Tuesday, January 15, 2019

What’s the worst possible salary cap situation you could create from today’s contracts?

Last​ week we tried​ to​ assemble​ a roster​ made​ up​ of some​ of the NHL’s​ best contracts. To​ add​ to the challenge​​ and avoid simply stocking up on entry-level deals, we decided to skip ahead to 2021-22 and put together the best team that would still fit under a reasonable salary cap. It turned out to be a lot of fun and at least a little bit thought-provoking, many of you weighed in with your own picks and a good time was had by all.

But more than a few readers had a suggestion: OK, now do it for the worst contracts.

My first reaction was that that sounded like fun. A cap-compliant team made up of the worst contracts in the league? That’s right up my alley.

My second reaction was that it would be easy. That was part of the appeal. Putting together the good contract roster had me looking like this guy by the end. But bad contracts? There are a ton of those! Every team has at least a few. This would be a breeze. I was in.

I got started. And then I began to actually think things through. And I realized what I had gotten myself into.

Here’s the thing: Anyone can do a simple list of the worst contracts in the NHL and lots of people have. But we’re talking about a roster of terrible NHL contracts that still fits under the salary cap, meaning we’ll have a hard time squeezing some of the worst deals in without having to fill out the roster with “bad” deals that somehow also don’t cost much.

That doesn’t just add several layers of difficulty, it barely even makes sense. It’s like putting together the best offensive team that won’t score more than 300 goals. What are we even doing here?

Luckily, “barely even makes sense” has never stopped me before. Let’s do this. Let’s build the worst possible NHL team that fits under the current cap. Or more specifically, let’s build the worst salary cap situation that would be possible in today’s NHL.

A few quick ground rules:

  • This is a roster for this season, using this season’s cap and this season’s contracts. Unlike last week’s piece, there’s no reason to jump ahead to 2021-22 here. This is all for 2018-19, using the current cap of $79.5 million. And as with last week, all we care about here is cap hit; actual dollars paid out don’t matter to us.
  • We’re not using any contracts that are dead money because of players that are on LTIR or whose careers are likely over. No David Clarksons, or Nathan Hortons or Marian Hossas on this team. Other than that, assume all active players are healthy – we’re not penalizing players for being injured here.
  • We can’t save cap space by burying deals in the AHL, a rule that will apply to any deals that actually are buried in the AHL. We also don’t benefit from any retained salary from previous trades. We’re paying full sticker price on everything.
  • We’re trying to build the worst cap situation possible, so term matters. Long deals are worse than short ones. Which means that for the purpose of our team, they’re better. Because they’re worse. You get what I’m saying.

This idea is so dumb. I love it. Let’s get to work.

(All salary info comes from CapFriendly.com. Stats for this season do not include last night’s games.)

But first, a word about “bad” contracts

It always feels a little weird to write about good and bad contracts and to realize that we always default to seeing those deals from the team’s perspective. A guy who makes too much money is considered “bad,” while a guy who makes less than he deserves goes in the “good” column.

On a certain level that makes sense. We’re fans, and ultimately the point of being a fan is to root for teams collectively, not individual players. This is a hard cap league now, meaning salaries matter. But it still feels strange to look at an underpaid player as always being a good thing, even when the difference might just be going straight into some billionaire owner’s yacht fund. And it’s especially strange to think that someone wanting to make as much money as they can has made a mistake when all of us feel the same way about our own jobs.

Let’s be clear: Every one of the guys we’re going to list in today’s piece earned his contract. They’re among the best few hundred hockey players in the world, playing in a league that generates billions in revenue based on people wanting to watch them play. Not one of them held anybody hostage, and each of them ultimately ended up signing an offer that their team put in front of them. If those turned out to be bad contracts, it’s only because their teams screwed up.

We are also going to screw up, although in our case we can at least claim to be doing it on purpose. Let’s do this. Who wants to make some capologists cry?


Part of what makes this whole exercise so ridiculous is that we won’t be able to fit any of the league’s monster contracts onto the roster because they’d eat up too much space. In theory, there could be deals that are so bad that they can’t fit on our all-bad roster because they don’t leave room for anyone else.

