With training camp now underway and the start to the long awaited 2021 season only days away, Red Wings fans are suddenly abuzz with an abundance of team news filtering in daily, leading to countless questions:
How did the prospects do at the World Junior Championship? How is practice looking? Who’s showing well? What are the line combinations?
But one question that has perhaps slipped under the radar of late may be the most important of any of them all: Will Steve Yzerman make another move before the puck drops next week? Throughout December and well before that, Red Wings fans have anxiously been anticipating a move. With all due respect, the Timashov move to the Islanders is not what fans had in mind. Given Yzerman’s most recent press conference before Christmas, it would seem nothing is in the works, stating the team will continue to look around and make a deal if one makes sense.
But who are we not to at least speculate at some of the possibilities?
(All contract values and projections here are courtesy of Cap Friendly.)
What Do the Red Wings Have to Offer?
A good starting point is taking a look at what Yzerman is able to offer other GM’s around the league as part of any deal. Yzerman is really only holding one card at this point in the calendar, but it’s a hell of an ace: loads of cap space. The Wings are currently showing to have a roster salary of just under $73M, with an $81.5M cap. That leaves the Wings with approximately $8.5M conservatively that they can weaponize in a trade. Any player coming back could also bump someone off the 23 man roster or they themselves be sent down leaving a dead cap hit.
Another enticing item that shouldn’t be forgotten is that Henrik Zetterberg’s contract remains on the books for one more season at a shade over $6M. With Zetterberg guaranteed to remain on LTIR, his contract could be used in one of a few ways.
First, the Wings could take on additional contract money above and beyond the cap by as much as Zetterberg’s cap value. This means that while the Red Wings have $8.5M in cap space, they could take on up to $14.5M prior to the roster deadline to start the season. This option is unlikely though as the Red Wings would almost assuredly be taking on multiple big dollar players to make use of that LTIR possibility, and there just aren’t any teams in THAT much trouble that they need to offload $10M+ in the next few days.
However what may be enticing to other teams still is to acquire Zetterberg’s contract. There’s two ways that this type of deal would appeal to other teams at either end of the salary structure. For salary floor teams, this would mean they could acquire Zetterberg’s $6M cap hit while only paying him the $1M he is still owed in real dollars. Even then it may be covered by insurance. In a league where owners are feeling the pinch of the pandemic on their pockets, this is something that could be of value. But at this time there doesn’t appear to be any teams that don’t have a way to the salary floor. So the most realistic way that Zetterberg’s contract could still be applied in a deal before next week is to trade it to a team in need of cap relief that could be gained in the form of $6M from his contract. There are still a few teams that could definitely put that to use. This was even specifically mentioned in one rumour that has been shutdown since. But time is running out.
Any movement of current players off the Red Wings current roster in a deal is also unlikely at this point with teams having set their training camp rosters. It’s rare to add players at this stage of a season; it’s especially more difficult during these times.
So the bottom line is the Wings most potent weapon is to acquire a bad contract or two in exchange for draft or prospect capital. There is also an outside chance that a team acquires Zetterberg’s contract prior to the season to create artificial relief rather than dealing away a player.
The Sure Thing With the Champs
So almost everyone had penciled in a deal of some sort between Yzerman and his former team, the Tampa Bay Lightning. It was a match made in heaven supposedly, what with his ties to the organization, their need for cap relief being the one thing Yzerman had to offer in abundance.
But so much for that. Tampa, one of if not the most cap-strapped team, made other arrangements with Ottawa, as well as signing some of their RFA’s to below market value deals. Julien BriseBois’ middle name is apparently Houdini. The deal made with Ottawa in particular was right up Detroit’s alley with Tamp trading Cedric Paquette, Braydon Coburn, and a 2022 2nd round pick to Ottawa in exchange for the the contracts of Marian Gaborik and Anders Nilsson. This allowed Tampa to move $3.35M off the book as well as create as much as $7.5M in LTIR space with the acquired contracts. That’s a big win for Tampa. Combined with the news of Kucherov’s start to the season on LTIR as well, they have generated enough space that they won’t have to make another move before the season.
That squashes any possibilities with Tampa unfortunately. Detroit was rumoured to be in discussions on a similar deal potentially involving Zetterberg’s contract and potentially someone like Tyler Johnson coming the other way. But without a 1st round pick or a blue chip prospect, Detroit might have been wise to avoid a return like Ottawa got here.
Creating Their Own Space On the Island
As for another potential dance partner that has since fallen through, the New York Islanders announcement that Johnny Boychuk can no longer continue his career has seemingly created enough space with them signing Mathew Barzal on Saturday to a 3 year deal with a $7M AAV. With Boychuk on LTIR, the Islanders look to have nearly $3M to sign a couple of roster bodies and maximize the Boychuk LTIR space.
There may be an opportunity to take on Andrew Ladd’s contract with 3 years at 5.5M remaining. But that’s a big ticket for 3 years that would have to come with a very intriguing sweetener like multiple picks including a first. But the Islanders may hang onto him until at least next offseason in order to make it easier to move.
