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

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