For example, let’s look at Carey Price. His $10.5-million extension runs for another seven years after this one, even as he works through a second straight disappointing season. That one is tempting, and I tried to figure out a way to work it in. But I can’t. You just can’t build a truly terrible cap team when you’re spending that much on your starting goalie. (What that might say about building an actual Cup contender around a $10.5-million goaltender is an exercise left to the reader.)

But once you get past Price on the goaltender’s list, you find something a little surprising: There aren’t all that many goaltender deals that seem awful. There are certainly some questionable ones, but compared to the abject disasters we’re going to see at the other positions, NHL GMs seem to be showing getting smarter when it comes to choosing the men inside the crease.

A few deals do jump out as contenders for our team. Mike Smith ($5.67 million) and Semyon Varlamov ($5.9 million) are making more than you’d like, but both of those deals expire this year. Craig Anderson has another year left at $4.75 million, and that deal doesn’t look great, but you could live with it if he’s healthy and playing like he did earlier this year. Henrik Lundqvist at $8.5 million through 2021 has the potential to get ugly, but isn’t quite there yet.

Two familiar names almost make the cut. Roberto Luongo still has three more years at $5.33 million, and yes that deal still “sucks” even though he was really good last year. And then there’s Luongo’s old pal Cory Schneider, who’s got the Devils on the hook for three more years at $6 million. That one looks awful, which makes it awfully tempting for our roster.

But in the end, I’m going to save a little cap space while still grabbing a starter with one of the league’s more regrettable deals: Carolina’s Scott Darling at $4.15 million through 2021. Schneider has at least been a top goaltender in the NHL, even if it feels like a long time ago. Darling had never been a full-time starter when the Hurricanes gambled on him, and while it may have been worth rolling the dice at the time, it didn’t work. He’s been a great story, and is working to get his career back on track in the AHL right now. It’s still possible that we see him succeed in the NHL someday, but it seems unlikely to be in Carolina.

We’ll back him up with another goalie who’s currently in the AHL: Ottawa’s Mike Condon at $2.4 million. He’s signed through next year and is currently battling a hip injury in the minors. That leaves us with over $6 million in cap space spent on multi-year deals to goaltenders that aren’t actually in the NHL right now, which is way too much while also leaving plenty of room that we’re definitely going to need. Not a bad start.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

Monday, January 14, 2019

Weekend rankings: Your guide to which teams should be panicking the hardest right now

We​ spent a lot of​ the​ season’s​ first​ half​ saying​ things like​ “Sure, this team​ may be struggling​ right​ now, but it’s​​ still early and there’s a ton of hockey left so nobody should panic.” Everyone does. It’s pretty much a standard disclaimer that you have to put on all first-half hockey writing.

Well, it’s not early anymore, and there’s no longer a ton of hockey left. It’s OK to panic now. In some cases, it may be mandatory. A few teams should have been here weeks ago.

But who? Since we’re all about arbitrary rankings around these parts, here’s a top ten list of teams that should be panicking right about now.

10. New York Islanders – They lost to the Rangers and Hurricanes, which wasn’t great, but then they smoked the Lightning last night to regain the top wildcard spot. Honestly, they’re only here because doing a top nine would be weird.

9. Montreal Canadiens – The good news is they’re playing reasonably well and aren’t ceding much ground in the wildcard race. The bad news is that even one week ago, we figured they only had to beat out one of the Sabres or Islanders to make it. Now, the Hurricanes are roaring back into the race, which ups the pressure on Montreal.

8. Dallas Stars – Two games against a pair of teams going nowhere resulted in zero points and the offense has dried up apart from the top line. And now we’re back to the organization saying stuff like this:

7. Florida Panthers – The only reason the Panthers don’t rank any higher is that, at this point, it’s basically over. They’re eleven points back and have four teams to catch, so barring a month-long hot streak, they’re done. They should have already moved past “panic” and onto “acceptance.” Now the question in Florida is who’s going to pay for it.

6. Columbus Blue Jackets – Unlike the other teams on this list, the Blue Jackets are playing reasonably well and in strong shape for a playoff spot. But they have other things to worry about these days, which we’ll get to down below.

