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How Bad is the Red Wings’ Contract Situation?

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Spoiler: It’s bad.

NHL General Managers Media Opp Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Many fans are not happy with the Red Wings’ performance this season. The team is not scoring, which is wasting solid goaltending performances. Lineup decisions don’t seem to make sense, both from a standpoint of which players are wearing Detroit jerseys and which players wear those jerseys on the ice in the NHL.

One of our most-read articles this week was Corey’s article about how the Wings need to be sellers this season. I’d reached the same conclusion and I was already working on breaking down just how bad our contract situation is. So, here’s a detailed breakdown of how contracts given out the last few seasons have made a rebuild inevitable. This will be Part 1 of at least a two-part series. Part 1 will examine why a rebuild is imperative. Part 2 will examine what that rebuild could look like.

The Salary Cap Situation

We won’t start to hear information about the league’s salary cap for next year until about February, but we can make some educated guesses.

Salary Cap Estimate

As you can see above, since the 2013-2014 season the cap has gone up an average of 4.35% each season—although it has increased by a smaller amount each season.

Taking the 3 year avg would give a cap of 76.16 million for 2017-18. Taking the average of the last two years (which were less than half as much as the first year), would lead to a 75.1 million cap in 2017-18. Keep in mind that the salary cap could stay the same or go down (or go up more).

Players under contract for 2017-18

Let’s take a look at how many players we have under contract for next season. As we’ll come back to later, this doesn’t necessarily mean that all these players will be on the team next season, but we’ll use this as a starting point.

Here are the forwards we have under contract for next season:

Detroit forwards under contract for 2017-18
Numbers from Capfriendly

The players in green will be waiver eligible next season

And the defense:

Defense under contract for 2017-18
Numbers from Capfriendly

Nobody on this list is waiver-exempt next season

And the goalies:

Goalies under contract for 2017-18
Numbers from Capfriendly

Plus, the buyout for Stephen Weiss goes up next year:

Stephen Weiss Buyout
Numbers from Capfriendly

So what does that all add up to?

Now, remember that two of those waiver eligible players are Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha. I’m going to keep Bertuzzi in the NHL, but remember that he could be sent down to make a little more room.

Let’s say the salary cap next year is 76 million. I think there’s a very good chance it will be at least a little lower than that, but it looks like a reasonable estimate.

Let’s look at our expiring contracts:

Information from Capfriendly

Now, we’re obviously not going to re-sign all those players. And there’s the possibility that players who have a contract for next season are traded at the deadline or sooner.

Here’s a mock-up of what our team could look like next year with the players we have under contract. You’ll notice that we nearly have a full starting lineup, only missing two forwards (plus the extra three players who make up the 23 person NHL squad)

So, barring any trades, we need to add five players to the above lineup.

The one thing helping us (in an unfortunate way) that I haven’t mentioned is that Franzen’s LTIR will continue through 2019-20. Unfortunately, as effingee pointed out, his cap hit still counts. It ends up cancelling out, though. We can exceed the cap by his cap hit, but his cap hit still counts against us.

So, we have 76,000,000 (est salary cap) - 64,431,667 (cap hit of players signed for 2017-18.

That equals $11,568,333 for 5 roster spots, or $2.3M per roster spot.

Expansion Draft

I don’t want to go into too much detail here because we are working on a lot of expansion draft content, but some of you are likely thinking that perhaps we can help our cap situation with the expansion draft coming up. But, unfortunately, that’s not likely the case. Here’s why:

Goalies

Let’s say we don’t move a goalie. Vegas will have better choices than Howard, and if they wanted to take Coreau, that doesn’t change our current cap hit numbers. That was easy.

Defense

The best we could hope for here in terms of clearing cap space would be Marchenko ($1,450,000). If we are not going to keep Green, it makes no sense to not trade him before the expansion draft. Dekeyser, Kronwall, and Ericsson won’t be taken regardless of if we protect them.

Forwards

We have the same problem here, although we could clear more space. Here, the best “reasonably likely” cap hit clearance would be Riley Sheahan ($2,075,000). Zetterberg will not be taken no matter what, Nyquist and Adbelkader will be protected. Luke Glendening could be a potential cap clear (1,800,000) if Vegas wants a second liner for under 2 million. ;)

A few takeaways

To wrap up Part 1: Here are some things to take away from the above.

  • Even though he’s been playing very well, we can’t re-sign Vanek. After this season, he is going to have earned a contract that we won’t be able to pay. We should trade him by the deadline.
  • If you are thinking, “well, 2.3 million each for five players isn’t that bad,” take a look at how many players are still signed after the 2017-18 season. It’s most of the above players. Additionally, Larkin, Mantha, and Mrazek will need new contracts then. So, we are not just in contract trouble for 2017-18, but 2018-19 too.
  • All the above calculations are assuming that the cap goes up about as much as it has in the past few years. This is likely the rosiest scenario. It could easily not go up as much, stay the same, or go down, which would give the team less money to fill each roster spot.
  • This team is not a few moves away from being a contender. We’re not competing now, and we are not built to compete in the long term.
  • Because of this, the team must look to trade Mike Green. He has a no-trade clause, but he could waive it to go to a contender. Yes, he’s been our best defenseman, but the team is not built to win this year or next year, regardless of what we do. Trading Green gives us an extra 6 million in cap space, but unless we receive an NHL ready player in return, we still have to add another player to replace him. So $17.6M for six spots, or 2.9M per spot.
  • A rebuild is inevitable. There’s no magic bullet. The longer we put it off, the more time we are wasting.

Next time

Part Two will examine rebuilds from other teams throughout the league. Unfortunately, and this probably won’t come as a surprise, our current contracts will make a rebuild take longer than it could otherwise take.