalev. Back then, Mike Komisarek had not been exposed as an imposter and many hoped that he might become the captain one day. At the time, Bob Gainey knew he had to do something to re-make his team- but what?

He- or his assistant, the skulking Pierre Gauthier- hatched upon a mad scheme; let the pending free agents walk, and sign as many other free agents for as much money as possible. The day before free agency, the dreadful Scott Gomez trade happened, which set the tone for maybe one of the worst months in sports management history. If not for a young Slovakian goaltender channeling the ghosts of Canadiens goaltenders past, the science experiment would have been a total failure. Let’s pick through the wreckage, player by player, to see what services they rendered to the Canadiens since that day week in July.

Jaroslav Spacek
Spacek got a 3 year contract, averaging $3.8m/year after scoring 45 points with the Buffalo Sabres. He was 35 at the time, and never scored more than 21 points with the Canadiens. He wasn’t terrible, but neither was he particularly effective. He was fun with the media and would have been fine as a 4th or 5th defenceman, but then his contract was all wrong for someone that low on the depth chart. Actually, “his contract was all wrong for someone that low on the depth chart” is Pierre Gauthier’s operating principle. By the 3rd year of his contract, Spacek had actually gained value because of his expiring contract and the perception that he could play 3rd pairing minutes. So what happened? Gauthier traded him for Tomas Kaberle, who the Canadiens still have on the books until they mercifully buy him out in a few weeks.

Mike Cammalleri
Bob Gainey gave Cammalleri a $30m, 5 year contract after a career year. Not for lack of trying, Cammalleri never lived up to that deal in Montreal. Due to injuries and never playing on a line that could support him effectively, Cammalleri’s regular season output for the Canadiens was humble. In that exciting run to the playoffs, he played out of his mind, scoring 13 times in 19 games and terrorizing other teams every time he got open with the puck. This wasn’t a horrible signing at the time, and might have worked out a lot better if the plan wasn’t to play him alongside Scott Gomez. We’ll always have this highlight, though. Despite working hard for the team, Cammalleri was shamed by Gauthier and embarrassingly (for everyone involved) traded mid-game to the Flames for Rene Bourque and a 2nd rounder. Not for the last time in the Gauthier tenure, anonymous rival GM’s would comment that they didn’t even know Cammalleri was available for trade. As everyone knows, when you need to sell something, you definitely don’t want to create a bidding war for that asset by telling multiple people about it who may be interested.

Hal Gill
Hal Macinnis! Harold Priestley Gill! Joe Beef patron and all around good guy, Gill turned out to be one of the better signings. At $2.25m/year for 2 years, he was a bargain. Then again, he might have been one of the least watchable players in the NHL. It sure was effective, but turning on the TV to watch a hockey game and seeing ol’Giller flopping around in front of his crease on the penalty kill was about as much fun as watching your dog get run over. Whatever, it sort of worked, and the Gill-Subban dynamic alone was worth the price of admission. He was extended for another year, and then traded for the probably-retiring-due-to-injury Blake Geoffrion, Robert “WHO IS THAT?!” Slaney, and a 2nd round pick. Pretty good value. Unlike say, Scott Gomez, Hal Gill is always welcome back in Montreal, and even got a shout-out in The Art of Living According to Joe Beef. Seriously, check the acknowledgements. Not bad for a guy who played for both the Leafs and Bruins.

Travis Moen
TraMoen was brought in to add some grit to the bottom half of the Habs lineup for 3 years, $1.5/year. Well, he was supposed to do that, but it’s unclear what Moen does these days. He throws the occasional hit and plays decent defence on the 4th line, but that’s about it. This didn’t stop him from getting a $350,000 raise and 3 year extension from Bergevin, but there’s not a lot to say one way or another about the big plugger.

Brian Gionta
The eventual captain of the Canadiens was also picked up on this impulse spending spree. His $25m contract runs out at the end of next season, and it’s unlikely he’ll be retained unless he’s willing to take a paycut. Like Cammalleri, Gionta’s struggled with injuries, including tearing both of his biceps in the last couple of seasons. In his first two years as a Canadien, Gionta scored 28 and 29 goals, which was respectable, but injuries and ineffectiveness, and a lockout have limited him to 22 goals total over the last two seasons. Of course, that’s not the only measure of a player’s value. He’s a hard worker who’s decent in puck possession, with a 2.92 on-ice CORSI.* He’s well-liked by his teammates and his hand-eye coordination around the net is still good. He’s going to be 35 next year and facing a lengthy rehabilitation, and certainly not getting any taller. Because of this, he may not fit into Bergevin’s plans for a team trying to get younger and bigger.

Hindsight is 20/20, But Pierre Gauthier/Bob Gainey Are Blind
So, 4 years on, the Canadiens turned  their signings not still playing with the team into two 2nd round picks, Rene Bourque, Tomas Kaberle, and the associated waste in cap space. Out of Kovalev, Komisarek, and Koivu, only Koivu’s played well since then. It’s not as if the Canadiens had to retain those guys, but the route they chose to go in recklessly handing out contract was a poor strategy. Even if the salary cap’s coming down, that won’t necessarily mean GM’s lower the salaries they hand out to free agents. For example, a 39 year old Sergei Gonchar was given a 2-year, $10m contract today, even though that cap number can never come off the cap. The Stars aren’t tight against the cap, but that’s a lot to pay for a 1-dimensional defender who might have a rapid decline.

This summer, the Canadiens won’t have a ton of cap space to use, but let’s hope Bergevin uses it prudently, since it rarely occurs that great value comes out in free agency. If it does, it’s often pricey. Adding a scoring forward would be great, but a guy like Bryan Bickell, currently playing out of his mind alongside Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, could cost way more than he’s worth in a serious bidding war. After all, free agency isn’t be one of Gauthier’s secret trade markets.

***

*All this means is that when he’s on the ice, his team generates slightly more shots than the opposition.