Starting probably on Tuesday, I will put together a 2019-20 Carolina Hurricanes season preview series.
But Today’s Daily Cup of Joe is another from the random category in taking a look at a couple different salary situations for the Hurricanes.
In today’s NHL where the majority of teams are pushing up against the salary cap on a yearly basis, the value or worth of a player is not about how good that player is. Rather, it is about how good that player is relative to what their salary is. Even good players can be bad for building a winning hockey team if their salary is out of line with their role. And middle of the roster players or even depth players can be incredibly valuable if they have a fair or discounted salary.
Below are a few observations on salary as relates to the Carolina Hurricanes and recent decisions.
Noah Hanifin versus Haydn Fleury
Noah Hanifin departed the Hurricanes with Elias Lindholm in a blockbuster trade that returned Micheal Ferland, Dougie Hamilton and Adam Fox. The word on the street was that the Hurricanes at least explored contract extensions for both Hanifin and Lindholm but balked at the asking prices. Hanifin signed for six years at $4.95 million once he landed in Calgary. That salary was a significant bet on what Hanifin was yet to become. When he departed the Hurricanes, he was still a third pairing defenseman with enough rawness to his game that becoming more than a #5 defenseman was not a sure thing. And therein lies the bet. If Hanifin plateaued as a #5 or ‘meh’ #4 defenseman, that $4.95 salary was way out of line. If he took a leap forward and was suddenly the legitimate top pairing defenseman that his draft pedigree suggested was possible, the $4.95 million salary would represent at least a modest discount. The Hurricanes chose to avert this risk and not commit to six years of hopefully.
At the other end of the spectrum is Haydn Fleury. Fleury’s development has been modest step-wise improvement. Combine that with the fact that he has not contributed offensively, and Haydn Fleury is still playing for less than $1 million per year. If one considers Fleury to be even just a capable #6 defenseman, that price is a bargain in today’s NHL.
If one puts aside future potential for a moment, I think there is a legitimate argument to be made that Fleury and his contract are as good or better than Hanifin and his contract within the constraints of trying to build a winning roster for under the salary cap. Again, this is not about quality of play. It is about quality of play relative to salary. Again, this does depend on where Hanifin peaks which is what the Flames were betting on, but the point is that salary does matter in terms of valuing a player.
In addition to simple value, risk versus reward is also incredibly important. For a one-year deal risk is minimal. Even at a high salary, the one-year term means that if a team misjudges a player, it can quickly just move on. But in the case of long-term deals for high salaries. Risk versus reward matters, and that is where Justin Faulk’s next contract missed with the Hurricanes. Faulk is a player who is coming off a solid even if maybe not spectacular 2018-19 season. But significantly, he had two ‘meh’ at best seasons prior to that. And even more significantly in my book, Faulk’s next contract will start when he is 28 years old and finish when he is 35 years old. The $6.5 million yearly price tag for Faulk could maybe be a fair price if Faulk play’s to the top of his ability, but I just do not see a scenario where that price ends up being a significant discount. But if Faulk regresses back to his 2016-17 or 2017-18 level of play, he would suddenly be way overpriced. Or if Faulk hits a wall physically at 31 or 32 years of age, that would still leave a lot of contract at $6.5 million per year. So it is like the ceiling is receiving fair value for a top end defenseman salary, but the floor is potentially being locked into a bad contract for a long time. At that point, the team opted not to take the risk.
Bargains in hand
Meanwhile, the Hurricanes have Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce signed for $5.3 million and $4.1 million respectively and those contracts end when Slavin is 30 and Pesce is 28 which is before age risk becomes significant. Gardiner is signed for $4.1 million. Only Dougie Hamilton who was signed before he was acquired earns more at just under $6 million per year. In addition, the Hurricanes have Teuvo Teravainen signed at forward for an inexpensive $5.4 million per year. Those types of contracts are instrumental in building a good team in a salary cap world.
And avoiding overpriced contracts
Another key component to success in a salary cap world is avoiding contracts that are overpriced. Buyouts result in cap space being spent for nothing, and bad contracts take more salary than necessary for a given slot on the depth chart. When one scrolls through some teams’ salaries on CapFriendly, they have numerous overpriced contracts. The Hurricanes roster is pretty neat in that regard. The teams still have to pay Alexander Semin $2.3 million for this year and next before his contract finally comes off the books. In addition, to rid itself of Scott Darling’s contract, the team took on two years of James Reimer for $3.4 million per year. That is overpriced for a backup goalie and risky given Reimer’s sub-par 2018-19 season. But again, that deal was about getting someone that might either help or be tradeable in the future. In addition, the Canes do also have Patrick Marleau’s buyout on the books for the 2019-20 season, but that was not a contract error. Rather, Marleau represents the team utilizing its cap space to basically buy a first-round draft picks from the Toronto Maple Leafs.
While there is certainly an element of just doing favorable deals to the Hurricanes current cap situation, I think it is pretty clear that the brain trust gets the importance of considering a player’s contract in calculating his worth to the point where it is willing to part with good players if ‘player value to contract cost’ and ‘risk versus reward’ calculations are not favorable.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What are your thoughts on Justin Faulk’s current contract? Would you have considered re-signing him for seven years at $6.5 million per year?
2) Not counting entry-level contracts, which of the Hurricanes bargain contracts most benefits the team going forward?
3) Is it actually possible that Haydn Fleury is more helpful than Noah Hanifin in terms of building a winner simply because the difference in terms of salary is significantly more than the difference in terms of level of play?