There’s no cavalry coming: Calgary’s solutions have to be from within

Updated: October 26, 2016 at 2:30 pm by Ryan Pike

We’re eight games into the 2016-17 Calgary Flames season and our local hockey club is almost at the .500 mark. They’ve played a couple really good games against really good teams (on the road even), and they managed to course correct without any outside stimulus.

That last part is important because, given their salary cap situation, it’s extremely unlikely that the Flames will be able to bring in any outside assistance via trade, recall or even waivers. There’s no cavalry that’s going to ride in and galvanize the team or shake things up. 

They’ll have to do it themselves.

WHERE THE CAP STANDS

As of this morning, the Flames sit just under the NHL’s $73 million salary cap (at an estimated $72,991,734). They have roughly $8,266 in cap space, which isn’t even enough for a decent used car, and which would be used up almost entirely by a single day of a moderately-priced AHL call-up.

For reference, daily calculations based on the current 180-day NHL season:

Player
NHL AAV
AAV per day
Mark Jankowski $925,000 $5,139
Emile Poirier $863,333 $4,796
Oliver Kylington $761,667 $4,231
Garnet Hathaway $690,000 $3,833
Tyler Wotherspoon $625,000 $3,472

That doesn’t give the club much wiggle room in the event that a player goes down with a short-term injury, as you can replace a player’s roster spot if he’s on the “regular” injured reserve but you only get cap relief if he’s on long-term injured reserve. “Regular” IR is for a week or more. LTIR is for months or longer.

HEALTHY SCRATCHES

Last season, I wrote a lot about how the Flames wasted a lot of cap space on players that were paid not to play. That said, they had the cap space to do so last season and were only pushed over the salary cap by virtue of a lot of performance bonuses from their young players. This year, with zero wiggle room, perhaps they’d be a bit less freewheeling with their money?

Through eight games: Nicklas Grossmann and Freddie Hamilton have sat each for six games, Brett Kulak has sat five times, Dennis Wideman has sat three times, and Jyrki Jokipakka and Matthew Tkachuk have been scratched twice each.

Grossmann, Hamilton and Kulak are all quite cheap, all making below $700,000. Jokipakka ($900,000) and Tkachuk ($925,000) are a bit more expensive, while Wideman makes $5.25 million. Everybody but Kulak and Tkachuk are waiver eligible. Kulak can go to and from the AHL willy nilly, while Tkachuk can only be sent back to the OHL (and if he’s sent down he can’t return until the London Knights’ season is over).

If you’re like me, you may ask yourself, “Hey, why don’t they just send Kulak or Tkachuk down if they’re not going to play every game? Couldn’t they bank some cap space and use them on some injury call-ups when they actually need them?”

The answer, my friends, is “yes, but…”

LTIR AND THE CAP CEILING

As we’ve discussed before, the best way to maximize the potential value of LTIR space is to max out your cap spending before you place a player on the LTIR. As such, the Flames’ signing of Grossmann was an effort to bridge a gap between the club and the cap ceiling (in anticipation of eventually enacting the LTIR on Ladislav Smid’s injury). To maximize the potential LTIR relief if they choose to enact it on Smid, they’ll need to replace anybody they send down with somebody of approximately equal cap value.

In essence, to maintain their space (and their future flexibility) they’d need to replace Tkachuk or Kulak with players making about the same amount, and that doesn’t rule out those players occasionally sitting either.

IN OTHER WORDS?

Don’t expect the Flames to make any significant moves. Emerson Etem on waivers? They can’t afford to add him. Jacob Trouba on the trade market? Unless it’s a cap hit for cap hit trade, they can’t do it. Somebody gets injured and they need to bring somebody up from the farm? Expect them to dip into the LTIR space if they need to go that route.

But if the Flames hit another rough patch, the solutions will have to come from within because these guys have absolutely no financial wiggle room to call in any cavalry from the outside.