5. Edmonton Oilers – The entire Western wildcard race is in a freefall, meaning it’s right there for the taking. And yet the Oilers can’t take advantage, losing at home to Arizona in a game that opened the door for the Coyotes to climb into the race. The big question here isn’t whether Oiler fans are panicking, but how much their beleaguered GM might be.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

Friday, January 11, 2019

Grab Bag: The problem with letting the players police the game

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- If you want players to police the game, be honest about what that means
- I have suggestions to improve the only good page on the NHL web site
- An obscure player from maybe the greatest stat spoiler I've ever seen.
- The week's three comedy stars
- And a look back at a wild 1998 line brawl and goalie fight

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

Puck Soup: Total Garbage

In this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- We try to figure out what's going on with Sergei Bobrovsky
- What's going to happen in Ottawa with Matt Duchene and Mark Stone?
- The all-star jerseys are garbage. Literally.
- The first of many arguments over what MVP means
- In defense of Islander fans
- Lots of reality TV talk during which I am very quiet
- And more...

>> Stream it now:

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.

>> Get weekly mailbags and special bonus episodes by supporting Puck Soup on Patreon for $5.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Islander fans think the hockey world isn't giving their team enough credit. Do they have a case?

Islander​ fans don’t seem​ to​ be​ an​ especially​ friendly​ bunch these​ days.

Not all of​ them, of course.​ But​ a lot of them.​​ As they see it, their team isn’t getting enough attention from the rest of the hockey world, and they’re eager to let you know about it. If you happen to cross paths with an Islander fan on social media, or in a hockey forum, or (lord help you) in the comment section of a power rankings post somewhere, there’s a good chance that they’re coming out swinging. The topic doesn’t even have to have anything to do with them. These days, I’m pretty sure you could do a piece about the best moments of the Original Six era and a horde of angry Islander fans would show up demanding to know why they weren’t mentioned.

So what’s going on here? There are a couple of possibilities. The first is that Islander fans are just being typical sports fan babies, sulking because their middle-of-the-road team isn’t getting the credit that their homer-tinted glasses tell them they deserve even as everybody else rolls their eyes.

The second possibility is that, uh, they might be right.

I mean, we can’t rule it out, can we? As best I can tell, Islander fans are mainly mad at some combination of the NHL media, self-professed hockey experts and other fans in general. And let’s face it, those three groups are wrong about things all the time. I know I am. (Seriously, check out this masterpiece.) Therefore, I have to at least consider the possibility that Islander fans are right and the majority of us are wrong.

Still, I’m not sold. Let’s break down both sides of the argument, and see if we can separate the typical hockey homerism from the legitimate complaints. Are the Islander fans right and the hockey world is sleeping on a major story?

Islander fans might be right because: The Islanders have been really good this year. They’d won six straight before the streak was snapped on Tuesday and are on pace for 100 points at the midway mark. That would be up there with the best years the franchise has posted since the glory days of the early 80s, and even factoring in loser-point inflation, it’s an impressive total that has them in the thick of the Metro race.

The Islanders’ story isn’t just about points, either. Last year, they couldn’t keep the puck out of their own net, finishing dead last in goals allowed. This year, they’ve spent time leading the league in that category. That’s a remarkable turnaround that would deserve to be a major story even if it wasn’t being reflected in wins and losses (which it is).

And yet, other teams around them in the standings seem to get more buzz. The Penguins’ recent eight-game winning streak had everyone ready to declare them an elite team again, but the Islanders are right behind them, with games in hand. The Sabres were treated like big news when they were hot earlier in the year, the Canadiens are considered a great turnaround story. While teams like the Jets and Maple Leafs get anointed as Cup contenders even though they’re only a few wins head of New York.

Fair’s fair. Where’s the Islanders love?

Islander fans might be wrong because: Yes, they’ve been good this year. But this is the NHL in the age of parity and just being “good” doesn’t make you some sort of major story. Even after winning six straight, the Islanders are sitting tied for 14th in the overall standings, so they’re firmly in the middle of the pack. They’ve spent most of the streak barely holding down a wildcard spot and the Canadiens knocked them out of that on Tuesday. The Islanders do have games in hand on most of the teams around them, so you could say that they’re still a playoff team based on points percentage, but even then it’s not by much.

And again, that’s after a major winning streak, which we just saw the end of. Even at their apparent peak, the Islanders were merely a reasonably good team in a league clogged with them. That’s a nice story. It’s not something that national media is going to give front-page coverage too.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic