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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Why New Jersey Must Do a Deal with Toronto and How it can Become a Block Buster Trade

The no trade clause in
Jamie Langenbrunner's contract
can Trigger a Block Buster Trade
between New Jersey Devils
and Toronto Maple Leafs
New Jersey Devils are currently over the NHL salary cap by $2,358,334 with three roster spots left to fill.

It is in New Jersey Devils' and Lou Lamoriello's best interest to solve their cap problem with a trade as opposed to assigning big long contracts to the minors.  Assigning good players to the minors can cost the Devils $20 mil and perhaps, Lamoriello his job.  The trade route can return young players, prospects, or draft picks.  Clearly, the trade route has greater appeal.

However, the trade route is proving especially difficult because many of the players the Devils may want to move have NTCs (no trade clauses) in their contracts:

  • Jamie Langenbrunner (age 35 with $2.8 mil cap hit for one year),

  • Brian Rolston (age 37 with $5,062,500 cap hit for two years), 

  • Colin White (age 32 with $3 mil cap hit for two years), and

  • Johan Hedberg (age 37 with $1.5 mil cap hit for one year).
There is a way around these no trade clauses.  New Jersey can strike a deal with a team where it sends the NTC player to its trading partner by placing the player on waivers and let the trading partner claim the player from waivers.  This can be risky because of the chance another team ahead of the trading partner claims the player.

Prior to 1st of November, the previous year's standings are used to determine the order in which teams can make claims on waived players.  It goes in the order of worst record to best record.  As it stands, Edmonton Oilers get first claim, Toronto Maple Leafs get second claim, and so on.

As a result, Toronto is an excellent trade candidate for New Jersey's NTC contracts.  In addition, Toronto can easily sabotage any attempt to this with another team.

The player New Jersey most likely will try to trade is Jamie Langenbrunner.  New Jersey will have little choice but to deal with Toronto if Langenbrunner doesn't waive his NTC.  When this happens, things will get very interesting.  Allow me to explain why and how.

Moving Langenbrunner to Toronto means New Jersey will have to move one more player.  It will be a choice between Bryce Salvador (age 34 with $2.9 mil cap hit for two years) and Dainius Zubrus (age 32 with $3.4 mil cap hit for three years).  There was interest in Bryce Salvador until two days ago when he got a concussion.  This leaves Dainius Zubrus.  The Leafs have shown interest in Zubrus.  They can wait for New Jersey to place him on waivers and then claim him.  But, the Leafs will not have cap space for both Langenbruner and Zubrus.  Even after sending Jeff Finger to the minors or trading him to New Jersey for Zubrus as suggested by my previous blog post.

The Leafs will have to free up at least $2 mil in cap space to make room for both of these players.  They can do something drastic such as send Luke Schenn to the minors because he is on a two-way contract.  But, not likely.

Brian Burke will most likely talk trade with Lamoriello where he asks Lou to take a Leaf roster player back when sending Zubrus and Langenbrunner to the Leafs.  I can see Burke offering Mikhail Grabovski and Lamoriello wanting Tomas Kaberle who has a $4.25 mil cap hit.  This makes things more complicated because in order for New Jersey to get someone who interests them such as Kaberle, the trade has to get bigger.  This is where Brian Burke excels.  Find an NHL manager who has painted himself in a corner, and then negotiate a trade until it becomes a block buster.

I am sure the two teams will go back and forth with offers as both of them try to find a way to walk the cap tight rope together.  At some point, they will both reach the conclusion that a trade is only possible if a bonus laden contract comes from Toronto so New Jersey can leverage its unused bonus deferrals.

As discussed in a previous post, the two players on Toronto Maple Leafs roster with high bonus contracts are Luke Schenn and Tyler Bozak.  It will probably be Tyler Bozak because New Jersey needs forwards more than defencemen and Toronto will insist Zach Parise be included in any deal involving Luke Schenn.

When Tyler Bozak becomes part of the trade negotiations, Toronto will insist on a number one type centre in return.  This leaves Travis Zajac (a player New Jersey will do their best to avoid trading) or Patrik Elias.  Elias is 34 years old with a cap hit of $6 mil for three years.  To make it more interesting, he has a no movement clause.

New Jersey will implore Patrik Elias to waive his no movement clause to avoid trading Travis Zajac.  In addition, Toronto will have to convince Tomas Kaberle to waive his no trade clause.  Both Kaberle and Elias are in a similar situation where their roles have been diminished.  If playing with Kovalchuk, Parise, and Zajac on the power play in the final year of his contract appeals to Kaberle, he may approve a trade to New Jersey.  If Elias prefers to play centre for Phil Kessel in place of a possible third line left wing for New Jersey, he may also approve this trade. 

The final piece will be Burke getting New Jersey to take Grabovski if they send Elias.  This is necessary for Toronto's cap.  In addition, New Jersey will have to take one of John Mitchell or Fred Sjostrom who both have one way contracts.  After all, Toronto will be eating Jeff Finger's contract because of this trade to fix New Jersey's cap problem.

When the dust settles, we may see coming to Toronto - either Patrik Elias or Travis Zajac plus Jamie Langenbrunner and Dainius Zubrus for Tyler Bozak, and Tomas Kaberle plus, if Toronto receives Elias, Mikhail Grabovski and either John Mitchell or Fred Sjostrom.  This will be another Burke block buster deal.

In the end, New Jersey fixes their cap problem for this year and next so they have cap space to resign Zach Parise.  In addition, they add a top level quarterback defenceman to their power play.  Getting smaller players is their downside.

For Toronto, they get bonafide first line centre for Phil Kessel and a bigger more skilled third line.  Getting older players with big contracts which can cause cap problems one to two years later is their downside.

Perhaps these downsides cause additional prospects and draft picks to exchange hands.  But, haven't we done enough speculation?  Also, I see Toronto adding top picks/prospect if the deal involves Travis Zajac instead of Patrik Elias.

All this may happen just because Jamie Langenbrunner has a no trade clause in his contract.

Post Script.  Some of this blog post was inspired by Ecklund's post on

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