The NHL’s silly season is already under way.
A day after the Calgary Flames gave a one-dimensional defenceman (Dennis Wideman) a huge $5.25-million-a-season contract, both Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Quick signed on 10-plus year deals that stretch well into the 2020s.
Part of the reason for that is the cap has now hit $70.2-million, continuing a trend that has seen it rise an average of $4.5-million a season since it was instituted in 2005. (The floor has come right with it, as it’s mandated to remain $16-million below.)
The biggest issue with that increase this year is that, while teams have been given another $5.9-million to spend to reach the floor or cap, there’s very little to spend it on.
I’ve detailed here over this week the 2012 class in free agency by going through the top 100 players (by goaltenders, defencemen and forwards) that will hit the market at noon on Sunday, and it’s not a great group.
But just as Wideman did earlier this week, players who don’t have much of a profile among general hockey fans are going to be made very wealthy in the next few days.
(And no one will be complaining about Crosby’s $8.7-million-a-season deal by then.)
Consider the numbers.
Last season, teams spent an average of $58.9-million under a $64.3-million cap, putting them about $5.4-million under in the largest gap we’ve yet seen.
Pushing the cap to $70.2-million (even though it’ll potentially come down under a new collective bargaining agreement) may widen that gap a little more, but it stands to reason contending teams are going to press right up against the limit.
Eight teams were right up against the cap in 2010-11 and another 11 were within $5-million of it. Seven teams were what I’d call “floor franchises” in that they were much closer to the floor than the cap, and another four were in the middle ground.
To this point on 2012-13 payrolls, teams have only spent an average of $49.6-million, which is the equivalent of the two lowest spending teams last season.
To get to within an average of $5.4-million of the new cap, they’ll have to spend $15.2-million apiece in the coming months, although what exactly they’ll spend it on is difficult to discern.
How much do NHL teams have left to spend?
There are about 80 or so restricted free agents who played a regular role in the NHL last season, with players like Shea Weber, Carey Price, Mike Green, Evander Kane and Erik Johnson in the mix. But even if this entire group is all signed to league average salaries, that’s only another $6-million or so spent per team.
What does that all mean? Well essentially that, despite the fact there aren’t many quality free agents available, there’s a ton of teams flush with cap space.
The 18 teams which spent close to the cap last season now have an average of $16.4-million to blow, which could make the market for the many non-star players available a bit absurd.
Yes Zach Parise and Ryan Suter will get paid. But so will many others.
Already there is talk that Florida Panthers defenceman Jason Garrison, he of 190 games NHL experience, may get a $5-million long-term deal.
Matt Carle, meanwhile, was said to have an agreement with the Philadelphia Flyers but will now test the market given whoever misses out on Suter could then turn around and blow their brains out on Carle.
And who knows what the likes of Paul Gaustad, Jordin Tootoo, Brandon Prust and other competent checker types get?
Even if teams act more reasonably given the uncertainty over the new CBA and spend an average of $8-million below the current cap, there is still roughly $377-million in contracts to give out – or $12.6-million per team.
Now maybe the RFAs eat up a big chunk of that and there’s nothing to worry about?
More likely, however, it seems the UFA bidding will get more out of control than usual given just how little there is to spend on.
(Consider, too, that a $5-million contract two years ago under a cap of $59.4-million is equivalent to a $5.9-million deal now. And a $5-million contract five years ago is the equivalent of a $7-million one under a $70.2-million cap.)
This is a great year to be one of the players like Garrison, Carle or PA Parenteau, who certainly bring some value and will be looked at by at least a half dozen teams.
It’s not a great year, however, to be a team needing to significantly improve.
Or find many bargains in free agency.