Do The Thrashers Have Large Talons?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Trade Analysis Part II: The Payroll

Before the deadline I called for the Thrashers work to get younger, more talented and clear cap space. All three were accomplished, although I feel that Holik, Recchi and Zhitnik should also have been dealt for prospects yesterday. Today I want to give everyone an update on where we stand with respect to the payroll.

2007-08 Thrashers Roster (with cap values)
F Kovalchuk $6.4 - White $2.375 - Recchi $1.125
F Kozlov $3.66 - Perrin $0.75 - Hossa $6
F Dupuis $0.88 - Holik $4.25 - Slater $0.775
F Larsen $0.535 - Thorburn $0.51 - Boulton $0.525

D Havelid $2.7 - Enstrom $0.9
D Klee $1.25 - Zhitnik $3.5
D Exelby $1.4 - McCarthy $0.725

G Lehtonen $1.85 - Hedberg $1.0
Bench: C. Stuart $0.483 - Popovic $0.52 - Rucchin $2.125

Team Total: $42.1 million

If the Thrashers had made zero trades they were on pace to finish the season with a total cap hit of around $42-43 million depending upon injury call ups or acquisitions. My working assumption is that GM Don Waddell probably had an internal budget with a ceiling somewhere around $45 to work with this year.

Looking ahead to next year the Thrashers roster with players who are already signed add up to a salary cap hit for the 2008-09 season that comes to a total of $34 million (I'm assuming that Lehtonen gets a contract similar to Cam Ward's this summer). Next year the salary cap maximum will increase to around $54-55 million and the salary floor will also rise to $39 million so for certain the Thrashers will need to add an additional $5 million in salary just to reach the minimum. If Don Waddell is given an internal budget number that is right around the mid-point of $47 million that means he has roughly $12-13 million to use this summer during free agency or for contracts acquired through trades.

That leave a lot of money for a few roster upgrades. Given the annual inflation that seems to kick in during unrestricted free agency period I think that it will take $6-7 million per year to sign top free agent defensemen like Campbell or Redden (age 30)--and in the case of Campbell someone would probably have to offer him a long 6 or 7 year deal. I have argued that the Thrashers should avoid commitments to aging players but Brian Campbell (age 28) is unusual in that he will hit free agency still in the prime of his career. Is the team prepared to step up and commit $42-47 million over 7 years to Campbell? I also like Kalinin (26) a defensive defenseman who is just 26 and should have many good years left in him. That still puts the team in a position of taking on Campbell's age 34 and age 35 seasons. Some other interesting defensemen include Rozsival (28)--who has played some great hockey for the NY Rangers, John-Michael Liles (26) and perhaps Marek Malik (32).

I'd also like to see the Thrashers sign Zubarev from Russia, but he probably needs some time in the minors. But he might be ready after 40 games in the minors when the inevitable injuries strike. Personally I think that Zhitnik should be told that the team will send him to the minors to ride the bus if he doesn't show up to NHL camp in shape next year. They are the hook for the money but it would clear cap space and show that they hold the veterans accountable for being professional.

If the Thrashers commit $7 million to a defenseman and have a working budget of $47 million that still leaves them with room for a $5 million player with $2 million breathing space under their internal ceiling. Who could you land for that $5 or less? The Penguins Ryan Malone is young (27) and will be looking for a raise from his current $1.45 salary. Dupuis (28) could be brought back. Ryder (27) and Dumont (29) and perhaps another year of Mark Recchi (40) might be worthwhile. The other wild card is this--what if Hossa wants to return? You could probably fit Hossa and Kalinin under a $47 million budget--that would be quite a team I could get really jazzed about.

2087-09 Thrashers Roster (with cap values, new players in bold)
F Kovalchuk $6.4 - White $2.375 - C. Armstrong $1.2
F Kozlov $3.66 - Little $0.9 - Christensen $0.75
F LaVallee $0.525 - Perrin $0.75 - Slater $0.775
F Larsen $0.535 - Thorburn $0.51 - C. Stuart $0.483

D Havelid $2.7 - Enstrom $0.9
D Klee $1.25 - Zhitnik $3.5
D Exelby 1.4$ - Valabik $0.858

G Lehtonen $2.67 - Pavelec $0.85
Bench: Holzapfel $0.85 Lewis $.588

Team Total $34.4 million (note: Lehtonen is a RFA and I gave him the same cap value as Cam Ward's current contract.)

