Calm Before the Storm: Stingy Cap-Floor Teams Clogging RFAs
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Calm Before the Storm: Stingy Cap-Floor Teams Clogging RFAs

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The NHL offseason should be red hot or about to wrap. Instead, nearly two weeks after the free agent frenzy, teams have big name restricted free agents adrift in a sea of confusion and frustration. Like many other teams, the Pittsburgh Penguins have several RFAs but not enough money to go around.

In years past, teams with salary cap space would accept an asset and a contract and teams without cap space would pay the price. Everybody won as the tight-cap team gained salary cap room and the lesser team got a little better.

That hasn’t worked out this offseason.

This summer, the teams with salary cap space have demanded more. Perhaps it is because of the parity in the league, watching underfunded teams like the Arizona Coyotes stay in playoff contention, or supply and demand, but the trades to free salary have not happened.

There is a logjam of RFAs waiting for contracts because of it. And there are a few UFAs who are beginning to wonder if they’ll ever find a home. The Jake Gardiner market has reportedly been dry.

The Pittsburgh Penguins realistically have about $2.3 million of cap space. That is enough to sign only one of their restricted free agents. As we saw at the 2019 NHL Draft last month, teams with cap space drove hard bargains. And not much happened.

The big blockbusters everyone expected before Friday night fizzled and the draft became a three-hour fishing show.

The hotly rumored New York Islanders offer sheet for the Toronto Maple Leafs RFA Mitch Marner has not yet materialized. The National Hockey Now family had a source within the Islanders organization who thought it was coming last weekend. It didn’t. Others outlets strongly hinted at it. But a week later and…nothing.

So Marner remains unsigned. So do Patrick Laine and Kyle Connor of the Winnipeg Jets. Jacob Trouba, who was acquired by the New York Rangers for well below market value also remains unsigned.

And that’s the problem–teams with RFAs and little cap space have been unwilling to lose trades to free up space and teams with space are demanding red-tag clearance sale prices.

RedBeard's Pittsburgh

There is growing frustration with the process, too. Players and their camps are wondering when things will move. Players expected to be signed by now or at least have a better understanding of the market.

But nothing is happening. It is July 12, and there are a few dozen RFAs left unsigned. As one agent said to PHN last week, “You probably know more than me.”

Not even Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton have re-upped in San Jose yet. Absolutely.nothing.is.happening. The NHL logjam seems to have no end in sight, either. As teams and players go to Arbitration beginning next week, there will be some movement. The Penguins will know what they must pay Zach Aston-Reese or relinquish his rights.

But Marcus Pettersson and Teddy Blueger must continue to negotiate.

The St. Louis Blues will finally know what their Stanley Cup-winning goalie Jordan Binnington is worth. A few other big names who will set the market are also set to battle their teams for a contract.

But more are not eligible. And the money to sign those RFAs is being held by teams like Ottawa, who are currently under the salary cap floor but in no hurry to make a move. Organizations such as Ottawa, New Jersey, Carolina and LA have some money to spend but haven’t been given proper motivation.

When Montreal offered Sebastian Aho an offer sheet, it was the first time an offer sheet was signed since 2013. We could see more out of the box thinking later this month. The NHL buyout window closed on June 30. However, there is a second buyout window for teams who have one or more arbitration cases.

That second window begins on the third day after the case is settled or the arbitration-eligible player signs a contract. The window lasts for only 48 hours. And another catch is the buy-out player must make over $3.4 million.

Could we see teams swallow their medicine and buyout a serviceable, productive player?

A situation like this has not occurred in recent memory, and no one is quite sure what is going to happen. Certainly not the players who are waiting, and hoping. Perhaps not even the teams know because they never expected the situation to get like this.

Of course, the situation is the fault of good teams stockpiling piling players to chase the Stanley Cup. Does anyone want to see that stop? Until now, there were always safety options and ways around being stuck at the cap ceiling. But as the salary cap fell from the expected $83 million to only $81.5 to alleviate the unpopular escrow issue, teams were caught shorthanded.

With an extra $1.5 million, the Penguins would likely have at least one, if not two of their RFAs under contract. GM Jim Rutherford could easily fit Pettersson and Aston-Reese on the roster with $3.8 million and likely do a little more tinkering for the space to sign Blueger.

But other teams are in the same crunch. And right now, the chatter has become the sounds of silence. The NHL offseason drama is not over. Consider this the calm before the next storm.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now owner, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. BIG B

    July 12, 2019 at 12:12 pm

    Cue the GMJR sucks garbage.The Pens have a great cap structure, just look at the leafs or Jets or the OIlers.The Pens never have to use buyouts or dump great players like every other team.DAN WHEN DA NEXT CHAT?

    • Jeff

      July 12, 2019 at 5:48 pm

      We could have not wasted 3.5 million on Tanev (for SIX years) and we’d have room to work. Or we could have had Dzingel for less.

    • Dan Kingerski

      July 16, 2019 at 10:46 am

      today at noon!

