Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A peek into the Salary Cap crystal ball

Though Carey Price remains unsigned, the Canadiens salary cap situation this season appears pretty clear. And while there isn't a ton of room to spare, Pierre Gauthier should have some money left in the kitty to acquire some help at the trade deadline should he see fit.

But what about next year? Will the Canadiens be in any position to do some free agency shopping next summer? Will the situation become more flexible? Probably not.

Bob Gainey and Gauthier's spree last summer will still hamper the club next season, with Michael Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez and Jaroslav Spacek taking up over $22 million between them. Add in Tomas Plekanec and Price (assuming he signs a deal for two or more years), and you may be looking at upwards of $30 million tied up in six players. Travis Moen ($1.5 million), Lars Eller ($1.27 million, including bonuses) and P.K. Subban ($875,000) are the only other players under contract for 2011-12.

If the cap for the 2011-12 remains relatively stable, the Canadiens will likely have about $25 million to fill out the remaining 13 or 14 spots on the roster, again depending on what happens with Price's contract. 

A sizeable chunk of that money will likely be earmarked for Andrei Markov, assuming he's still around after the trade deadline. An extremely conservative estimate would have Markov re-signing for an average of $6 million a year, though I believe he could get considerably more on the open market.

But while Markov is the one who will likely get most of the attention, there's another defenceman on the roster who may present an equally difficult conundrum for Gauthier.

Josh Gorges will be a restricted free agent after this season, one of four Habs rearguards with expiring contracts (Roman Hamrlik and Hal Gill are the others). I highly doubt Hamrlik and Gill will be brought back, but I have to believe Gorges has been identified as a member of the core group that needs to be locked up long term.

Gorges just turned 26 on Aug. 14 and last spring established himself as a key penalty killer and shutdown defenceman for the Habs. Last year's playoffs provided a league-wide showcase for Gorges as he was matched up against the two most dangerous players in the world in the first two rounds and shone.

Over the past two seasons Gorges has missed only one game, tying for the team lead in games played both years. Durability is definitely worth something. As far as his penalty killing is concerned, he and Gill were the only two Montreal defencemen among the regular top six who gave up fewer power play goals against when they were on the ice as the team gave up when they were off the ice. 

For those who may think that penalty killing prowess was largely due to playing with Gill, consider that Gorges allowed the fewest goals against per 60 minutes of shorthanded ice time on the team in 2008-09. In fact, his on-ice/off-ice difference in power play goals against per 60 minutes was 3.43 two years ago, and dipped to 0.33 playing with Gill this past season.

But his skill-set and potential for continued growth makes Gorges a difficult player to price, since his value is not measured in goals and assists, but rather the complicated, headache-inducing stats I referred to earlier.

Looking around the league for similar type players, I found three potential comparables for Gorges who all suggest it may cost the Canadiens more than they're willing to spend to retain him. They are Dan Girardi of the New York Rangers (26 years old, forms top shutdown pairing with Marc Staal), Jeff Schultz of the Washington Capitals (24 years old, team's top defensive player) and Marc-Edouard Vlasic of the San Jose Sharks (23 years old, same as above).

Gorges will be older than all three of these players when his contract expires, but in terms of games played he's in the ballpark with all of them (Gorges - 328 GP, Girardi - 280 GP, Schultz - 247 GP, and Vlasic - 309 GP). All three of these players were signed to four-year contracts hovering around $3 million per year. Vlasic is entering the second year of his $3.1 million per year deal, while both Schultz ($2.75 million a year) and Girardi ($3.25 million) each signed their contracts this summer. You could add Nicklas Hjalmarsson's four-year deal at $3.5 million per to the list as well, though that came as a result of an offer sheet.

Speaking of which, if Gorges' contract negotiations are handled the way Price's have been, could he be open to an offer sheet himself?

If indeed Gorges gets a deal worth about $3 million, and Markov somehow signs for a $6 million cap hit, that would theoretically leave about $16 million to sign four defencemen, seven forwards and a backup goalie. This is when you have to hope players on entry level deals produce big, guys like Eller and Subban this year and eventually Louis Leblanc, Danny Kristo, Alexander Avtsin and others.