8 Comments:

  • I disagree with two key assumptions: (1) your projected salary cap min and max; and (2) more importantly, that ownership would be willing to spend up to the middle of that range. If/when season ticket renewals tank for the upcoming season, they'll scale back their budget and shoot for the cap floor, or slightly above. Regardless, I just don't see us landing any elite UFA, both because of the budget and because none will want to come here with us not really being serious contenders.

    By Blogger Adam, at 9:19 AM  

  • The Thrashers should use some of the available money to give Kovy a new contract and ensure he stays in Atlanta for his career.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:59 AM  

  • Adam: I'm very confident in my cap max and min numbers. There has been repeated discussion about this on the Business of Hockey form over at HF boards and the available data points towards a $55-$39 ceiling and floor.

    As for internal team budget that's purely speculation on my part. I will pint out that that owners have lost money each year in an effort to make the product better. To their credit they've been willing to spend to improve the product--the problem hasn't been with the player payroll but the lack of return on that investment the last three years.

    Let's say you're right and the owners stay at the floor of $39, they will still need to spend another $5 million on someone under CBA rules. Going "cheap" and waiting for prospects to arrive doesn't make much sense unless you're willing to just waste a year and go after another top draft pick--but if that was the plan they club should have dealt EVERY veteran this trade deadline.

    Going "cheap" and struggling on the ice will do nothing to sell more tickets down the road. Ultimately a quality on ice product is what is required. If you're going to assemble a contender on a small budget you put your focus on goaltending and defense--which is not where the talent is located in Atlanta.

    Which brings us to Anonymous' point--Ilya's contract has 2 years left on it after this season. Under the CBA you can't extend until the final year, so the earliest the Thrashers can make him an offer is in the summer of 2009. The Thrashers need to focus on assembling quality pieces in the summer of 2008 so that Kovalchuk wants to stick around in the summer of 2009.

    I think adding Campbell or Kalinin and deleting Zhitnik could have a profound effect on the defensive end. The Havelid-Enstrom pairing is solid (not their plus/minus on a bad team). If you put Campbell or Kalinin with Klee on the 2nd pairing that fills up a lot of minutes and pushes the ham handed Exelby to the third pairing where he belongs. That still leaves you with a slow footed Klee on the 2nd pairing and a 5th defenseman slot to fill. But imagine if we upgraded from Zhitnik to Campbell--that might save us 15 goals against over the course of the season and improve both our PP and PK units.

    By Blogger The Falconer, at 10:23 AM  

  • Excellent analysis, but Dumont signed for 4 years with Nashville.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:32 PM  

  • Also, I think the most important part of the trade is, like you said, both Armstrong and Christensen are cheap RFAs.

    That can't be emphasized strongly enough.

    If Atlanta had picked up, say, Marleau from San Jose, or Murray or Sturm from Boston, they wouldn't have gotten the flexibility they have now to pick up a Campbell or a Liles.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:48 PM  

  • re: Dumont--argh. I forgot about that.

    re: RFA status. Absolutely correct. I meant to mention that but both have another year on their contracts and then hit RFA status where they will likely sign 3, 4 or 5 year deals that pay them less than UFA players providing good value for the franchise as they mature and hit their prime years.

    By Blogger The Falconer, at 1:35 PM  

  • Kalinin is an interesting choice.His minutes have been dropping recently, would have to look at how he fares with Campbell gone. Personally I would go after Ron Hainsey who has much more offensive upside and I would avoid any Russian defenseman not named Zubov.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:25 PM  

  • I find this breakdown fascinating. Not sure I agree with all of it, but it certainly gives us hope.

    By Blogger Jennifer, at 12:39 AM  

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