The $16 million dollar question: The 2019 Off-Season

A while ago Michael Taylor wrote a nice little piece about how much the Flyers could have to spend this off-season and where it could go. Perhaps a sniper for Giroux’s wing, Ben Bishop in net, or a stud defenceman (I’m looking at you Shattenkirk). However, while there certainly will be money available this off-season I’m going to try and make the case as to why I don’t expect any major deals and, in fact, why Hextall might just bank a lot of it.

In the 2018/19 post-season, the Flyers will need to have given new contracts to Wayne Simmonds who’ll be an Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA), while both Provorov and Konecny will be at the end of their entry contracts but will still be Restricted Free Agents (RFA). These signings won’t be cheap and while starting to put numbers on these deals is a bit like throwing a dart blindfolded and trying to hit a bullseye, I do like a challenge. And an absurd simile.

Where to Begin?

The salary cap ceiling is as good a place as any. Guessing how the cap will change is a tough thing to gauge. Partly because so little information about how much Hockey Related Revenue (HRR) there actually is, and partly because of the complexity of the calculations that derive from that figure. If the leagues’ income projections for next season were identical to this year the cap would actually fall. This is due to that income ultimately being divided between an extra club as the Las Vegas Knights (I’m still sticking to calling them that) join the league.

However, the players can also choose to raise the cap by up to 5% via a mechanism called the Players Cap Escalator. This raised the cap from $71.4 to $73 million for the current 2016-2017 season. However it’s becoming a controversial issue amongst the player’s union (NHLPA) for a number of reasons I’ll not go into here (but you can read here if you’d like) but has yet to not be invoked at least partially.

The base figure the NHL reported as its HRR for the past year is approximately $4 billion, similar to the previous year (which resulted in the $71.4m cap figure before the players raised it). It’s hard to get an exact read on the next projected HRR and then derive a cap ceiling value from their but there are several things to consider. First, the Canadian Dollar has recovered a little from its most debilitating January 2016 low point compared to the US dollar, nowhere near it’s high but not an insignificant amount either. Also, advertising revenues have reported to be growing, there is the new Adidas uniform deal, and Vegas – whatever you may think of a new team – will be adding some revenue to the pot.

Additionally it has already been reported that Bettman gave a very vague cap figure of between a zero and two million dollar cap raise. Not a lot but it fits with this projection that HHR is rising but also has to be divided by more teams. Even with no raise in the cap from HHR the players could then choose to use their Cap Escalator. It’s also worth noting the NHL has ambitions to raise HHR to $4.5 billion over the coming few season. For this reason I’m going to use a figure of $1.6 million increase each year, as it was previously. I think this is probably conservative but with such little definitive data available it’s better be cautious considering the players may not use their ability to escalate the cap in the near future, and the somewhat fickle nature of currency fluctuations. Anyway, this gives us a cap ceiling of $77.8 million for the 2019-20 season. Phew.

The Roster:

With an amount of cap to play with we need to build a roster though I’m not trying to do anything outrageous so I’ll largely be working with what we have on the books and in the pipeline.

Still on the books will be forwards Giroux, Voracek, Schenn, Couturier, and Weise. On defence it’s just Gudas, and MacDonald (yup, he’ll be about to enter his final year). That looks like this:

2020-cap-space

Next we need to add in the players that we think will still be on the books. Obviously this is where things get a little more tricky, however I’ll refer back to Michaels’ blog for some initial numbers which seem reasonable, starting with defense and netminders.

