Getting the Flames Under the Cap

I’m obsessed with the behavior of GMs and how they handle the salary cap.  It’s amazing how many teams are run by men who can only see the "now" and rarely plan for the future.  Unfortunately for the Flames and all of their fans, it appears that Darryl Sutter is one of these executives.  

My assertion is that he doesn’t do it on purpose, but because he has a poor track record with the draft.  Entry-level contracts are inherently great for cap management and as Gabe Desjardins has frequently stated, RFA’s come at a 40% discount to UFA’s.  

Obviously if a GM has a poor draft, it also hurts the team’s cap situation for the life of two relatively cheap contracts.  In Darryl’s case, he’s had nothing to brag about from his drafts other than Phaneuf.

My Plan

Given the Flames current cap situation of being overspent by $2.35M (according to CapGeek.com), they obviously have some work to do now just to stay away from NHL sanctions.  That said, the front office braintrust could at least use this opportunity to re-stock the barren shelves.

We all know that no one wants Staios or Kotalik at their currently disgusting contracts.  And as Kent Wilson pointed out so well, there just aren’t that many teams that actually need a high salary to reach the cap floor.

Obviously then, a pure "salary dump" is highly unlikely, even if the Flames sweetened the pot, which they have few assets to do anyway.  If the owners will let Darryl bury these two cap anchors in the minors, that’s great, but it doesn’t make the team any better now or in the future.  Also, there seems to be some insane belief that Staios adds something to the team, which makes me want to lick a belt sander.

So given the cap climate, any deal that helped the Flames drop some cap hit will have to be of value to both sides.  Since Calgary obviously needs some young talent who can step into the lineup in the next 1-2 years, it would make sense to look for a trade partner who can give someone up, but gets some immediate help from a player on the Flames roster.

The Options

Now that we’ve settled on a current-player-for-prospect style of trade, it makes sense to evaluate the options.

The only real position of strength the Flames can work from is defensive depth.  With 8 NHL-level defensemen on the roster and possibly one waiting in the wings (Matt Pelech) for some limited minutes, it should be easy for the Flames to part with one or two players from the group.

5 of those 8 defensemen make enough money to put the Flames under the cap if dealt, but let’s assume that Staios is untradeable and Bouwmeester is going nowhere.  That leaves Regehr, Sarich and Ian White as potential trade bait.

As Flames’ fans, you’re probably yelling "Sarich" at the top of your lungs right now, but he’s also the least likely to fetch much in return.  He’s worth a mid-level prospect at best but could provide a solid second-pair defensive option to a team that’s thin on the blueline.

White is a good player, but not nearly the same deal he was last year at just shy of $3M and he’s a UFA at the end of the year.

That leaves Regehr, who has been a fan favorite for a while.  His cap hit (and salary) are ~$4M a year for the next 3 years and he’s already 30 years old.  Reggie still has some value to other teams at this point, but likely won’t by the time his contract is up.  He played tough minutes for the Flames last year (2nd worst Zone Starts and 2nd worst Corsi QoC) and still stayed positive in the Corsi department.  He’s got value.

Not only would trading Regehr give the Flames cap relief this year, but in combination with Staios’ contract being up at the end of the year, it would give some flexibility to resign Giordano if he has another big year.

The Partners

So, who needs Regehr badly enough to give up a decent prospect?  Sutter would need to find a team that feels they are one more solid defensive d-man away from challenging for the Cup, or at least a deep playoff run for the next few years.  Finding a contending team could also be enough to entice Regehr into waiving his No Movement Clause.

I’ve got three viable options.

The Washington Capitals:

They’re sitting on $5.3M worth of cap space with a full roster.  They have a phenomenal group of forwards but are riding Mike Green, Tom Poti and Jeff Schulz along the blueline.  They had Joe Corvo last year, but didn’t retain him in the offseason.  A team with this much talent, can’t afford to leave themselves with poor depth along the back.

In return, the Flames could try to pry away prized defense prospect John Carlson.  Corey Pronman of PremiumScouting.com has this to say about Carlson.

"One of the best up and comign defenders in the game. Is a very good rushin defenseman who is rounded out in his own zone and has the offensive tools to project as a top pairing guy."

The San Jose Sharks:

Another team with a glut of offensive talent but a blue line with very little in the way of a shutdown player.  The Sharks are closer to the cap ceiling with only $3.1M worth of space, but the returning prospect would leave them room to take Regehr. 

The prospect I would like to see come back is Logan Couture, a forward that drew this review from Pronman:

"He's a guy who can do just about everything well. He sees the ice and can make plays by passing or by himself. He has an above-average shot. He is physically gifted, uses his body well, works very hard and has plus hockey sense. His skating is the only red flag that keeps him from being an elite prospect."

The Flames would probably be better off with a forward prospect than a defenseman, but the Sharks deal might be harder to pull off because of the cap space.  That said, the Sharks have their top 6 forward spots locked down so might be more willing to part with Couture than the Caps would be to deal Carlson.

The L.A. Kings

Depending on whether the Kings re-enter the Kovalchuk mosh pit, they are tentatively sitting on $12.9M worth of cap space, with only 2 roster spots open.  They only have 6 defensemen under contract and recently Matt Greene underwent shoulder surgery and will likely miss the start of the regular season.

This is the team that needs Regehr the most for both his play and experience. They relied on Greene, Scuderi and O’Donnell to play the tough minutes last year and lost O’Donnell in the offseason. Unfortunately, unless they’re willing to part with a young current NHLer like Wayne Simmonds or Jack Johnson (both highly unlikely), they don’t have the same stable of prospects.

Thomas Hickey is probably the best available, and here’s what Corey Pronman had to say:

"A smooth-skating defenseman who can really move and displays above-average puck-moving skills. His lack of physical strength really hurt him and he isn't bad defensively but doesn't have the plus hockey sense to really make up for his physical liability."

Hickey is good and may be Reggie-worthy.  That said, the Kings may be a possible destination for Sarich as more of a stop-gap until Greene is healthy, rather than Regehr.

The Verdict

Let me know what you think of the idea of trading a proven player for a prospect at this stage of the offseason and if you have other possible destinations or prospects in return.

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