by John Fischer
Apologies for the clumsy headline, but one of the big issues that the Ilya Kovalchuk re-signing raises is the salary cap. Assuming the initial reports are true, and I'm using this post from Tom Gulitti as reference, Kovalchuk's contract will be $102 million over 17 years, or a $6 million/year cap hit. As a result, the Devils are approximately $1.8 million over the salary cap right now per CapGeek.
However, Lou Lamoriello is going to have to do a lot more than just clear that much. In fact, just to add a minimum-salary player ($500k) to replace one dumped contract, the Devils will need to clear at least $2.3 million. Add more depending on who the replacement will be, whether it's a prospect or a signed free agent. It still seems pretty simple, right? All Lou has to do is dump Bryce Salvador, toss a pick in there to sweeten the deal, give Tyler Eckford that spot, pray and make sacrifices that no one gets injured, and the Devils are good to go.
Actually, no, it's not as simple as that. It never really is, to be honest. There's the small matter of next season and retaining Zach Parise. I'll explain further after the jump.
Remember that, the Kovalchuk signing adds a $6 million/year cap hit to the New Jersey Devils' salary cap. Therefore, the Devils now have $47.82 million tied up in 13 players according to CapGeek. Yes, Jason Arnott, Jamie Langenbrunner, Andy Greene, and Johan Hedberg come off the cap. So does Zach Parise since he's a restricted free agent along with Anssi Salmela and Vladimir Zharkov. The cap space of $11.58 million includes all 7 Devils without contracts.
In other words, say Parise signs an extension of a cap hit of $7 million/year; a very generous cap hit for a player of his qualities while still giving him an amount over, say, Mikko Koivu. That cap space becomes $4.58 million with 6 other players needed to be signed. That can be done if all 6 players (3 forwards, 2 defensemen, and a goalie) sign with New Jersey for a little more than the league minimum. So, yes, even with Lou giving a little less than Arnott's and Langenbrunner's combined current cap amount to Parise, the Devils can put a full roster together. It would be a terrible idea, though.
There's more to the problem than just getting guys to fill in the spots and staying under the cap. If Arnott goes, who's going to be the second line center? If Langenbrunner goes, who's going to be the top two right wingers? If Greene walks, who takes his role as a two-way defenseman? Relying on league minimum players to take on important roles is a recipe for disaster. There is a reason why they are signed to league minimum deals, after all, as they are usually depth players who can perhaps do well in spot duty and that's it. You may have liked Dean McAmmond as center on the top two lines for a couple games, but you wouldn't want him there for 82 games. No offense to Dean, but he wouldn't provide the additional quality necessary to fully support the top players.
Sure, prospects may be able to do those jobs. They may even earn those spots in this season. But the top prospects are going to cost more than just league minimum (e.g. Jacob Josefson will take up $900k, Mattias Tedenby will take $875k, Adam Henrique will take $845.83k, etc.). Plus, if those prospects are on one-year deals like Tyler Eckford or an expiring contract like Matthew Corrente, then that's another spot to replace that will take up more cap space.
Now I know what you may be thinking: John, the salary cap could very well go up for next season. True. An increased cap would help Lou out for 2011-12. However, is it smart to assume that the salary cap will go up a certain amount? How do we know revenues won't stagnate or decrease; thus, leading to a drop in the salary cap. Either way, since we don't know what will happen and there's no information available to make a reasonable guess as to what could happen, Lou can't properly plan that way. You may be willing to plan on the best-case scenario, but that's just asking to be let down.
Even so, the best case scenario may be only a few more million. I would like to go back to my point about how it's not smart to use cheap players to replace important ones.
Ultimately, my main point is that it's not wise for Lou to only clear cap space for this season. He'll have to clear space for next season to re-sign Zach Parise and have money available for quality players to replace those who leave the organization. Even if the worst case scenario happens - someone gives the Devils an offer sheet for Parise, the Devils don't match it, and we cry for days - the projected space of $11.58 million isn't a lot to fill in 7 roster spots. That's an average of $1.654 million per spot and while you can go lower for, say, replacing Salmela, you're not likely to find a player who play for less than $2 million on the open market and reasonably expect good results for a top-6 forward.
Therefore, when considering who's going to be dumped, you have to look at who has a non-expiring deal for this season. Space needs to be created not only for this season but next season. So let's think this out point-by-point. Feel free to follow along with CapGeek's new Flash-based calculator to figure out what would be the savings.
* Arnott, Parise, Langenbrunner, Greene, Salmela, Zharkov, and Hedberg won't be dumped. The Devils will gain nothing for 2011-12 by getting any of their deals off their books.
* Arnott, Hedberg, Henrik Tallinder, and Anton Volchenkov were all signed or acquired in this summer. It makes no sense for Lou to move them now. The same goes for David Clarkson, I don't think the Devils would trade someone they went out and re-signed early unless forced to do so.
* Ilya Kovalchuk is completely safe. Oh, and he has a No Movement Clause through 2016-17. Speaking of...
* Brian Rolston, Colin White, Patrik Elias, Martin Brodeur, and Jamie Langenbrunner all have either No Trade Clauses or No Movement Clauses. Believe me, I sympathize with those who say "Get rid of Rolston and White and the problems are solved." But as I've said over and over and over (especially with respect to Rolston even yesterday), do not expect any of these guys to waive their clauses to go elsewhere. (You can add Arnott and Hedberg, as they have clauses too, but there's no point to trading an expiring contract.)
* Your non-clause, current roster players who weren't acquired this season and won't have expiring deals that can be moved: Travis Zajac ($3.8875/season for next 3); Dainius Zubrus ($3.4 million/season for next 3); Rod Pelley ($550k/season for next 2); Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond ($525k/season for next 2); Bryce Salvador ($2.9 million/season for next 2)
* Among that last group, Zajac's too valuable to dump so he's safe. Leblond and Pelley make so little that the Devils wouldn't save even $100k by dumping both and replacing their spots with league minimum players.
Basically, we're hoping someone waives their NTC/NMC, which is incredibly unlikely (so I wouldn't suggest it), or someone really likes Zubrus and Salvador enough to take their deals as-is. Granted, that's not a bad scenario: that would clear $6.3 million, allow top prospects to replace them now, and still knock off more space for 2011-12. But Lou has no leverage for any deal since the Devils are over the cap. It's going to be more than just those two going - think prospect or top draft pick - if they are dumped at all.
This isn't an ideal situation at all. What's more is that I didn't even getting into the real problem of how the players will react to whoever gets traded away just to make cap space. Lou will have to consider the effect of how any deal will affect team effectiveness and chemistry; though, he may not have that luxury given the situation the team is in.
Like I said yesterday, figuring this out will be a difficult challenge for Lou. If anyone can pull it off, it's him, though. Given the past, oh, 20+ years, I think we can trust Lou to make the best decision available.
Now it's your turn. Do you think the Devils are this limited in terms of whose contract they can dump? Do you think Lou will get out of this situation, and how? What other options does Lou have? Please leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments; and as always, thank you for reading.
P.S. Before you suggest trading a player with a no trade or no movement clause, why should we believe that the player would waive it? Answer this question, lest you get nothing but responses about wanting a unicorn in the deal.