Sunday, June 12, 2011

"R" is for "Restricted

Not only do I feel that Michal Neuvirth's 2 year extension is a bargain, but it's a double-bargain as well. Semyon Varlamov has little leverage to ask for more than Neuvirth's $1.15 million cap hit. So not only did McPhee keep Neuvirth's price down, he has probably kept Varlamov's down as well.

For similar reasons, McPhee needs to lock up Karl Alzner before July 1.

One year ago, fresh off a Stanley Cup win, the Chicago Blackhawks could not come to terms with defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson before he hit restricted free agency. San Jose sent Hjalmarsson an offer sheet, which he signed, and the Blackhawks promptly matched (leaving them unable to sign starter Antti Niemi to his arbitration award north of $2 million). Hjalmarsson just completed the first year of a four year, $3.5 million-per-year deal, and reading the Hawks' unofficial SBN blog Second City Hockey, many of the posters wish they'd re-upped Sopel instead (at least for this past year).

Given how recently this happened and the style Hjalmarsson plays, I think he is the closest RFA comparable for Karl Alzner. Granted, Hjalmarsson was the 4D on the championship team, but Alzner is better.

For next season, per Capgeek, the Capitals have $50.9 million locked up in 18 players. That leaves anywhere from $9 million to $12 million to add another 2-5 players to the roster, with UFAs Jason Arnott, Marco Sturm, Brooks Laich, Matt Bradley, Boyd Gordon, Scott Hannan, and Sean Collins, and RFAs Semyon Varlamov and Alzner. They need another goalie and two forwards at a minimum.

If the Caps want a solution at center, it'll likely need to come with some term commitment. To add depth on defense, they'll need some money. Alzner is RFA this year; a $3.5 million/year deal seriously hinders McPhee's ability to sign an "impact" UFA at any position.

Moreoever, and perhaps most importantly, Alzner's deal will set a baseline for Carlson and Green one year from now, as those two I'd say are better than Alzner right now and will be better as far as we can realistically project into the future. If Alzner nets a $3.5 million/year deal, what can Carlson ask for? $4.5 million? $5 million? And then, what can Green ask for? $6 million? $7 million?

So, hypothetically, let's put Alzner at $3.5 million, Carlson at $4.5 million, and Green at $6.5 million two years from now (2012-2013 season). For that year, the Caps currently have $26.2 million committed to 8 players (four forwards in Ovechkin, Backstrom, Hendricks, and Johansson, three defensemen in Poti, Schultz, and Erskine, one goalie in Neuvirth).

Let's add some ELCs in Cody Eakin, Dmitry Orlov, Mattias Sjogren, and Evgeny Kuznetsov (using Alexander Burmistrov as a comparable). Throw in Boyd Gordon and Matt Bradley (or replacement) on a similar deal as he has now, Mathieu Perreault on a similar deal, Eric Fehr on a similar deal, Varlamov on Neuvirth's deal, and an NHL-minimum forward (Jay Beagle, perhaps), and we have 12 forwards, 4 defensemen, and 2 goalies.


Alexander Ovechkin ($9.538m) / Nicklas Backstrom ($6.700m) / Eric Fehr ($2.200m)
Alexander Burmistrov ($1.500m) / Mathieu Perreault ($0.716m) / Cody Eakin ($0.660m)
Mattias Sjogren ($0.900m) / Marcus Johansson ($0.900m) / Matt Bradley ($1.000m)
Jay Beagle ($0.512m) / Matt Hendricks ($0.825m) / Boyd Gordon ($0.800m)

Tom Poti ($2.875m) / Jeff Schultz ($2.750m)
John Erskine ($1.500m) / Niklas Hjalmarsson ($3.500m)
Brian Campbell ($7.142m) / Jaroslav Spacek ($3.833m)
Dmitri Orlov ($0.710m)

Michal Neuvirth ($1.150m) / Philipp Grubauer ($0.611m) / Todd Ford ($0.500m)

SALARY CAP: $59,400,000; CAP PAYROLL: $50,826,057; BONUSES: $680,000
CAP SPACE (22-man roster): $8,573,943

I used Grubauer+Ford for Varlamov, Campbell+Spacek for Green+Carlson, and Burmistrov for Kuznetsov. So with 12 forwards, 7 defensemen, and two goalies, the Caps have more than $9 million in cap room (remember that the salary cap will almost certainly increase, though a new CBA might change things).

All is good, right? No. While that top line looks okay, I don't see another sure top-six forward on the roster. I'd think six of those bottom nine will require easy minutes, which means there will need to be upgrades from free agency. Meanwhile, three of the seven D will need soft minutes, and at least three of the seven are frequently hurt.

Add another above-average top-4 D (80th in cap hit...Jeff Schultz, actually) and that's another $2 million. I would add another, but I'll be minimalist here. Add three second line forwards forwards (120th forward in cap hit, Jiri Hudler, $2.9 million) and that's another $6 million.* So just having upgraded one player on defense and upgraded three forwards to borderline top-6, we're already at $59 million and getting close to where the salary cap may be. Throw in a little more money for Varlamov (he has posted outstanding numbers in his brief career, after all), a bigger deal for Kuznetsov, and small raises to some other players and we're above $60 million without much room to maneuver, risking having to make unpleasant moves in case of injury.


Alexander Ovechkin ($9.538m) / Nicklas Backstrom ($6.700m) / Eric Fehr ($2.200m)
Jiri Hudler ($2.875m) / Mikhail Grabovski ($2.900m) / James Neal ($2.875m)
Mathieu Perreault ($0.716m) / Marcus Johansson ($0.900m) / Cody Eakin ($0.660m)
Matt Hendricks ($0.825m) / Boyd Gordon ($0.800m) / Alexander Burmistrov ($1.500m)
/ Mattias Sjogren ($0.900m)

Tom Poti ($2.875m) / Jeff Schultz ($2.750m)
John Erskine ($1.500m) / Brian Campbell ($7.142m)
Jaroslav Spacek ($3.833m) / Niklas Hjalmarsson ($3.500m)
/ Tim Gleason ($2.750m)

Michal Neuvirth ($1.150m) / Ondrej Pavelec ($1.150m)

SALARY CAP: $59,400,000; CAP PAYROLL: $60,041,891; BONUSES: $680,000
CAP SPACE (22-man roster): -$641,891

Hudler, Grabovski, and Neal are the 2nd line cap hits, Burmistrov again is Kuznetsov, Campbell+Spacek again is Carlson+Green, Hjalmarsson is Alzner, and Gleason is the extra top-4 D. Pavelec is Varlamov.

Admittedly this isn't as terrible a situation as I would have thought, but having Alzner, Carlson, and Green so pricey so soon means McPhee must continually find ELCs to add to the roster, perhaps one per year on average. Otherwise, the Caps will become extremely thin and top-heavy.

The way to win Stanley Cups under the salary cap is to have great players on cheap deals, so you can add more expensive veterans to round out the roster with tremendous depth, so it's imperative that McPhee not let his studs reach market or near-market value until he actually has to (unrestricted free agency). That process should start by signing Karl Alzner before July 1, because I'm sure someone will send him an offer sheet if he stays unsigned. And with the margin between the top teams relatively thin, having an extra couple of million dollars of cap room is enough to add the player that could put this team over the top.

*I did account for the fact that these players would replace players on the roster. For example, the Schultz twin is replacing, say, Orlov, so $2.7 million becomes $2 million.