And if you were busy on Tuesday and missed it, Victor Rask re-signed for 6 years at $4 million per year. I posted my detailed thoughts on the deal HERE.
Today’s daily post will look into the crystal ball and the summer of 2017. I will NOT project the outcome of the 2016-17 season. That kind of stuff is for September and early October. Rather, this is a look at the interesting financial situation that will transpire layered on top of a team that hopefully progresses.
Cutting to the chase, I think the summer of 2017 could bring a team that struggles to reach the salary cap floor at the same time that it becomes a trendy darling of the broader hockey media.
The latter part, becoming a trendy pick for national media, is predicated on the team’s young players taking another step forward and starting to put it all together. Especially right now, it is fairly easy to make cases for and against that.
2016-17 salary cap situation
But the first part is interesting. With today’s re-signing of Victor Rask the Carolina Hurricanes officially cleared the salary cap floor for 2016-17. I have written in a couple places that this was never really an issue after the trade with the Blackhawks that included Bryan Bickell and his $4 million salary cap hit. At the time, it was as simple as estimating Ryan Murphy and Victor Rask’s new contracts and then adding a couple more to complete the roster.
If the Hurricanes do not make any other big deals, the team will enter the 2016-17 with cap spending of about $56.3 million which is about $2.3 million above the floor. (The source is GeneralFanager with an estimated addition of $1 million for Ryan Murphy and an additional $300,000 for swapping Sebastian Aho in for the less expensive Derek Ryan who is there now.)
Looking forward to 2017-18
Projecting the 2017-18 salary cap floor is a wild guess at this early juncture, so let’s just call it flat for argument’s sake. So the Hurricanes base is a fairly comfortable $2.3 million above the floor if it stays flat assuming they pay the same salaries to the same players.
But the starting point for building the 2017-18 immediately sees Bryan Bickell come off the books for $4 million and also James Wisniewski’s weird CBA math buy out cap hit decrease from $3.5 million to $1 million. The net is that the Canes are quickly down $6.5 million in cap hit but have only lost a single roster player and a fourth-liner at that.
If the Canes lose a medium price veteran (Lee Stempniak for $2.5 million and Eddie Lack for $2.7 million are possibilities), the amount that must be added increases to more like $9 million.
Oftentimes gaps like this are quickly made up from players coming off inexpensive contracts and getting a significant raise for their next deal just like happened with Victor Rask today jumping from less than $1 million up to $4 million. While the Canes might see some of this, it should be modest next summer. The D trio of Jaccob Slavin, Noah Hanifin and Brett Pesce all project to get big raises in the following summer of 2018. Andrej Nestrasil, Phil Di Giuseppe and Teuvo Teravainen are all restricted free agents who would figure to earn raises from their current contracts if they have strong 2016-17 seasons. Depending on if/how much the cap floor increases and how much their raises are, that could close a significant portion of the gap to make the minimum.
If that group does not close the gap, it gets interesting. The other players coming off contract are likely replaceable for a similar price or possibly even less if the team fills depth roles internally with youth on inexpensive contracts. Jay McClement ($1.2 million), Ron and Victor Stalberg ($1.5 million) are both depth type players who could be re-signed or replaced for similar amounts. If the kids on D continue to develop, it might that Ron Hainsey ($2.8 million) is not really replaced, externally anyway, at all. I the depth chart just shifts up and the bottom is back filled by someone from the system (i.e. Carrick, McKeown, Fleury), the Canes save another $2 million.
First, it is important to note that the math below is the extreme version that assumes the lowest cap hit outcome for multiple situations. More likely, a couple of these will fall each direction. But for the sake of illustration, it is is not wildly far-fetched that it works out like this:
Starting point from 2016-17 = +2.3M (above floor)
Floor increases: +$1M = $1.3M (above floor)
Wisniewski adjustment: -$2.5M = -$1.2M (below floor)
Bickell replaced by depth forward from system: -$3.1M = -$4.3M (below floor)
Stempniak claimed in expansion draft: -$2.5M = -$6.8M (below floor)
Hainsey replaced by Fleury, McKeown or Carrick: -$1.9M = -$8.7M (below floor)
All of Tervainen, Nestrasil and Di Giuseppe have decent not great years and re-sign for $2.5M: +$4.9M = -$3.8M (below floor)
McClement and Stalberg are either re-signed or replaced for similar depth price: $0M = -$3.8M (below floor)
When you net it out, the Hurricanes could be as much as $3-4 million below the salary cap floor with everyone except either Lee Stempniak or Eddie Lack (one of whom is assumed lost to the expansion draft) either replaced or returning. This is not such a big number that it will be hard to make up simply by signing a medium price $4Mish free agent forward, but it is still an interesting situation.
Summer of 2018 also impacts the summer of 2017
The other interesting situation on the far away calendar is all of Jaccob Slavin, Noah Hanifin and Brett Pesce being set to become restricted free agents the following summer in 2018. It is not inconceivable at all, that all 3 of these players play their way into the top 4 over the next 2 years which suggests new contracts in the $4-5 million per year range.
The potential impending escalation of costs the following summer could complicate the math exercise next summer for Ron Francis. Even with an internal budget, he should be way under for the 2017-18 season, but then much of that slack automatically disappears for the 2018-19 season which has me already curious to check if there is another Bryan Bickell type contract that ends after the 2017-18 season that someone needs out of.
The pain of being a smaller market team that is 7 years removed from playoff revenue
Could you imagine of the Hurricanes were a team that could spend to the salary cap? The roster that will creep slightly above the salary cap floor could be a pretty good one if most of the young players take another step forward this season. And its cost will be roughly $18-20 million below the salary minimum. What might the lineup look like if Francis was free to spend most of that adding 3 more $4-6 million type players? Oh the jealousy!
But the positive flip side is that now out from under Eric Staal and Cam Ward’s previous contracts and a couple others, the financial structure for the Carolina Hurricanes is in good shape to have a chance to build a competitive team despite not having a competitive budget.