clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Price of Tavares

Pundits have called the Red Wings a contender for the soon to be free agent, but can they even afford him?

NHL: New York Islanders at Detroit Red Wings Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are in full swing and have been quite entertaining so far. For Red Wings fans that means for the second straight season we must live vicariously though other teams/fanbases to scratch our playoff habit forged over two and a half decades. As the playoffs steam towards their conclusion the entire hockey world will begin to turn its gaze from the playoffs to the offseason, with one of the likely most talked about topics of the offseason being where John Tavares will ply his trade when the NHL starts back up in the fall. We have already seen some articles discussing the potential landing spot for the Islanders captain pop up during the regular season, with the Red Wings surprisingly being mentioned as a potential destination in more than a few. Since that is not likely to change until Tavares decides on his future, I wanted to take an initial look at what the Red Wings would likely have to do to fit him into their cap as well as a cursory look at what a potential lineup with Tavares in it could look like. My intention here is simply to look at the potential requirements and implications on the Red Wings roster to a John Tavares signing and not present a case for or against the Red Wings trying to sign him or if he would even consider the Red Wings. Before diving into all of that though there are some assumptions I used in setting up the scenario, and they are as follows:

  • The 2017-18 season salary cap figure of $75M was used since the official cap ceiling for 2018-19 is not known yet and since it is almost assuredly going to go up this would represent worst case scenario.
  • Michael Rasmussen, Evgeny Svechnikov, Joe Hicketts and Filip Hronek would be on the opening night roster.
  • $1.5M of cap space was allocated to signing a backup goalie
  • Restricted Free Agents were signed to the following contracts

o Dylan Larkin – 6yr, $36M ($6M AAV)

o Anthony Mantha – 3yr, $9M ($3M AAV)

o Andreas Athanasiou – 1yr, $3M

o Tyler Bertuzzi – 2yr, $2M ($1M AAV)

o Martin Frk – 2yr, $1.8M ($900k AAV)

  • John Tavares was signed for 7yr, $70M ($10M AAV)
  • The #6 pick in the draft this year is not accounted for since we do not know who that person is yet

So, after all the proposed contracts are signed, the Red Wings are sitting at 26 players (16F/8D/2G) on the roster and a total salary cap of $85,427,045M, $10,427,045M above the scenario cap ceiling of $75M. This by itself would be untenable because teams are only allowed to go over the cap ceiling during the offseason by 10% of the cap, or in this case $7.5M. By simply moving around the order of some of the signings of the RFAs (specifically waiting to ink Larkin’s deal until other moves are made).

It is important to note that Johan Franzen counts towards the Red Wings cap space until the first day of the regular season when they can put him on LTIR and, if my understanding of LTIR is correct, they have to be over the cap at the time they put him on LTIR in order to receive relief from his cap hit directly proportional to the amount they are over (meaning if they are $2.5M over the cap they would only receive $2.5 million in relief from his cap hit).

Assuming they can work the numbers to receive the full relief from Franzen’s cap hit, that would leave the Red Wings with 25 players (15/8/2) and $81,472,500M in spent cap ($6,472,500M above the limit). There are a lot of ways they could go about accomplishing this, with probably the easiest in terms of moves to make being trading Gustav Nyquist and either burying or moving Xavier Ouellet and Luke Witkowski. These three moves would see the Red Wings $52,500 below the $75M limit and fielding probably the best unit possible from this scenario. It would also leave them extremely tight up against the salary cap limit and severely hamper their ability to call up players or make in season trades. They could potentially provide some extra breathing room in this scenario by looking to trade Luke Glendening and bringing up Dominic Turgeon to take his spot on the roster (provided he is healthy enough to play by then of course). That would bring their available cap space up to $1,165,833M but would be dependent on their ability to move Luke Glendening and Dominic Turgeon being healthy enough to play at the start of the season.

A more plausible scenario would see them still trade Nyquist and demote/move Ouellet but also have them trade Andreas Athanasiou. These moves would allow them $2.3M in cap space and adding a minimum hit guy like Turgeon to fill out the roster would still leave them a $1.6M cushion. But what about the long-term implications of a deal with Tavares?

Surprisingly it does not look like the impact would be as bad as initially thought. Using the scenario above where they trade Nyquist and Athanasiou while releasing Ouellet, the Red Wings could absorb a $10M hit from Tavares quite well. In that scenario, following the 2018-19 season Jimmy Howard ($5.3M) Niklas Kronwall ($4.75M), Nick Jensen ($812,500) and Luke Witkowski ($700,000) would all be free agents with only Jensen even remotely likely to be re-signed. Additionally, Turgeon and Joe Hicketts would be Restricted Free Agents but, barring a massive breakout season by either next year, they would likely be in line for only a modest increase in salary. The season after that, Tyler Bertuzzi (based on the two year deal he signed above), Michael Rasmussen, Evgeny Svechnikov and Filip Hronek would need new contracts but Jonathan Ericsson ($4.25M) and Trevor Daley ($3.167M) would hit free agency so there does appear that there would be enough turnover to accommodate them.

Whether or not the Red Wings should pursue John Tavares is something that can certainly be debated but it does appear that they could make a run at signing him without significantly hurting their roster in the long run as long as they are willing to make a couple trades and, most importantly, can accept that move as their only significant free agent signing (i.e. not being able to re-sign Mike Green).