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The Cam Fowler Trade Rumor that Won’t Die: How it Can Work

The scariest part about this rumor is that the numbers can work

Anaheim Ducks v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

To give the short catch-up version of how we got here for those who have been living under a rock for the last six months or so, the Red Wings have been looking to trade for a defenseman and the Ducks have been looking to find a way to re-sign 22 year old wunderkind defenseman Hampus Lindholm. Currently the Ducks lack enough space to deliver the deal that’s apparently going to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 years/$6M AAV, even after putting defenseman Simon Despres on LTIR.

To put this away out front, the Ducks aren’t the only team shopping a defenseman, and the Wings aren’t the only teams looking for one. It’s a complicated market right now, but for all the pieces & parts, it looks like the Fowler to Detroit rumor that has recently resurfaced has the most legs because it can actually work.

Here’s the issue: All summer, we’ve been talking about how trades essentially have to be dollar-for-dollar with the Red Wings and we know that Anaheim would have to clear space to make Lindholm work. However, since the season has started, the Wings have worked enough cap magic to take on a little bit more salary than they let go and that might be all the wiggle-room they need.

The Current Standing

If you look at Cap Friendly’s main page, you’ll see that the Red Wings currently have $571,806 in space thanks to LTIR (and to the opening day call-up of Edward Pasquale). That’s the wiggle room they have, so adding the $4M cap hit for Cam Fowler requires a bit more working.

As a reminder, in the pre-weekend writeup by Helene linked above, the Ducks are interested in Anthony Mantha, with Evgeny Svechnikov also drawing interest. For the sake of ease, we’re going to say one of those two is the main piece. There’s no change to the cap situation with both of those players in the AHL, so we need to find more space for both sides.

With Despres on LTIR, the Ducks’ space according to Cap Friendly is $3,983,090. If they move out Fowler, that’s all the room they need. Unfortunately, that’s not happening with Detroit involved.

The Key Piece

If the Wings are willing to move Mantha or Svechnikov, then they’re also going to have to move either Brendan Smith or Tomas Tatar to Anaheim to even out the cap math (this is to say nothing of the value math however). Tatar is a pending RFA and Smith is a pending UFA for the Wings, but both make $2.75M against the cap right now.

With the way this would work, Anaheim would gain another $1.25M in cap space (leaving the AHL player in the minors for right now). It would also add the need to move a roster player out to make room for Smith/Tatar and Lindholm.

Due to daily accounting and the way the CBA treats cap hits for multi-year deals signed to RFAs after the season starts, that means they would probably want to move a higher-paid player out such as Ryan Garbutt or Jared Boll, but they can still send defenseman Shea Theodore down without waivers.

This doesn’t exactly give them room for a 6x$6M deal, but it gets them pretty close to being able to lock up Lindholm to a deal worth more than what Rasmus Ristolainen got in Buffalo.

On the Detroit side, they’ve just picked up the extra $1.25M in cap space, leaving them a need to recover about $680K just to be compliant. Moving Tatar off the roster would leave them with only 12 forwards (one of them is the still day-to-day Justin Abdelkader). If Smith is the one going, then Fowler would take his place on the roster. Either way the Wings would be required to waive one guy making more than Ryan Sproul to make it work (Xavier Ouellet fits this bill).

Alternately, Detroit placing Niklas Kronwall on LTIR gives them the space they need to do this without waiving a player. Either way, moves will need to be made to make sure that Detroit isn’t only carrying 12 non-LTIR forwards.

The Time Crunch/Bomb

One thing to remember here is that cap math changes daily. As players get paid, their cap hits for the remainder of the season change as well. With Lindholm, as each day goes by that he’s unsigned, the cap penalty for his AAV goes up. If a deal is going to be made at all, it’s going to have to be made quickly.

However, the other side of that coin is that a trade like this requires that Anaheim continue to use LTIR for Simon Despres and that Detroit keeps using their LTIR cushion. The return of injured players from LTIR would create a huge problem down the line for either club, especially the more space within the LTIR cushion they use. Despres getting healthy requires the Ducks to make $3.7M in space to bring him back. Kronwall getting healthy requires $4.75M


In the end, trading Anthony Mantha + Brendan Smith for Cam Fowler seems like a hefty price to give for an arguable improvement on the back end for a team desperately needing a #1D man that they’re not getting in such a trade. Moving Tatar out instead of Smith seems even more lopsided (though draft picks can even out trade value without the need for cap worry).

A trade like this can work within the cap constraints placed on NHL clubs, but it would take a huge amount of risk on the part of both teams in regards to using the long term injured reserve exemption to make extra space. That exemption is not supposed to be a permanent get out of Cap Hell free card, but Despres’ problem being concussion-related and Kronwall’s knee issue being more abative than rehabilitative by this point perhaps leaves both teams knowing enough about what kind of risk they’re taking to move forward with it.

The cap math for both teams is tricky here, but not impossible.

Special thanks to @CapFriendly for help in confirming cap numbers. While the actual numbers change daily, the full-season numbers were used for sake of ease. Please see Cap Friendly’s site for a more complete & accurate picture of daily space/spending.