Because even though Hamrlik, Gill and probably Andrei Kostitsyn will come off the books to free up nearly $11 million after this season, it doesn't look as though the Canadiens will get any cap relief for quite some time. 

Other tidbits:

- CBC News reporter Michel Godbout caused a bit of a stir on Twitter today when he tweeted that Price plans to hold out unless he gets $3 million a year out of Gauthier. That led Quebecor's crack staff over at the QMI News Agency to write up a whole story based on a tweet. Brilliant. Later, RDS put out a story that Price's agent Gerry Johansson feels negotiations have progressed, but there is a long way to go (Uhh, Gerry? Training camp is a little over two weeks away. How long are we talking about here?). Frankly, I have little doubt that Price wants $3 million a year, but I have huge doubts that he would holdout. Or as Godbout put it, "strike."

- RDS also reported on Monday that Markov has begun skating on his own, which is an encouraging sign that perhaps his agent Don Meehan wasn't blowing hot air when he said his client may in fact be back in time for the start of the season. Basically, any time Markov returns before the calendar turns to November would have to be considered a miracle, so this news may make Markov's orthopedic surgeon a candidate for sainthood.

- Finally, my buddy Eric Engels made his case for why the Habs should reach out to Bill Guerin as a free agent. I can't say I disagree, assuming Guerin is willing to play for $1 million. He'd be a great addition to the team even if he's lost a step (you don't have to be particularly quick to play on the power play). He'd add some insurance against the strong likelihood that either Kostitsyn or Benoit Pouliot - or both - will not live up to their top-6 forward billing.


Dann said...

If the Habs were to look for Eller and Leblanc to suit up next year they may have to make room at the centre position.

Milos Coko said...

Gorges does provide an interesting conundrum as there's basically no comparables. I would not put Girardi, Schultz, or Staal as comparables as Girardi and Staal had a lot more hype about them coming in the league and are capable of making a solid offensive contribution, meanwhile Schultz is a big body that adds a physical element - he's more in the Komisarek category. I think you'd really have to follow another team to identify who their Gorges type player is, and quite frankly I have a hard time envisioning him getting anything north of 2.5.

25M over 13 spots really isn't bad at all. You can stop holding your breath if you're hoping for a big name free agent coming next summer, but you can round out an extremely solid supporting cast with that money. And I don't think it's out of the question that we push along a few guys on rookie contracts to play for the big club next year... subban, eller, weber, carle, maxpac, o'byrne, and maybe even atsvin are all on the cusp even for this year. For arguments sake let's say they all make the club in 2011, that leaves around 20M for 6 empty roster spots.

pmk said...

signing bill guerin makes a lot of sense... which likely means its not gonna happen.

BigT said...

I have somewhat agree with Milos and believe that Gorges gets signed for around 2.5 for something like 2 years. It would be a handsome raise for Gorges and wouldn't be too long term and lead him nicely to his big payday as a UFA.

In terms of the Billy Guerin rumors. I really don't know where this rumor started or how it got the legs that it did but I'm sorry I just don't see the fit at all. If one thing is clear to me, it's that Jacques Martin has made it clear that he wants a FAST, skilled and hard-working team. I can understand to some degree the notion of adding him simply as insurance in case Benny P and/or AK46 don't pan out as top6. But here's my problem with that scenario. You've traded away your playoff hero for some guy named Lars Eller and have apparently earmarked him as top 6 potential. Well what better way to ease him into that role than by introducing him to PP time. He's a decent sized boy with some decent grit who doesn't mind standing in front of the opposing goalies and is apparently pretty good with deflections. If you have Guerin in your lineup, you need to use him somewhere and that somewhere is gonna be on the PP because you don't want his lack of speed to hurt you elsewhere (as Arpon correctly alludes to). That means that you have a body on the bench taking up a roster spot that isn't going to play a full 15-20min and further is taking a spot that could be used to help develop our younger talent be it MaxPac, Desharnais, Avtsin, or whoever.

And don't forget this is considering that Benny P and AK46 both flop and flop badly. There's no reason to believe that will happen. I say it's much smarter to see what you've got and give the youngsters some opportunities (if they become available) and keep the insurance $$$ for tweaking after we see where the glaring weakness is.

