Quick heads up that the site will be taken down sometime Monday or Tuesday and might be down for a day or two for maintenance and updates. We should be back within a couple days at most.
So you can thank me now for news now certain to break early next week on a surprise trade or something else newsworthy in the dog days of hockey summer.
The initial math from re-signing Ethan Bear
This week the team announced that it had re-signed Ethan Bear to a one-year contract for $2.2 million and in the process avoided arbitration. There are a few upshots to the bigger picture from this transaction.
First, Bear not going to arbitration eliminates the possibility of the Canes buying out Jake Gardiner from a second buyout window opening because of arbitration. I would expect that the team has made enough calls to have a good idea of what the options and costs are for paying in prospects or draft picks to unload Jake Gardiner and his $4.05 million salary for the 2022-23 season.
And with Bear now in tow at $2.2 million, the probability of that happening probably increased. Right now, CapFriendly shows the Canes with only $1,883,083 of cap space remaining. If the team went with a bear minimum roster of 20 players, that could free up another $1,525,000 of salary cap space by sending both Chatfield and Coghlan to the AHL. That would give the team $3,408,083 available to re-sign Necas if they went with the current 20 player roster.
To gain a minimum amount of flexibility, the team would really need to re-sign Necas for $2,483,083. That amount would give the team room to carry a 21st player on the roster for up to $925,000 salary (basically Jack Drury). A one-year prove it type deal for Necas could come in a bit lower than market value but trying to get him for $2.5 million feels like a stretch. And even then, the team would be maxed out and limited to a 21-man roster unless someone went on injured reserve.
But what else is possible?
My hunch is the brain trust at 1400 Edwards Mill Road is still working hard to make one more big move or set of moves. I suggested from the beginning of summer that Martin Necas was likely to be used as a trade chip to add a ‘win now’ type of player. When the team managed to add Max Pacioretty and Brent Burns without giving up much, the chance that Necas stayed increased significantly. And that could now be the end game. But I do think that the Canes management is still exploring options.
In addition, I think there is also still a lot of NHL player movement yet to happen despite the fact that the market of available players has shrunk. With the Blackhawks already trading away everyone else and seemingly committing to a multi-year rebuild project, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane could now be in play. There are also multiple teams that have salary cap issues yet to be resolved. The Maple Leafs could maybe yet squeeze under the salary cap limbo bar with a roster short of 22 players but still needs to re-sign Rasmus Sandin who will put them over. The Oilers are are over by about $3 million and still need to re-sign Kailer Yamamoto. CapFriendly shows the Panthers as over by about $3 million. Nazem Kadri is still unsigned which could create a domino effect if a team that signs him needs to clear cap space to do so. Multiple teams are in position to take on salary cap for futures compensation.
The combination of the Canes current situation and the number of dominoes yet to fall across the NHL opens the potential for the Canes to make another move or two.
Though it is much less likely and not as much of a necessity with Brent Burns already added, my original target trade from the week before free agency opened that had the Canes acquiring Jakob Chychrun for Martin Necas + 2nd round pick + mid-tier prospect + Jake Gardiner could still work. Rumors that the Canes offered Necas plus for Tkachuk suggests that this basic package is in fact available for the right deal. The Canes would go back to being five deep with top 4-ish defensemen like the 2018-19 team and fit under the salary cap by including Gardiner in the deal. Smaller but also possible is acquiring Jesse Puljujarvi for very little if the Canes can separately unload Gardiner. The move would leave the Canes with three right shot options for the third pairing in Bear, Coghlan and Chatfield but would help a bit with the salary cap pinch and still re-signing Necas. The starting point for negotiations for both deals would be more, but when push comes to shove, it might be possible to get Puljujarvi for a third-round pick and pay the same to unload the last year of Gardiner and his contract. That pair of moves combined with re-signing Necas for $2.9 million would squeeze the Canes under the salary cap ceiling with a 21-player roster. The team would be incredibly deep at forward but a bit thinner on the blue line.
But more significant than specific moves, right now I think people are underestimating the volume of maneuvering yet to occur this off-season as a group of players become available from teams needing to cut salary and some facilitation also available from teams willing to take contracts for futures.
On Ethan Bear
His signing at this juncture of the off-season surprised me a bit. First, I thought the team would be willing to do arbitration given Bear’s ‘meh’ 2021-22 season simply because it would at least open the possibility of buying out Gardiner if necessary to make the salary cap math work. Further, I would also have expected that Bear was/is a player who might be available via trade to help squeeze under the salary cap especially with right shots Jalen Chatfield and Dylan Coghlan already available to compete for third pairing minutes. In that case, I would think that Bear could have slightly more value to a team unsigned because it would give the acquiring team the option of signing him to a two or three-year deal at a reasonable cost.
But all that said, the Canes initially signed Bear hoping that he could slot into the #4 slot next to Slavin and be a steady even if unspectacular top 4 defenseman. His 2021-22 season was derailed a bit by a slow-ish start, then COVID and then a nagging injury, but the bigger thing for me was how uncomfortable he looked in the Canes system that wants defenseman to step up and challenge the puck in all three zones. Bear’s natural instincts leaned significantly toward playing a conservative style that helped dodge big errors but too often not stepping forward when the Canes system required it. If Bear does play for the Canes in 2022-23, to what degree he can adjust in that regard is likely the biggest factor for whether he can find a higher gear in his second season with the team.
All that said, Bear’s $2.2 million contract is more or less a double or nothing bet on how the team scouted and viewed him when it acquired him last summer.
I view him as a reasonable third pairing defenseman even if his salary is a tiny bit high for that slot but maybe more significantly at least a possibility for someone to step into the top 4 in the event of an injury or if Burns does not work out in that role. I really liked Chatfield in his limited NHL audition in 2021-22, but the jump all the way into the top 4 would be unlikely and a huge one.
My 2 cents
I really think the Canes are yet to make a series of moves that includes some combination of Gardiner, Necas, Bear and draft picks. Acquiring Puljujarvi and separately unloading one or both of Gardiner and Bear to make cap room might be the move most feasible given what we already know. But I still think the bigger move is parlaying Necas + Gardiner + draft picks/prospects into a top half of the roster player is the bigger possibility. I am not a big fan of backing up the truck and including Necas and higher-end picks and prospects to add Patrick Kane as a rental. For Necas, I would much prefer a younger player with contract term (i.e. Chychrun, Tkachuk, etc.). That said, adding Kane who is still an elite playmaker would definitely be an aggressive ‘win now’ move for the 2022-23 season.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What, if anything, do you think the Canes will/could do to squeeze under the salary cap ceiling with the current group? Might the team be able to get Necas to take a bit less for a one-year deal to pushes his bigger payoff until next summer?
2) Of Necas, Gardiner, and Bear, which, if any, do you think are still likely to be traded before the season starts? Are there any other players that you see as likely to be traded to make the salary cap math work?
3) In terms of making one more addition, who do you like who is still possibly available?