Things are so quiet around The Hockey News office, you can literally hear a pin drop.
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True story. With web editor Rory Boylen, myself and interns Kyle Palantzas and Jamie Ross holding down the fort while the eight other chaps in editorial are on vacation, the newsroom got very quiet. I went over to Rory with a pin, dropped it and we both heard it hit his desk.
“Wow,” Rory said. “You can literally hear a pin drop around here. That’s never going to happen again.”
Things are almost as quiet on the NHL transaction front these days, the T.J. Fast for Graham Mink blockbuster notwithstanding.
August is bound to get busier though. Too many teams have incomplete rosters for things to stay quiet. There are too many decent UFAs still on the open market. Too many teams are over the salary cap for movement to remain stagnant.
Here are some thoughts on teams that will be forced into movement before camps open in about a month’s time:
The Calgary Flames have a full roster of 13 forwards, eight defensemen and two goalies, but are about 2.34 million over the $59.4 million salary cap. Expect them to trade or offload one of three defensemen (Robyn Regehr, $4 million; Cory Sarich, $3.6 million; Steve Staios, $2.7 million) and forward Ales Kotalik ($3 million). Moreover, center Daymond Langkow ($4.5 million) still has issues from last season’s serious vertebrae injury and isn’t ready to play.
The Boston Bruins also have a full lineup and are about $3.1 million over the cap. The Bruins will do whatever they can to get rid of Marc Savard and the $28 million and seven years remaining on his contract. It’s not that Savard is a bad player, but the term, his concussion history and Boston’s cap crunch is creating headaches in Beantown. The Bruins would love a defenseman in return.
Assuming the Chicago Blackhawks deal with Cristobal Huet’s $5.625 million contract as expected (through trade or demotion) they’ll finally have some cap space (about $3 million), but will still need to sign a couple of defensemen and a couple depth forwards. GM Stan Bowman has handled Chicago’s cap issues masterfully, most recently saving about $1.5 million by walking away from Antti Niemi’s arbitration ruling and signing Marty Turco instead. Bowman’s facing another challenge next summer when he’ll want to sign RFA defenseman Brent Seabrook long term. Assuming Seabrook signs for $5 million, the Hawks will have their top nine players (no goalies) signed for about $47 million, leaving just $13 million or so for 14 roster spots.
You never would have heard of this a decade ago, but maybe we’ll see more player agents negotiate smaller salaries for entry level players in exchange for something more valuable — opportunity.
With so many NHL teams butted up against the salary cap, they simply don’t have cap space to create an opening for a top draft pick who makes the rookie maximum (plus bonuses). Unless that player is truly special, teams are earmarking those roster spots to prospects making closer to the $500,000 minimum.
Case in point. Chicago prospect Jack Skille, a 2005 first-rounder, didn’t make the Blackhawks last season effectively because his cap hit ($1.275 million) was too much. The 13th and 14th forward spots were reserved for players making half the amount. That’s precisely why Skille signed for $600,000 this off-season. His modest price tag makes him a viable candidate to make the NHL roster and with opportunity, the reasoning goes, a bigger contract may be the result a year from now.
So it will be interesting to see how Chicago rounds out its third and fourth lines this season. Skille, Bryan Bickell ($541,666) and Jake Dowell ($525,000) have the affordable contracts that will surely provide them opportunity. Kyle Beach, Chicago’s first-rounder in 2008, has the biggest upside among the team’s forward prospects, but his $1.17 million contract, believe it or not, is working against him.
Same goes for another team with serious cap issues. Calgary likes the size and scoring that top prospect Greg Nemisz provides, but his sticker price is $1.045 million. The Flames will surely go with a cheaper option for now, such as Tim Jackman ($550,000), Ryan Stone ($500,000) or Brett Sutter ($500,000) to round out the extra forward openings.
So maybe we’ll be seeing more agents getting their clients inked to affordable contracts that are packed with something more valuable than bonuses. And that something in a salary cap world is called opportunity.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com with his blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.