For those who want one place to see the chronological list of articles aimed at building the 2017-18 Carolina Hurricanes roster, please check out “2017-18 Carolina Hurricanes Roster Building Central.” This page will be updated to include all articles focused on building the 2017-18 team.
Much of building the 2017-18 opening day roster will focus on straightforward analysis like identifying needs, assessing individual players’ ability to meet those needs, considering trade and salary costs, etc.
But not to be left out is Ron Francis’ propensity to capitalize on unique financial and contract situations in the NHL’s salary cap world. Francis’ biggest deal during the summer of 2015 was a late move to add Kris Versteeg and Joakim Nordstrom for virtually no trade cost when Chicago was up against the wall salary cap-wise and running out of time before the start of training camp. Francis went back to the same well in the summer of 2016 when he obtained young forward Teuvo Teravainen from the Chicago Blackhawks with the primary cost being taking on Bryan Bickell’s contract and again helping Chicago make the salary cap math work.
My prediction is that Las Vegas will become a clearing house for bad contracts, as the new kids on the block take bad deals in return for the futures that they need to stock their prospect pool. But that does not mean that Francis cannot also continue to play in this game. With the Hurricanes sitting at the bottom of the pack salary-wise and very unlikely to spend up to the cap in 2017-18, Francis again has the wherewithal to exploit contract situations if it helps him improve his team for the start of the 2017-18 season.
Identifying the types of contracts that make sense
With General Manager Ron Francis shifting from ‘build for later’ to ‘win now’ (within reason) and the Hurricanes being a team with an internal budget, the ability to take bad contracts is decreasing. Francis needs the real $ to both add players and very soon to re-sign top half of the roster players coming off inexpensive entry-level contracts.
So while possible, adding a player whose real salary is bad is not ideal, as it decreases the budget available to fill other needs.
More ideal is finding a player with a bad salary cap hit (Canes don’t care) but a significantly lower salary (Canes do care).
Francis actually took a try at this in his first summer as general manager when he added James Wisniewski, but that deal failed to even really get started when Wisniewski suffered a season-ending knee injury on his first shift of the 2015-16 season. Wisniewski’s remaining contract when the Hurricanes acquired him had a pricey salary cap hit of $5.5 million per season for each of the two seasons remaining, but the actual salary was a somewhat more modest $5 million and then $3 million for a $4 million average.
Put briefly, ideal is a contract where the salary cap hit is high (which is not good for cap-strapped teams) but the actual salary is lower (which is all the Hurricanes care about at least short-term).
Players who fill needs and have favorable salary cap vs. salary differences
First, to be clear, I have heard or read nothing that suggests Zetterberg is available. As a long-time captain in Detroit, it is possible that the Red Wings keep him set a leadership example for a team that is in transition right now. But another alternative is for the Red Wings to more aggressively commit to a rebuild after missing the playoffs in 2016-17 for the first time in forever. Under the second scenario, just maybe the Wings part ways with 36-year old Zetterberg and in process collect a nice haul of futures to help with rebuilding. At first glance, Zetterberg makes little sense. He is 36 years old with a 4-year contract commitment at a salary cap hit of $6.1 million annually. That looks both risky and expensive given his age. But diving into the details of his contract yields a different story. His front loaded contract actually pays $7 million, $3.35 million, $1 million and $1 million over the next four years. I think of it as a 2-year deal at $5.1 million per year followed by two more years at only $1 million per year. That actually lines up nicely with the Hurricanes financial situation. He is pricey in 2017-18 when the Hurricanes are still benefiting from inexpensive entry-level contracts and then the price decreases right when Francis needs to find more money to pay his young stars. Looking out 3-4 years on a 36-year old has its risk, but I will take my chances that Zetterberg will be worth at least $1 million for those last two years. Consider that he just put up 68 points in 82 games on a Detroit team that struggled in 2016-17, and he seems like a reasonable bet short-term. Again the prerequisite is understanding what Detroit’s plan is, but if the Wings go the all-out rebuild route, Zetterberg could be an unexpected but logical addition hopefully capable of filling the C1 slot for 1-2 years and then sliding back into a depth role later at an appropriate price.