On a final note, I think and hope that we lock up Markov to "retirement contract" before the NHL closes up that loophole for good in the next CBA. Now Arpon thinks $6M might do it and I tend to agree. We've seen teams effectively knock off $2-3M off the cap # with front-loaded contracts (they are under investigation) and NJ tried to knock $4M off ($10M player with a cap hit of $6M). Well, the Habs have stood idly by while many teams have taken advantage of this. It's out turn now. Give Marky a 10yr deal that knocks off a reasonable 1.5-2M of the cap #. I don't think there'll be an issue with that and besides D can play into their 40s more easily than Fwds (Gonchar is a good example). So if we say 6-6.5 and we make the cap hit around 4.5-5, that would be very palatable.

pfhabs said...


-one by one the eggs laid last July 09 are hatching and the chickens are coming home to roost

-great job G & G go for broke and almost bust the organization

-thxs Arpon for doing the math..the CH will get a lot of game breakers trying to sign 12 players for a total of $16 million

-but we have Gomer !!!

Milos Coko said...

Oh Crystal Ball, what does the future hold.

Contracted (6 forwards, 2 D) $30M: Gomez, Cammy, Gionta, Pleks, Moen, Eller, Spacek, Subban

Likely resignings (4 forwards, 3 Dmen) $13.2M:
Lapierre - 1.5M
Max Pac - 0.9
Boyd - 0.8
Pyatt - 0.7
Markov - 5.8
Gorges - 2.5
O'Byrne - 1.0

Rookies probably making the team(1F, 2D) $2.5M :

Weber - 0.9
Carle - 0.7
White - 0.9

Wildcard rookie to make the team, either (1F) $1M:

or Avtsin

*My raises were assuming none of the re-signing players has a significant breakout year.

This is an almost full lineup of 12 skaters and 7 dmen that puts our overall cap at $46.7M. Factor in Price's soon to be ~$2.8M, and assuming management doesn't improve the team at all and chooses to fill the spots from within, we'd still have ~$11M to sign a backup goalie.

Obviously in reality a few of the resignees might see an increase in salary and maybe we'd need 2 more top 6 forwards in this lineup (whether they be pouliot and ak46 or not) but with $11M to spare this should really be no problem.

All this and we'd still have Gomer too!

Olivier said...

We are on the same page, Milos.

Other than those already signed, I have in my partial lineup:




Total: 49,7millions

We need a #5 and #6F, a #5 and #6D.

I guess we can solve the D with O'Byrne in the top-4 and Gorges on the third pair as the lefty mentoring Carle & Weber jockeying for the job. But that would probably suck. But it *is* and option if Gauthier wants some FA forward.

I overpay Gorges and Markov just in case, Top-4 D are now going for a premium on the market and they will want to buy some UFA years from Gorges.

So that 52,25m, 7,1 millions for two top-6. I think Leblanc is AHL bound next year, Maxwell will be on the big team but as a sub@1mil. So it's 6,1 mil. Avtsin stays in the A, he is still young. But he may surprise and bump Lapierre off the 3rd line; @600k, his salary is negligible.

It's a bit tight, but it's manageable. I wouldn't be surprised to see them sign only one top-6 bound player for around 3 millions, pour another 1+ mil to morph one of OB, Carle or Weber into a 2-2,5 mil Vet D to wait in the car while Markov runs errands around the OZone and use the remaining change on some 1.5 millions forward while hoping for Avtsin to come around early. That being said, this is not great plan. Loosing Latendresse and SKost (those two top-6 slots are where we were projecting them, after all) hurts the outlook of the team while we still don't know what Pouliot (who probably is the 3 millions top-6) is made off...

MathMan said...

We're also assuming the salary cap stays the same. It could very well go up, especially if the union uses their accelerator.

Patrick Moss said...

Great post, Arpon.
FYI - Carey Price just signed for a cap hit of $2.75 / year. I think this is VERY reasonable and great for both parties.

I liked the deal so much, I blogged about it: http://www.habsradio.com/