Other Squads Over the Cap
With any imminent deal involving Detroit likely to be with a team in need of cap relief, here’s a brief rundown of the teams currently projected to be above the salary cap, and what moves they can make to be compliant.
Washington is currently on the books for $85.1M. But with Michal Kempny already set for LTIR at $2.5M and the recent surprise addition of Henrik Lundqvist at $1.5M following heart surgery, the Caps have created enough LTIR space to maintain their roster as well as add Zdeno Chara at $795K.
St. Louis is over the cap with a roster salary of $84.5M. But with Vladimir Tarasenko shelved for a while yet, and the addition of Steen to the LTIR recently, they combine for up to $13.25M in LTIR. The only complication for them will be if and when Tarasenko does return. although it looks like they will be able to squeeze under the cap. So, they can at least kick the can down the road.
Edmonton is another on the long list of teams using LTIR to get cap compliant, currently sitting at $83.7M. But with Oscar Klefbom’s recent surgery, his $4.2M salary moves to LTIR creating plenty of space for the Oilers. With his entire season in question, the Oilers may never have to make a move.
Somewhat surprisingly the Ducks are a team over the cap at $83.4M. But Ryan Kesler’s career over and his $6.9M on LTIR the Ducks are a team that may even be able to capitalize on the additional space that creates.
Ditto with Winnipeg, sitting at $83M in rostered salary. But like Kesler above, they have Bryan Little’s large $5.3M salary on LTIR, with another 3 years still on his contract after this season. Little hasn’t formally said he won’t return in the future, but it sounds like it’s unlikely.
The Canucks are a young team that, despite having their best players on entry level contracts, are weighed down by some poor veteran contracts they are having trouble moving. That makes them a potential partner for Detroit, with Vancouver likely very happy to move Loui Eriksson’s $6M for the next two years and needing to sign their two young studs in Pettersson and Hughes after this season. But as for feeling any pressure to do so now, the team is only $1.5M over the cap and has Michael Ferland’s $3.5M on LTIR. So they have time before having to make any moves or can wait until they like the terms of any proposed deal.
Montreal is an interesting one because they are currently at a rostered salary of $82.6M but nobody currently showing on LTIR. This puts them approximately $1.1M over the cap. Assuming they don’t announce the injuries of any players in the next few days, they can still likely work around this by dropping a player or two through waivers and listing a roster of 21 or 22 players for salary cap purposes. Regardless, they haven’t been mentioned as a team in rumours or that they have to make any immediate moves.
What Tampa is doing this year with the use of LTIR was Toronto’s calling card last season. But Kyle Dubas mentioned wanting to get away from relying on that as a crutch as the downside is minimal flexibility with the roster. Toronto’s rostered salary has been whittled down to $82.5M this season. As mentioned for Montreal above, the Leafs have no plans to add anybody to LTIR and instead will flex their roster down to 21 or 22 players via waivers to get compliant. Also while having plenty of big ticket contracts, Toronto isn’t in position to want to move any of those at this time, those are still the guys carrying the weight for this squad. But they could be a partner in a year or two depending what happens with both teams.
Vegas might be the one with a case to make a move sooner rather than later. They are sitting at only $82.5M needing to only clear $1M or so. But the catch for Kelly McCrimmon is they’ve already pushed their roster down to 21 players and don’t have any candidate for LTIR. While not quite stuck, this would mean to get compliant without a deal they’d have to send one of their 7 defensemen down but even that only clears $975K. That puts them very close but not quite there. But with the complexities of the cap rules, there could be some option not indicated here that they can utilize to squeeze under the cap.
Nevertheless, Vegas is a prime target to make a deal with at some point as they have plenty of players they could move along with a pick to create breathing room for themselves. Keep an eye on any rumours between Vegas and Detroit.
What About the Rest
All of the other teams are currently cap compliant. But that doesn’t mean some of them would be against making a deal at some point. They may look to move an anchor contract out in order to bring someone else in on another deal, especially if they look poised for a deep run in the playoffs.
A team like Calgary has been in headlines to make moves if things go south to start the season. The Flyers are in a similar win now mode with the age of their leaders.
The other thing to keep in mind as the season gets going is there’s always the option to use Detroit’s available cap space to be the facilitator of a 3-way deal, particularly as the deadline nears. Trades are expected to be somewhat limited in a strange COVID year, but almost all of the contenders are lacking cap space. Detroit could look to offer taking up to 50% of the salary of a player moving between other teams, rental or otherwise to help make trades work for other teams in exchange for picks and prospects.
What Does It All Mean?
So with days until puck drop it looks like everybody has found a way to get cap compliant before then so nobody’s hand is being held to the fire (maybe Vegas?).
But with so many teams pressed right to the cap, many using LTIR to get compliant, there will still be plenty of opportunities for Yzerman to make moves during the season to take on a contract. So while it doesn’t look like anything should be expected this week, don’t expect Yzerman’s phone to go quiet. With Detroit being one of the few teams able to wield cap space as an asset, expect them to leverage that heavily in any deals they do eventually make.