Tuesday, January 8, 2019

What’s the best team you can build in 2021-22 using existing contracts?

From​ time to time,​ readers​ will​ send​ me​ story​ ideas. Some​ are good, some​ not so much,​ but​ they’re always appreciated.​​ Every now and then someone will come up with something that is just the right mix of weird and fun and it turns into something cool.

But by far, there’s one idea that gets suggested the most: What’s the best cap-compliant roster you could build using all of today’s contracts?

It’s a neat idea, and we’ve seen it done well in other sports. But it never quite works in the NHL, because you just wind up with a roster stacked with entry-level deals. In an era where players (especially forwards) peak so quickly, those first contracts often represent such outrageous bargains that they make the exercise too easy. Let me start with Auston Matthews, Mikko Rantanen, Patrik Laine, Elias Pettersson and Brayden Point all at $900,000 or so, and I can stack the rest of the roster with pretty much whoever I want. Heck, give them all the bonuses too, they’re still dirt cheap. There’s no challenge to it.

You could get around that by limiting how many entry-level deals you could use. But today, let’s try something a little more challenging. We’re going to see if we can make the best cap-compliant roster that we can by using just existing contracts. But instead of building that team for this year, we’re going to try to do it for 2021-22.

Why 2021-22? The first reason is that it’s three years away, which means we lose access to all of those entry-level deals. Matthews, Rantanen and friends will all be on their second deals and making just slightly more than they are right now and the Jack Hughes cohort isn’t in the league yet so we can’t use them either. Three years also has the benefit of not being so far away that we’re just guessing about who’ll still be good by then. And there are more players than you’d think who already have contracts that reach into the 2021-22 season – 165 as of today according to Cap Friendly, including many of the league’s best players.

The idea comes with a couple of hurdles. The first is that we’ll probably have a new CBA by 2021-22, meaning there’s a chance that the cap system or HRR split could work differently by then. And even if we assume that nothing important will change, we don’t actually know what the salary cap is going to be by then.

That second problem is easy enough to solve by just picking a number that seems reasonable. Let’s go with $90 million, which would represent an increase of just over $10 million from where we are right now. The cap went up $8.1 million over the last three years, so mix in a little inflation and $90 million seems about right for 2021-22.

That leaves us with 165 players to choose from and a $90 million cap to work with to put together a 2021-22 roster that fits under the cap and looks like a Cup contender. How hard could that be? Spoiler: Harder than you might think …

(All salary information in this piece comes from CapFriendly.com. Also, all values listed are a player’s cap hit; we don’t care about the actual dollars due on the contract.)


They say that you should build from the net out, so we’ll follow that advice. But when we do, we run into our first problem almost immediately. Of those 165 players signed through 2022, only nine are goaltenders. And none of them look like major bargains.

When you think about it, that makes sense. There’s more supply than demand for goaltending these days, so teams aren’t making long-term commitments to guys unless they think they’re foundational pieces. Mix in deals like Henrik Lundqvist, Frederik Andersen and Tuukka Rask that all expire the year before our 2021-22 season, and it’s no surprise that the pickings are slim.

But it’s a problem for our roster because we’re going to be spending way more on goaltending than we’d like. Even if we went with the two most inexpensive options we can find, Ben Bishop and Roberto Luongo, we’re still paying over $10 million for a position where it’s often smart to go as cheap as possible. And even Luongo can’t realistically be a pick for three years down the road since he’ll be 42 years old by then.

Instead, we’ll hand the starting job to one of the few guys on the list who looks like he could be a bargain: Anaheim’s John Gibson at $6.4 million. He’s performing at a Vezina or even Hart Trophy level these days, and while that doesn’t guarantee anything about how he’ll be playing in three years (or even three weeks), we’ll take our chances.

The other option here would have been Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck at $6.166 million. He was great last year but has looked pretty ordinary this season. Hellebuyck should be fine, but I prefer Gibson enough to spend a few extra bucks. Ideally, we’d pick both guys, but $12.5 million will be too much to spend on goaltending, so we have to make a call here.

For the backup spot, we’ll go with Ben Bishop at $4.917 million, mainly because he’s the cheapest option available. Do I feel good about this pick? No, I do not – he’ll be turning 35 in 2021-22, and he’s a big guy who’s had hip problems. There’s a good chance he’s not an effective goaltender in three years’ time and we just wasted a big chunk of our cap on a guy who’ll be on LTIR or a buyout target. We’re two picks into this thing and I’m already angry.

But really, what other choice do we have? Carey Price at $10.5 million? No thanks. Cory Schneider at $6 million? Not a chance. Marc-Andre Fleury at $7 million? Maybe, but he’ll turn 37 during the 2021-22 season. Jonathan Quick ($5.8 million) and Martin Jones ($5.75 million) are at least worth considering, but we’re going to need every penny we can scrounge to fill out the rest of the roster.

That means it’s Gibson and Bishop, at a total cost of over $11 million. That’s pricey. Let’s see if we can claw back some of that space on the blueline.

Cap space spent so far: $11.317 million on two players, an average of $5.66 million each. We have $78.683 million left for 18 roster spots, an average of just over $4.37 million per player.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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