The Calgary Flames re-signed Sam Bennett earlier this week to a two year contract worth $2.55 million per season. The deal is fair to both sides, provides good value, and definitely tightens their salary cap situation.
A quick look at the roster
Here are the players likely to be locks for the opening night roster:
- F Johnny Gaudreau – $6.75 million
- F Sean Monahan – $6.375 million
- F Mikael Backlund – $5.35 million
- F Milan Lucic – $5.25 million
- F Elias Lindholm – $4.85 million
- F Michael Frolik – $4.3 million
- F Derek Ryan – $3.125 million
- F Sam Bennett – $2.55 million
- F Mark Jankowski – $1.675 million
- F Austin Czarnik – $1.25 million
- D Mark Giordano – $6.75 million
- D Noah Hanifin – $4.95 million
- D TJ Brodie – $4.65 million
- D Travis Hamonic – $3.86 million
- D Michael Stone – $3.5 million
- D Rasmus Andersson – $755,833
- G Cam Talbot – $2.75 million
- Troy Brouwer’s Buyout – $1.5 million
All these established costs – 10 forwards, six defensemen and a goalie – add up to $70.19 million. That leaves the Flames with $11.31 million to cover the remaining six roster spots – four forwards, a defenseman and a goalie, presuming they carry a full 23-man roster.
Three RFAs left… and barely enough space
And now, let’s watch the cap space the Flames have rapidly disappear! Let’s start with $11.31 million with six spots to fill and use Evolving Wild’s projections to fill things in:
- Andrew Mangiapane gets $900,000; there’s $10.41 million left for five players.
- David Rittich gets $3 million; there’s $7.41 million left for four players.
- Matthew Tkachuk gets $7 million; now there’s $410,000 left for three players.
(Tkachuk might get even more than this, but a three year, $7 million cap hit seems like the most likely inexpensive option the Flames may have.)
If we assume the Flames want to carry some extra bodies but will err on the side of cheapness, four depth players are set to make the league minimum of $700,000: defensemen Rinat Valiev and Brandon Davidson and forwards Buddy Robinson and Ryan Lomberg.
Keeping even one of them on the roster would push them $290,000 over the cap (21-man roster), two would have them $990,000 in the red (22-man roster), and a full roster of maximum cheapness would be $1.69 million over the cap.
Well that’s not good…
As we’ve repeatedly stated, the Flames need to move salary out. The easiest person to axe would be Michael Stone; he’d open up $2.333 million in cap space, but he’d also need to be replaced. Ignoring handedness Juuso Valimaki is the logical replacement for Stone, in which case that swap would net the Flames $1.439 million in cap space.
Simply buying out Stone and replacing him with Valimaki wouldn’t make the Flames appreciably worse on ice and would buy them some breathing room, but it would make it tough to carry any extra bodies – even if they chose the ones with the lowest cap hits. (If Davidson and Lomberg are their designated healthy scratches, for example, that’d leave the Flames with just $449,000 in space. My preference would be to nudge Alan Quine and Dillon Dube onto the roster whenever possible, but both of them make north of league minimum.)
For the curious, here’s the Flames roster presuming they buy out Stone and go cheap on the fringes:
Gaudreau – Monahan – Lindholm
Tkachuk – Backlund – Frolik
Bennett – Jankowski – Czarnik
Mangiapane – Ryan – Lucic
Giordano – Brodie
Hanifin – Hamonic
Valimaki – Andersson
This brings us to…
The cap went up just $1.5 million from 2018-19 to 2019-20 because the players are concerned about escrow and chose to barely nudge things up. Scuttlebutt is it will likely have a similarly small nudge up in 2020-21, likely to somewhere around $83 million, in advance of a larger anticipated jump in 2021-22 with the new American TV deal (and presuming no lockout).
The Flames are in the midst of what they feel is their best shot to win a Stanley Cup in decades. They cannot afford to burn off any cap space without getting value. If they go over the cap this season, it eats into the cap for 2020-21. Andersson, expected to be a regular this season, has $82,500 of bonuses in his deal tied to games played. Juuso Valimaki has up to $425,000 in bonuses on his deal and if Stone gets bought out, he’s likely an everyday NHLer and have a shot at achieving them.
This is to say: if the entire plan to get under the cap is to (a) buy out Stone and (b) use the cheapest spare bodies possible, it’s still likely that bonuses paid to the team’s youngsters will still push them over the cap ceiling at the end of the year. (And this is ignoring in-season trades, tweaks or injury recalls.)
Once Rittich’s arbitration case is solved – via a signing or a hearing – the Flames open up their second buyout window. But they better also be open to getting creative with other moves, because simply making one buyout won’t do enough to allow them to maximize the 2019-20 group’s potential.
That said, they don’t have to be cap compliant until 3 p.m. MT on Oct. 1, so there’s still lots of time.