With just about every story not already covered by other outlets exhausted, this week's Duck Puck discusses a question that has been posed all summer long.
How will the Ducks get under the salary cap?
Currently, Anaheim's payroll for the 2008-09 season sits at roughly $59.9 million, or about $3.2 million over the new $56.7 million cap. While this alone seems like a hefty amount of dough to get rid of, fans must also remember that teams have their own, self-imposed caps. For the Ducks, the magic number is $50 million - meaning that by October, the team needs to shed almost $10 million to reach its target. And oh yeah, there's still that whole business of signing that guy named Teemu, who'll likely command at least $2 million in base salary (and even that's a bit of a stretch).
Realistically, GM Brian Burke will probably be allowed to exceed the $50 million budget by up to $3 million, meaning that the Ducks really only - and I use the word "only" loosely - need to get rid of approximately $7 million worth of personnel.
So now the question is who will be migrating to another frozen pond? Mathieu Schneider has been the most popular answer to this common query, but let's actually analyze the roster and see why this should or should not be the case.
First, we should define the players that make up that $59.9 million figure:
Getzlaf, Perry, Kunitz, Morrison, Marchant, R. Niedermayer, Ryan, Pahlsson, Moen, Sutherby, Carter, May, Parros
S. Niedermayer, Pronger, Schneider, Beauchemin, O'Donnell, Montador, Huskins
Let's start with the obvious. Every team needs a goalie, so Giguere is out, and even Marty Brodeur can't play 82 games (though I'm sure he would if the Devils allowed him to), so Hiller's out, too. It would be foolish to get rid of anyone who was just signed this summer, so Morrison and Montador are safe, as well. Finally, any good GM knows that you have to think long-term, so the future - namely Getzlaf, Perry and Ryan - is staying put.
One can argue that Beauchemin and Kunitz belong in that last category, but for the purposes of this exercise, I'm putting them in the young-and-skilled-yet-tradable column, for lake of a better name. Believe me, I love how a "throw-in" in the Fedorov trade has progressed into a top-four blueliner and I was one of the angriest customers when a Hobey Baker finalist was waived, but they're still not quite in the same category as the big three.
Anyway, with $7 million to clear, it would be virtually pointless to drop anyone making less than seven digits, eliminating Moen, Sutherby, Carter, May, Parros and Huskins.
Next, one of the keys to Anaheim's post-lockout success is its team defense, particularly its ability to shut down the opposition. For this reason, Pahlsson, Rob Niedermayer and O'Donnell are quite literally no-gos. Yes, you could say that Robby's a bit overpaid, but his speed, size and defensive awareness are skills you generally cannot teach. And yes, you could say that O'Donnell could be replaced by another shutdown D-man much like he essentially replaced Keith Carney, but any such blueliner would come at a negligibly lower price and might not have the vital chemistry that he shares with Pronger.
On the other side of the puck, creating offense has been a real issue for the defensively-sound Ducks, so giving the boot to any guys capable of putting points on the board would only be counter-productive to the Cup cause. This would appear to cover the rest of the team except one lonely duckling - Todd Marchant.
A closer look, however, reveals that Scott Niedermayer and Schneider essentially
play the same role. In fact, as all Duck fans know, the main reason Mathieu was brought in was as an insurance policy for the potentially-retired Scotty. Having two offensively-gifted blueliners is usually not a problem, but when each is making over $5 million and your cap space is a negative number, one of them has to go. With all due respect to Schnieds, this is a no-brainer - Scotty is younger, faster, better defensively and is pretty much one of the greatest defensemen to ever play the game.
So now we're left with a final four of Kunitz, Marchant, Schneider and Beauchemin. We already established that #11 is the first unfortunate victim of a cap world, but his $5.625 million falls $1.375 million short of the (un)lucky 7 we're looking to clear. All three of the remaining candidates make enough to reach our magic number, but on second thought, trading away a guy capable of mustering up at least 50 points every year would be a shame, especially for an offensively-starved hockey club. So Kunitz, whose services come at a relative bargain for the next four years, is out of the picture after all.
With only Marchant and Beauchemin left, we have another no-brainer, but for argument's sake let's break things down the way we did when deciding between Nieds and Schneids. Beauchemin and Marchant are on the opposite ends of a hockey player's career curve. While Beauchemin is just hitting his prime as a developing top-four defenseman, Marchant has seen his role reduced to that of an above-average fourth-line center capable of filling in any temporary holes in the lineup. Although every team can use such a utility player, the Ducks actually have a younger forward who also fits the bill waiting in the wings (duck puns only partially intended). Ryan Carter has shown he is ready for prime time, and while he might not bring the leadership and experience that Todd does, he certainly comes at a much cheaper price for a team that features plenty of veterans, anyway.
After reviewing the facts, Mathieu Schneider is indeed the best candidate to be moved in order to free up cap space. However, while many fans have suggested trading Schneids, it is clear that Marchant must also be added to the cap casualty list after the name of the dearly-departed Andy McDonald. This would leave the Ducks payroll at approximately $51.8 million, but we're forgetting one last important detail - Selanne still needs to be signed. Assuming the Finnish Flash continues to be the team player he has been throughout his career and signs an incentive-laden contract with a base of around $2 million, our final figure is $53.8 million. Ironically enough, the $3.8 million excess is approximately the same as Kunitz's cap hit, but as I established earlier, his value to the team right now is worth more than staying under a self-imposed cap. Then again, I'm not the one writing the paychecks.
Sorry Duck fans, but with a long-time friend that I haven't seen in more than half a year in town for the week, I didn't get a chance to do a "Joining the Flock" this time around. This actually works out, however, as there is still over a month until the first regular season game and only so many significant signings to cover.
Anyway, you all know the drill - unless any major news breaks between now and next Sunday, I'll see you at the same Duck time, same Duck blog.
Keep on quacking!
(Please make comments in the forum thread!)