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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Jeff Finger Waived - Toronto's Next Step - Big Trade? - Jan 31?

Vancouver Canucks will have to move
Ryan Kesler if rumours about their
interest in Brad Richards are true
You probably heard the news Jeff Finger was waived.  You expected a trade announcement was soon to follow.  But, there was no deal.  In fact, New Jersey has a reprieve on its cap problem because of Brian Rolston's hernia.  New Jersey placed him and his $5 mil cap hit on LTIR (Long Term Injury Replacement).  He should remain on LTIR for six weeks, which is probably until January 2010.

Now, we have a lot of debate on what is the true amount of cap space available for the Leafs.  This included a few tweets back and forth with Lyle Richardson of (Spector's Hockey, The Hockey News, FoxSports, etc.).  James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail provides the best explanation in “Making Sense of the Leafs' Cap Situation Minus Finger”.

Overall, I believe Lyle Richardson's instincts to rely on capgeek is wise and James Mirtle getting dirt under his fingernails with capgeek is the best way to get insight.  Ultimately, it was 67sound's tweet asking if Toronto will have cap space by the trade deadline to acquire Brad Richards that got me going on capgeek dailytracker.

You will discover many possibilities when playing with Capgeek dailytracker.  To start, you can project the current roster into the future to determine how much cap space a team will bank in the future.  In addition, you can determine how much cap remains on a player's contract on any given day.

Two things became apparent:
1.      Toronto is the only "money" team banking significant cap space
2.      By 31st of January, Toronto will have enough cap space to acquire any player but Alexander Ovechkin because of the cap space banked by Toronto and the cap consumed in every player's contract.  This is assuming Toronto moves either Tyler Bozak or Luke Schenn from their roster.  Leafs will have space for Ovechkin four days later.  Ecklund of hockeybuzz will have a field day with rumours.

By the way, 67sound, Toronto will have enough cap space banked by 26th of January to acquire Brad Richards assuming they get their bonuses under the carry-over bonus limit and move $850k in salary.

You are probably wondering why it is important to move Luke Schenn or Tyler Bozak.  One reason being, the capgeek dailytracker presumes Toronto (or any team) will not exceed its carry-over bonus limit ($4.455 mil - 7.5% of the $59.4 mil cap limit).  At present, Toronto is on course to exceed it by $665k.  This amount was the cause of much debate over the cap number and why people present Toronto's cap space number as a range. 

There are other more important reasons for moving them other than making things less difficult for capgeek.  Schenn and Bozak are the type of players budget conscious teams want in return for their top player.  In addition, NHL applies carry-over bonuses to next season's cap.  You want to minimize it.  Not maximize it.

From a cap constraint perspective, Brian Burke can target any first line centre he wants.  Of course, his biggest challenge will be getting cooperation from the other team's manager as illustrated by his recent dealings with Lou Lamoriello.

Never the less, we should not get discouraged.  These budget conscious teams, Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning, are finding it tougher to afford their highest paid players.  The most likely players to be available are Brad Richards ($7.8 mil cap) and Vincent Lecavalier ($7.727 mil cap).  Lecavalier contract hits Tampa’s budget significantly because it pays a salary of $10 mil for the next six years and they have to renew Steve Stamkos at the end of the season.  These teams will probably want very good young prospects with low salaries who they can keep under team control for several years if they are trading because of budget issues.

We can be confident Brian Burke can find a way to meet the asking price if Richards or Lecavalier are for sale.  But, does he want their contracts?  Does he want to make multi-year commitment to a player over 30 years old with ten highest cap hits in the league?

If this is less than ideal for Burke, he can still participate in a three-way trade involving them to get what he wants.  Other teams do covet Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards and have the financial means to pay their salaries but have cap constraints.  Montreal Canadiens is one example.  Vancouver Canucks may be another.