Gostisbehere is going to be re-signed, I’d assume either a two year bridge deal or a long term deal that includes his final 3 years RFA status and 3-5 years of UFA years. The Flyer will almost certainly want the latter as it lowers his overall cap hit. I’ll peg it around $5 million. Mason is also the most likely returning goalie at about $5m and I’d expect a deal of about 3-4 years that would coincided which the development curves of most of our prospect netminders being in or around the NHL. After this it’s even more vague but here goes: Manning (or an equivilant) signs a short two year deal at about $1.5m for the 18-19 season while Morin plays his first full NHL season next season and then gets a $2m multi year bridge deal after. Sanheim is in a similar situation but a year behind and plays his first full NHL season in 18-19 and gets a $3m deal thereafter owing to his greater production. Myers is yet a further year behind and because of Entry Level Contract (ELC) slide rules he’ll actually be in the final year of his entry contract (which should be super cap friendly) for the 19/20 season. As for the backup goalie spot it could be Stolarz, Lyon, Hart, or Sandstrom but in any case I can’t see them on a big deal (or could even still be on an ELC). We’ll be generous and say $1.2m.

So back end looks like this:

2019-20-keppers-and-defence-cap-space

Yes, I know that’s seven defensemen and I’ve not factored in Provorov yet, I’ll get to that in a bit but first, the forwards.

Having had their contracts expire before the 19-20 season are: Read, Raffl, Laughton, Cousins, Leier, Lyubimov, Bellemare, VandeVelde and Gordon. Following Hextall’s ‘build from within’ philosophy I’d expect Cousins, Leier, and Lyubimov to be back who I’ll average out at $2 million each between them. I think Read and Laughton will be gone in some combination of the expansion draft, free agency, or trade for a variety of reasons while Raffl may be a victim of the salary cap and the lack of Flyers cap space. In addition, I believe that Lindblom will have played at least one full NHL season, but most probably two, and will have a year left on his ELC. This gives us 9 forwards and adding Konecny and Simmonds later gives 11 in total. The final three spots on the team are, frankly, anyone’s guess but should hopefully be a combination of Entry Level Contracts (Rubtsov, Vorobyov, Case, Laberge, Allison, etc.) or cheap 4th line veterans in the Bellemare, VandeVelde mould. So I’ll go with numbers like this:

2019-20-forwards-cap-space

This ultimately leaves our cap looking like this:

2019-20-cap-space-re-signings

The $16 million dollar question:

So back to our original problem of re-signing Provorov, Konecny, and Simmonds. I think it’s fair to say that all are likely to need significant raises, Simmonds in particular is on one of the most cap friendly contracts in the league. My guess would be that you’ll need somewhere in the region of $16m ($5.5m for Provorov, $4.5m for Konecny, and $6m for Simmonds). If this is the case then we’re short by just under $3.2m. Remember when I said I’d come back to having 7 defensemen on the books already and that MacDonald has a year left to run? Now is when you buy out his contract. It would add another $3.83m in cap space putting us just over the supposed threshold. We’d have about $600,000 spare. The following season we’d have a cap buyout penalty of almost $2m however and Myers and Lindblom at least would need new deals, but that’s how precarious the cap situation is (ideally Mason comes off the books and a prospect is ready to take over on a lesser deal).

Conclusion:

This wasn’t supposed to be a direct expectation of what I think the Flyers should do over the next few seasons, I actually think there’s a good chance both Schenn and a defensive prospect get traded at some point to free up cap and strengthen other areas. I was hoping to show that although we have cap space coming up I’m sure Hextall is looking further down the road rather than spending it all now – the really important decisions are a few years down the line. We can quibble about which numbers should be attributed to which players (and fair enough – that’s part of what being a fan is about) and we can even debate the cap growth but we need to always keep an eye on a few years down the line.

The most productive years in terms of value for contracts is in the RFA years when prices are largely kept lower or equal to player production and skill. The most productive players (in terms of on ice contribution relative to cap cost) tend to be around the $4-5m mark. That makes those ELC and RFA bridge years so important and that’s why it’s so vital to manage your cap space well with an eye on the future. We all know the Flyers prospect pool has come on leaps and bounds since Hextall took charge. With the raft of high-end talent, led by Gostisbehere, Provorov, and Konecny, working it’s way up club the Flyers should be well placed to get the maximum upside from a number of Entry Level Contacts and bridge years, which, ultimately, is when you win Cups.

*All contract information obtained from CapFriendly

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