This summer is heating up to be an interesting one. So many would-be contenders out early + a thin free agent market + big names rumored to be available via trade = loads of action. In theory, anyway.
Roberto Luongo and Rick Nash have been the central parts of the rumored trade market for some time now and cities and fan bases should be giddy at the thought of acquiring one. In theory, anyway.
But, man, when you listen to some people talk about the possibility, it sounds like these two players have the Black Death.
Almost none of the derision has to do with their play either (and if you don’t want one because of their play, you’re crazy.) It all has to do with their contracts and cap space. There’s this idea Vancouver and Columbus would be lucky to just rid themselves of their cap commitments to these players and shouldn’t expect any great return.
Which is absolutely nuts.
Cap space is a vital commodity, but it’s not the most important thing to have. Good players are. Striking a balance between having cap wiggle room, star players, good depth and a balanced prospect pipeline is the challenge of a GM, but in the end the idea is to win. And if you want to win, you’re going to eventually have to lay down cap space for someone. If you’re not going to pay out $5.3 million to a Vezina finalist who came one win away from the Stanley Cup, who exactly are you going to invest your cap space in? Or do you plan on guessing which outsider goalie will overachieve and sign him for cheap?
Luongo’s cap hit is completely reasonable and even a bargain. The fact he has 10 years left on his contract is constantly used as a reason not to get him, but let’s be clear with the fact that he’s being paid a total of $3.618 million in the final three years of that deal and $3.382 million in 2018-19. The chance Luongo plays seven more years of this contract is small, eight years is minute and all 10 is nil. This needs to be included when discussing Luongo’s value.
Sure, Rick Nash’s $7.8-million cap hit is substantially higher, but 17 NHLers make at least $7 million against the cap and 30 make at least $6.6 million against it. If these deals were so unmanageable, there wouldn’t be so many of them out there. Whether or not you believe this is too much for one player is irrelevant – this is what top-caliber players are worth in this market. This goes beyond Nash and Luongo and includes almost anyone with a substantial salary (Scott Gomez and Vinny Lecavalier are among the obvious exceptions). Heck, Los Angeles is a clear contender right now and a big reason for it is because they acquired two of these contracts.
Now, having a lineup dotted with players making this much would be a problem, but investing this against your cap is a must to gain a top player. Look at how many guys who are among the highest cap hits were MVPs of their team: Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Eric Staal, Nash, Steven Stamkos, Shea Weber, Brian Campbell, Jason Spezza, Zdeno Chara, Henrik Lundqvist – and a few more of the top 20 are at least in the conversation.
Yes, you’re picking up a substantial cap hit when acquiring players like these, but you’re also getting a top-notch player to help you win, which is the end goal, is it not? It’s still about what you’re getting on the ice from these players. So if you choose to hang on to two prospects and a lesser roster player over adding an all-star and $6.5 million in cap hit, you should have to explain your reasoning under fire and not have it passed off as a sound financial decision. And as far as liquidation goes in case you decide to change gears later on, as long as this investment doesn’t go the way of Gomez, there will always be a trade market for them.
If your policy is to not invest more than $5 million and more than five years in anyone a) good luck getting and/or hanging onto your best players and b) enjoy your perpetual rebuild with entry level contracts.
THE LIGHTER SIDE
Every once in a while you get a close up camera shot of something happening on the ice that makes you laugh. In fact, one happened in Game 2 of the Kings-Blues series.
Big winger Dustin Penner had been using his size to cross the invisible line at the neutral zone faceoff dot. Well, B.J. Crombeen had enough and appealed to the referee before the puck was dropped.
The camera zoomed in and you could see and understand Crombeen’s complaint. The referee nodded, put his hand up as if to say “OK, OK, I got it, let me handle this” and then turned to Penner for a word. The moment the referee finished his talk and left, Crombeen blatantly crossed the line much in the way Penner did and the puck was dropped.
Now that’s hockey humor.
Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com’s web editor. His column appears regularly only on THN.com.
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