These teams happen to have centres that look like primary candidates for what Brian Burke wants as a first line centre.  Ryan Kesler, 25 years old, paid at $5 mil for the next five years.  Tomas Plekanec, 27 years old, paid at $5 mil for the next five years.  Remember, Phil Kessel is 23 years old and paid $5.4 mil for the next three years.

Montreal can have the cap room for Vincent Lecavalier or Brad Richards with the cap space it is banking if they move a player like Tomas Plekanec at the trade deadline.  Then can do the deal sooner by including another player in the package.

Although Vancouver is not banking any cap space, they still make cap room for Richards or Lecavalier if they move Ryan Kesler and another player such as Kevin Bieksa at the trade deadline.

In either case, Toronto has the cap space and interest to receive these types of players in a three-way trade.  In addition, they are loaded with good young players paid at affordable salaries that should interest Tampa and Dallas.

Let’s not pretend to know what the budget conscious teams will want for their highest paid player.  But, it is fun to speculate on whether Brian Burke will meet their asking price to get a Brad Richards, Vincent Lecavalier, Tomas Plekanec, or Ryan Kesler?  Would you trade Luke Schenn and Tyler Bozak to Dallas to get Ryan Kesler and Kevin Bieksa from Vancouver?  Or, would you wait until the end of the season to pursue RFAs such as Zach Parise, Jeff CarterSteve Stamkos, Shea Weber, and Brent Seabrook?

It is nice to have good options/alternatives when negotiating with a person.  This is much better than having Lou Lamoriello's situation.

Post-mortem on Toronto and New Jersey

Toronto waiving Jeff Finger signalled an end to active trade discussions with New Jersey Devils.  As soon as I heard the waiver news, I thought either we will hear about a trade between Toronto and New Jersey within the hour or a resolution to New Jersey's cap problem.  Within the hour, Tom Gulitti tweeted news about Rolston's possible hernia.

I suspected Brian Burke was posturing for Lou Lamoriello when keeping Jeff Finger on the NHL roster.  Burke's position probably was....Lou, you have to make it worth my while if I am going to eat Jeff Finger's contract for you.  I am sure Lamoriello's response was...Brian, you are going to waive Jeff Finger no matter what happens in our trade talks.  It happened which must be a great source of irritation to Lou.  Tough luck Lou.  Remember, you are the one who has to do a transaction.  Not Burke.

Ultimately, this can cost New Jersey big by next season.  They had an opportunity to fix their cap problem and move considerable cap to one of the biggest RFA hunters in the league.  New Jersey better hope Brian Burke gets Brad Richards before their situation with Zach Parise becomes similar to Boston's situation with Phil Kessel.

The best way for New Jersey to resolve its cap problem is waive two players.  Yet, Lou seems reluctant to do so.  He will continue to have difficulty if he relies on offering his bad contracts to other teams as if he was doing them a favour.  If Lou decides to re-engage Toronto when Rolston comes off LTIR, he should expect an unpleasant surprise.  With more options available to Toronto in January, it will be hard to get Burke interested in New Jersey's bad contracts.  Only Zach Parise and Travis Zajac without others attached will interest him.

Post Script 26-Oct-2010

Yesterday, as a guest on The Bill Watters show, Brian Burke stated he has two solid trade offers.  He expressed preference for a $5 mil to $6 mil type player.  Ken Beckett also reported a Toronto Maple Leafs scout attended the game between Montreal Canadiens and Phoenix Coyotes.

Great article from James Mirtle on Leafs cap situation.

It expands on player bonuses.  In short, we should expect only $850k bonus payout each for Tyler Bozak and Luke Schenn.  Each of them are a cap hit of $1.725 mil.

Bonuses will total $1.87 mil.  As Mirtle concludes, Leafs have $3.96 mil in cap space before their $4.35 mil bonus cushion.

Also, bonus cushion is calculated on cap space after $1.4 mil carry-over bonus penalty has been deducted.  In other words, 7.5% of $58 mil instead of $59.4 mil.  This brings Toronto's bonus cushion to $4.35 mil.

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