With another huge game with playoff implications on tap, the game preview is up early for the Canes versus the Pens at PNC Arena on Tuesday night.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe diverts a bit from the here and now and offers an early look at the team’s salary cap situation for 2019-20.
The Hurricanes currently rank 31st in the NHL in salary. And with a few moves that seem budget-focused since Tom Dundon bought the team, some have questioned the team’s appetite for spending to build a winner. No doubt, the team could have spent more this season or possibly added at the trade deadline. But some might argue that the time has not been right yet, but that soon the team should consider bumping up spending to fill out the lineup.
Built in salary increase is on the way
But here is the thing — The Hurricanes salary spending is scheduled to rise significantly for the 2019-20 without the need for Tom Dundon to make a conscious decision to do so.
The Hurricanes have five forwards already locked in for 2019-20 at the same price as 2018-19 — Jordan Staal, Nino Niederreiter, Andrei Svechnikov, Warren Foegele and Lucas Wallmark. (5 players — $0 increase)
The Hurricanes also have two forwards locked into new contracts at a higher price — Teuvo Tervainen, Jordan Martinook. (2 players — $2.7 million increase)
The biggest increase will be Sebastian Aho. He is making only $925,000 on his entry-level contract. If he can finish strong, I think he could play his way into a $10 million contract just below the top tier. A discount to $8.5 million would be welcome, but I think more likely $10 million is the right number. (1 player — $9.1 million increase)
The Hurricanes also have three other players likely to return on similar contracts — Justin Williams, Saku Maenalanen and Brock McGinn, Greg McKegg (or similar). (3 players — $0 increase)
Finally, Micheal Ferland represents a wild card. As an unrestricted free agent, he will certainly receive a raise from the $1.75 million he is earning this season be it from the Hurricanes or via free agency. His injury issues and slowed scoring pace in the second half of the season should decrease his price, but he probably still requires something between $4 million and $5 million. (IF re-signed: 1 player — $2.2 million increase)
Total for the forward position — Without Ferland => $11.8 million increase // With Ferland => $14.0 million increase
The blue line is mostly locked in barring any trades with six players under contract for the same price next year — Jaccob Slavin, Dougie Hamilton, Justin Faulk, Brett Pesce, Calvin de Haan, Trevor van Riemsdyk. (6 players — $0 increase)
In addition, the other 2018-19 semi-regular defenseman should return on a similar contract — Haydn Fleury. (1 player — $0 increase)
The possible wild card is that the Hurricanes trade a defenseman which at least potentially decreases salary commitment depending on what is received in return.
Total for the blue line — $0 increase
Unless his current leave of absence situation throws a wrench in things, the Hurricanes will most certainly buy out Scott Darling this summer. The result would be a lower 2019-20 cap hit — Scott Darling. (1 player — $2.7 million decrease)
But much of that savings will be spent re-signing or replacing Curtis McElhinney and Petr Mrazek who are both signed to bargain contracts (McElhinney at $850,000 and Mrazek at $1.5 million). The possibilities are numerous. Both could return. Only one could return with Alex Nedeljkovic elevated to the NHL level. The team could keep one and shop externally for a second. For simple illustration, I will assume both current goalies are re-signed. As a younger goalie with a history as a starter, I think Mrazek will require $2.5 to $3 million to re-sign, especially if he finishes strong. McElhinney should come cheaper as a 35-year old but has definitely earned a raise. I estimate his next contract as $1.5 to $1.8 million possibly for two years as a reward — Curtis McElhinney and Petr Mrazek. (2 players — $2.1 million increase)
Netting it out
If one assumes that the team passes on Ferland to save money but sticks with the same blue line, then the team’s salary commitments would increase by $11.2 million. So without doing anything other than maintaining the team, the Hurricanes 2019-20 salary commitments would rise to $74.5 million. With the 2019-20 salary cap currently projected to be around $83 million, the Hurricanes would still have room if the leadership decided to retain Ferland or otherwise add salary. But at the same time, the team would very quickly bridge about half of the gap from being near the cap floor.
The budget version for 2019-20 would include letting Ferland go and then trading a defenseman for futures, prospects or less expensive players. Such moves could push the team back down to about $70 million of salary cap commitments.
My best guess though is that the Hurricanes do trade a defenseman but do so in a lateral move that brings back a forward with a similar salary cap hit. If the Hurricanes couple that with re-signing Ferland, the available cap space suddenly shrinks to $5 to $6 million. That does offer some flexibility and the potential to add another player, but it is also a far cry from the bargain basement rosters iced in recent years.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Is anyone caught by surprise by how much the Hurricanes salary commitments escalate automatically next summer?
2) For the open items…
a) How much does Aho’s next contract come in at?
b) Will the Hurricanes re-sign Ferland?
c) Will the team deal a defenseman this summer? If so, will be a salary cut, or would the Canes receive a comparable forward back?