I have a start on writing a multi-part all-star break series that will look at the rest of the 2015-16 season, the trade deadline and longer term. I will probably post the rest of it in a timeline kind of order but wanted to start with looking a bit at this summer.
When Ron Francis was named the Hurricanes general manager, I said that he faced a 2-year bridge (possibly a burning 1) before he would really have any ability to build his first team. The Canes were already locked in to the vast majority of the lineup and some of it at prices above market value.
But that changes significantly this summer:
2 HUGE contracts – Estimated $9 million savings
Francis gets back $16.3 million (2015-16 salary not cap hit which is mostly irrelevant to the Canes) when Eric Staal and Cam Ward’s contracts expire. Even if 1 or both return, there will be significant savings here. My rough math says that Francis does re-add 1 top end forward for $4-6M (possibly even Staal) and gets a 1B type goalie to go with Lack for something like $2-3M. That is almost $9 million saved AFTER both players are replaced with at least somewhat comparable players. Francis gets back even more if instead of adding 1 $4-6 million player to replace Eric Staal, he instead goes the route of adding a couple for cheaper.
Payments for past errors – $1.4 million savings
The Canes will of course pay Alexander Semin from now until even our kids our old, but this summer the retained portion of Jay Harrison and Tuomo Ruutu’s contracts comes off the books at a savings of $1.4 million.
Escalating contracts – About $2 million increase
The team does see a net increase of about $2 million from players already signed for 2016-17 (Faulk, Lindholm and Lack are biggest drivers).
Victor Rask – Estimated $2.2 million increase
He is a restricted free agent this summer and will get a raise from the $750,000 he is making this season. Alexander Barkov’s deal scares me, but unless Rask surges offensively in the second half, I think he will be much less expensive. My wild guess based on his current scoring pace is that he signs for $2.5-3.5 million.
Depth veterans coming off contracts – About $1 million savings
The Canes also see Nathan Gerbe ($2M), John-Michael Liles ($2.75M – again salary not cap hit), Riley Nash ($1.1M) and Kris Versteeg ($2.4M) come off contracts. Only Versteeg will be hard to replace for the same or less.
When you net it out, Francis has $24 million of unrestricted free agents coming off of contracts. AFTER filling the roster spots with comparable players to this season, I estimate that total salary could still decrease by about $7 million. With attendance slumping, Francis will not get a prepaid debit card for this full amount. I would expect that he will get to spend only a portion of this amount, but even if he just gets a portion of that money past the replacement budget that I noted above, it will be more dry powder than he has had his first 2 summers and importantly more open roster spots for him to use to build out the roster.
The burning question for February is of course which of unrestricted free agents Eric Staal, Cam Ward, Kris Versteeg, John-Michael Liles, Nathan Gerbe and Riley Nash will still be with the team at least through 2015-16 and possibly beyond.