Hossa is another good older player playing out the string on a front loaded deal at a bargain basement salary. His cap hit is a hefty $5.275 million for four more years which sounds scary for a 38-year old. And Hossa is not what he was 5-6 years ago. But his actual salary is only $1 million annually for the remaining four years on his deal, and his 26 goals and 45 points in 73 games in 2016-17 suggest he could still provide some goal-scoring punch for an incredibly reasonable actual salary cost. The sticking point here could be his no-movement clause and also the fact that the Blackhawks could be on the hook for a huge recapture penalty salary cap hit if he is traded and then retires. But Ron Francis and Blackhawks’ general manager Stan Bowman have three times brokered salary cap-related deals in the past few years, so this seems to be right up their alley. I think Hossa’s days as a do-everything top 6 forward may be past, but I think short-term, he is a solid, veteran top 9 forward. Plus it is hard to beat the $1 million price tag.
With the aim of filling the need for a veteran #4/#5 capable defenseman, Garrison jumps out as an interesting situation. He is a veteran, mobile defenseman with a track record playing in the top 4. His $4.6 million salary cap hit looks daunting for a depth/insurance role on the Hurricanes, but his actual salary of $2.5 million fits more nicely into the Hurricanes budget. And Tampa Bay is near if not at the top of the list of teams that need to pull some levers and shed some salaries to make the math work. The burning question with the 32-year old Garrison is whether he is still top 4-capable or he is a veteran in decline. One check in with someone who covers the Lightning on a game by game basis suggested that Garrison might be limited to more of a third pairing role at this stage of his career. If that is also how Francis and the Hurricanes’ scouting team assesses Garrison, then he is pricey at even $2.5 million relative to other #5/#6 options. But the salary math is favorable for another salary cap deal if Francis thinks Garrison has another solid season in him and is more of a capable #4/#5 than just third pairing depth.
Myers brings a dash of salary cap anomaly and also a dash of expansion draft to boot. Winnipeg is one of five or six teams that will need to expose a pretty good defenseman if they go the standard 7/3 protection for forwards and defensemen in the expansion draft. Tobias Entrom and Dustin Byfuglien both have no-movement clauses, and young up-and-comer Jacob Trouba figures to be the third defenseman protected. That leaves Tyler Myers exposed if not traded before the expansion draft. Myers’ $5.5 million salary cap hit for both 2017-18 and 2018-19 looks way too pricey for the Hurricanes’ needs and budget, but following the theme, his actual salary is only $3.5 million and $3.0 million respectively in 2017-18 and 2018-19. Myers comes with some risk after missing the vast majority of the 2016-17 season with a lower body injury. He is also maybe not an ideal fit to step into the top 4 if needed as a right shot, but he might be a case of not being too picky with a pretty good player maybe available. Perhaps there is a path whereby Myers provides experience and stability on a third pairing next to rookie Haydn Fleury while he works his way back up to speed after a disjointed 2016-17 season. At the same time, Noah Hanifin gets first try to seize the #4 slot that he looked reasonably capable in at the end of the 2016-17 season. If Hanifin and Faulk work in the top 4 and Myers is relegated to the third pairing, maybe the Hurricanes move him later. Or just maybe Faulk pairs with Fleury and the bottom two defense pairings are balanced. The price is maybe a bit higher than what Francis woule ideally budget for adding a defenseman, but the level of player he gets could exceed the premium and even yield a trade return later.
What say you Caniacs?
Do you think either of the two once-elite but aging forwards could have just enough left in the tank to help push the Hurricanes into the playoffs before yielding to the youth on the way up in the system?
Do you think Jason Garrison or Tyler Myers could be a decent fit because of their unique contract situations? Or do you think either or both are just overkill, especially price-wise, for what the Hurricanes need for blue line depth?
Do you see any other salary cap hit vs. actual salary discrepancies that could be in Francis’ wheelhouse?