  2. BIG B

    July 13, 2019 at 10:46 am

    Maybe they did not want Dzingel. Maybe as reported his asking price was over 5×5.Maybe Hall Of Famer GMJR makes his decisions independent of fan opinion and constructs the team as a team and not a collection of the best advanced stats.If Dzingel played the same bottom six role as Tanev would he have 14 goals? the answer is no.Dzingel went to the bargain bin for a reason.If he was to sign in Pittsburgh he would not have the same offensive chances as he had in Ottawa and be much less productive.

  3. Dean

    July 14, 2019 at 8:43 am

    The Pens may have an easy win-win-win solution on their salary cap issue.

    When ZAR filed for arbitration it opens a second buyout window for the Pens. Each team gets 2 buyouts under the term of the current CBA. The Pens have used zero.

    Here is the win-win-win.

    Pens buyout JJ’s Contract.

    JJ who was in a desperate financial position immediately collects $8m more on top of the $3.25 he collected last year and he is free to go sign with another team for a more reasonable cap hit. Teams like the Ducks are reported interested. How much more would they be if the cost was just $1m to $1.5m per year as a free agent? A win for JJ.

    The Pens then trades the cap hit to Ottawa for a 7th round pick to clear the needed cap space and free the Pens from a bad contract. A win for the Pens.

    This helps Ottawa to get to the Cap floor for a 7th round pick and no cash. A win for Ottawa.

    • Dan Kingerski

      July 14, 2019 at 9:28 am

      a team cannot trade a player they’ve bought out. A player must clear waivers prior to the buyout and is no longer a tradeable asset.

      • Dean

        July 14, 2019 at 9:32 am

        Dan, I believe you may be wrong.

        They are not trading the player, he is a free agent, however another team can take the cap hit.

        I will look for a recent example and post when a team took on another teams buried cap.

        • Dan Kingerski

          July 14, 2019 at 10:27 am

          I’m all for it–If I’m wrong, I’ll give you a month sub or extend your subscription by a month! Here is what I found:

          (iii) Prohibition on Transfers of Payroll Room. A Club may not sell, assign, trade, transfer or otherwise hypothecate its Payroll Room (including, without limitation, by trading a Cap Advantage Recapture charge or obligations pursuant to a Retained Salary Transaction), provided, however, that Clubs, in the context of Trades, may allocate between them the Averaged Amount and related Player Salary and Bonuses payable under the given SPC(s) associated with the Player(s) being Traded subject to the following limitations…

          • Dean

            July 14, 2019 at 11:00 am

            LOL Dan, I can see that you are a big gambler and you were most likely hanging out with Kessel at the casinos.

            Here is one that I was thinking of. “Wings get rid of Pavel Datsyuk’s $7.5 million cap hit in Coyotes trade”.

            However, I looked into it and it was because Datsyuk retired first vs being bought out.

            Seems very similar, but I am sure that you know the CBA rules better than I do.

  4. Jeff

    July 14, 2019 at 9:17 am

    When we try to dump the Tanev contract in a year or two, we won’t be able to, just like we can’t dump Johnson. We had to give away Sheary to get rid of Hunwick’s bad contract.

    Thanks for proving my point. If Dzingel wanted 5×5 that’s irrelevant because he didn’t get it. If we hadn’t caved to Tanev’s agent, we would have still been in the game for Dzingel when the price dropped or in the game when Tanev’s price dropped. Instead we gave Tanev everything he wanted and we’ll live to regret it.

  5. Dean

    July 14, 2019 at 9:26 am

    apples and oranges.

    32 vs 27 years old

    Historical bad performance vs short history of solid performance with special skills

    With JJ no one needed a crystal ball to see how that move would turn out.

    With Tanev you will need one to know what happens. He can just as easily be a great success and well as a great failure. Small percentage chance on each. Most likely you will see him play better with the Pens for at least the first couple of years and then you hope we are smart enough to move him at 29 when his value peaks.

  6. BIG B

    July 14, 2019 at 2:35 pm

    You need two arb cases for the second buyout window and you CAN NOT trade a buyout cap hit after the player is bought out

  7. Dean

    July 14, 2019 at 3:04 pm

    The second is a window related to arbitration, and it carries some extra restrictions. For this window to open, the team has to have a player that filed for arbitration. This window opens on the third day after the team’s last arbitration is concluded (or settled, if it doesn’t make it to a hearing) and is open for 48 hours. There are also restrictions on which players can be bought out – First, the player has to have been on the reserve list as of the last trade deadline (so no buying out that off-season signing you regret until the next trade deadline). Second, there is a minimum cap value for a contract to be eligible for this – $2.75m AAV initially, but the value goes up based on the average league salary each year. The notable absence in those restrictions is that it has nothing to do with who went to arbitration, any player who meets those two restrictions can be bought out. There’s one last catch, though – this can only be done three times by each team. Not three times per year – three times over the entire length of the current CBA.

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