Saturday, we looked at the overall cap and roster situation around the league and how that might impact Detroit's ability to achieve roster compliance. Today, we'll look at the Wings' cap situation and how it may lead to a player sticking on the roster who may otherwise not.
Cory Emmerton was Detroit's 4th (and occasionally 3rd) line center last season, playing all 48 regular season and 13 of 14 playoff games for them. He played well on the penalty kill, but was badly outpossessed at even strength despite getting a majority of offensive zone starts against low-quality competition.
Good penalty killing is nice, but it would need to be exceptionally nice in order to overcome the basic expectation that a 4th liner compete with other 4th liners, something with which Emmerton struggled. Fortunately, he's got two things working in his favor coming into this season which may keep him on Detroit's roster.
1. He's a Center
You might have heard this, but Darren Helm is nothing more than a torso and a smile at this point and we won't be convinced he actually has legs until he's played a full 82-game season and won the Conn Smythe. Until that happens, he's a worthless husk of an injury waiting to happen.
This leaves Detroit woefully short of their preferred composition of 14 centers with 7 centers playing defense and another 2 centers in goal.
Joking aside, the Wings would very much prefer to keep the three centers playing on their top two lines up there and would like to have Helm and Andersson playing their third and fourth line roles. If either Helm or Andersson is unable to go, having an additional center as a backup is a nice insurance policy.
The counter to having a natural center to play that position is that having a natural center to get outplayed at that position isn't really a good solution. It's workable, since being out-possessed on the fourth line is less-dangerous than getting out-possessed on any other line, but it may be worth it to have a better possession player work a few extra minutes outside of his comfort zone in an attempt to avoid losing the shooting battle.
2. He Might be Too Cheap to Let Go
According to Capgeek, the Wings have exactly $1,044,621 in cap space. They could enter the season as-is right now and be both cap and roster-compliant. Of course, they'd be doing so without Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson and would be a worse team for it. The Wings are going to have to get rid of two players and bring back those two. As long as the money Ken Holland gives to Nyquist and Andersson doesn't exceed the money he clears in the process of making roster space for them by $1M, we're good to go.
But it might not be that easy.
It's nice to imagine that some other team is going to take Jordin Tootoo off our hands or Mikael Samuelsson will magically waive his no-trade clause to join Conference III somewhere, but it's entirely possible that the Wings may have to make that roster space by putting a guy or two on waivers. The issue doesn't end there though. Waivers isn't a guaranteed way to part with a guy and if a guy clears, the maximum the Red Wings can clear by sending him to the minors is $925,000.
If that happens, then sending Emmerton through waivers along with...saaaaaaaay...... Mikael Samuelsson (hypothetically), the Wings would have $2.5M to lock up both Jester & Goose. That's not actually impossible, but I just don't know if it's realistic to assume both of them will sign for Brendan Smith money. Replace Emmerton on the waiver wire with...saaaaaaay...Jordin Tootoo and that amount pops up to a bit more comfortable $2.89M.
This entire section is predicated on Ken Holland getting to late September unable to move enough salary off the books, while giving his two RFAs an amount falling within a $400K window where this all matters, and on everybody involved clearing waivers. It's not unrealistic, but there's a good chance it doesn't happen.
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So does Emmerton stay with the Wings? I can't say. I do think that if it were about the 14 best forwards rather than the best 14 you can fit under the cap, Emmerton might find himself the odd-man out. Having and extra bottom-six center gives a bit of added flexibility, but I'm not convinced it's better than the alternate solutions to an injury in that position.