Friday, May 17, 2013

The Buyout Question

What first struck me as a comment unfit for consideration at The SHP the other day by Lemmiwinks about Heatley staying on with the Wild after this season now has me thinking about it.

A lot of people assumed that Heatley would be a buyout candidate after this season, given that the cap is expected to fall to 64.3 million dollars for the 13-14 season. Indeed, the Wild find themselves in a pickle with regard to the salary cap going into next year. This much was assumed, but with the acquisition of Jason Pominville, the Wild seemed to be shutting the door on the Dany Heatley Era. Consider that the Wild have $55.1MM committed to next season (which includes nearly a million dollars of The Stink of Doug Risebrough, aka Mark Parrish). That leaves the Wild with an asshair less than $9.2MM from the cap. Not so bad until you have to consider that the Wild need to either re-sign Matt Cullen or another second line center and have three Restricted Free Agents (RFAs) in Cal Clutterbuck ($1.4M last year), Jared Spurgeon ($527K), and Justin Falk ($825K).

Did I mention they also need a Number 1 goalie, and another forward or two? Assuming that Cullen's next contract is about the same as what he got from the last one, that Clutterbuck, Spurgeon and Falk will all garner modest (or immodest) raises, then the Wild GM Chuck Fletcher will likely have less than two million dollars for a couple healthy scratch forwards and a goalie. Not even League minimums will pay for that. If Jason Zucker earns a roster spot (and I think he has), his 830K eats up a lot of that money.

Something's got to give.

Enter a "Compliance Buyout," aka an Amnesty Buyout. This allows a team to buy out a player who's not earning his salary, or just a player who owns a big cap hit. Assuming the Wild can't move a big salary, this is how they'll get the cap space needed to put together a roster for next season. And Dany Heatley seems like the leading candidate for that.

But back to Lemmiwinks' point. Heatley was effective on the third line last season with Brodziak (and either Clutterbuck or Bouchard) before getting hurt. Without Heater in the lineup, Jason Pominville stepped in nicely. But with Bouchard and his $4MM salary riding off into le coucher de soleil, the Wild have need of a third line winger. Clutterbuck can fill that role, but seeing him out there with Mitchell and Rupp was a sight late in the season. That line was effective, and I want to see more of that. It also puts pressure on that line knowing that Zenon Konopka is ready to jump into the lineup (That depth is a Good Thing, more on that later.) So if the Wild want to retain Heatley's services and cap hit, they need to come up with some cash.

And that brings us to Jar Jar Binks, aka Tom Gilbert.

While it may rile the provincials who love them some local boys, Tom Gilbert might be the odd man out, and there are a couple reasons why. First, he was as effective as Cam Barker - and that says a lot considering that Gilbert could skate halfway across Rohan before Barker passes the Gates of Isengard. And at $4MM a year, that hurts. Second, the Wild loves Clayton Stoner and Justin Falk for their physical play, and with Marco Scandella's playoff performance, he's earned a spot in the lineup. Unless they want to carry 8 defensemen again, Scandella will displace someone. (The Wild could trade Nate Prosser, true, but he earns a paltry $825,000 compared to Gilbert's $4MM.) Third, as I said above, they may place a priority on Heater and his bigger salary.

So the next question becomes what the Wild could do with what money they have, and there are four scenarios:
  • They can leave the roster as is. As you can see below, if they do that, they're fucked.
  • They can buyout Heatley and keep Gilbert. This gives them a good amount of money to work with.
  • They can buyout Gilbert and keep Heatley. This gives them a modest amount of money.
  • They can buyout both (this is the Deion Sanders Option). This gives the Wild a shitload of money to use.

       As-is Buyout Heatley   Buyout Gilbert   Deion Sanders
Parise 7,538,462 7,538,462 7,538,462 7,538,462
Heatley 7,500,000
Koivu 6,750,000 6,750,000 6,750,000 6,750,000
Pominville 4,505,000 4,505,000 4,505,000 4,505,000
Setoguchi 3,000,000 3,000,000 3,000,000 3,000,000
Brodziak 2,833,333 2,833,333 2,833,333 2,833,333
Mitchell 1,900,000 1,900,000 1,900,000 1,900,000
Rupp 1,500,000 1,500,000 1,500,000 1,500,000
Coyle 975,000 975,000 975,000 975,000
Konopka 925,000 925,000 925,000 925,000
Cullen 3,500,000 3,500,000 3,500,000 3,500,000
Clutterbuck 2,000,000 2,000,000 2,000,000 2,000,000
Zucker 833,333 833,333 833,333 833,333

Forward                  X

Suter 7,538,462 7,538,462 7,538,462 7,538,462
Gilbert 4,000,000 4,000,000

Brodin 1,444,167 1,444,167 1,444,167 1,444,167
Stoner 1,050,000 1,050,000 1,050,000 1,050,000
Prosser 825,000 825,000 825,000 825,000
Falk 1,050,000 1,050,000 1,050,000 1,050,000
Spurgeon 1,050,000 1,050,000 1,050,000 1,050,000
Defense                  X                  X

Harding 1,900,000 1,900,000 1,900,000 1,900,000

SODR 927,778 927,778 927,778 927,778

Total 63,545,535 56,045,535 59,545,535 52,045,535
Salary Cap 64,300,000 64,300,000 64,300,000 64,300,000

Cap Space 754,465 8,254,465 4,754,465 12,254,465

(Numbers in bold italic are numbers straight out of my anal cavity.)

Clearly, these scenarios are laden with assumptions. Considering the Wild gave Clayton Stoner a mil a year to do nothing, it's perfectly reasonable to assume Justin Falk gets the same. I've no idea what Jared Spurgeon would get, but let's put a number there. Same with Clutterbuck. Similarly, I haven't the faintest idea what Matt Cullen wants from his next contract.

All this comes down to a couple factors:
  • What does Matt Cullen want for a salary?
  • What does a goalie want for a salary? If that goalie is Nik Backstrom, what does he want? Could the Wild deal for a new goalie - Fasth or Hiller perhaps?
  • Does Clutterbuck return? If so, how much of a raise does he garner in salary?
I think that we'll see some things shake loose once the Wild get an idea from Matt Cullen and Nik Backstrom what they want for a salary next season and beyond.

Where's Granlund?

Shirley, you're asking why I didn't include Mikael Granlund. I'm sure the rest of you are wondering the same thing. I'm not convinced that Granlund is the answer as a second line center going into next season. Maybe one season in the AHL was what he needed, but I'd like to see him really be ready for the NHL and not presumed to have a spot carved out for him. And assuming that Granlund remains with the Houston Aeros Iowa Wild next season, he gives the Wild some additional depth. Clearly, his game needs some work, but he's a bona fide second line forward in the making. If something happens to Cullen, having Granlund at the ready is a potent option to have.

And maybe I'm gunshy after Risebrough rushed the likes of James Fucking Sheppard and Colton Gillies to the NHL, but I'd rather Granlund spend a little extra time in the AHL rather than not enough (or none at all).

Where are we now?

The Wild pretty much have to make a roster move in terms of shedding some salary if they expect to take the next step next season. A veteran center is pretty much a necessity considering that Granlund probably isn't ready for prime time. Said Center won't come cheap, and Matt Cullen might be the cheapest option out there, assuming he enjoys it here and is ready to take the next step with the Wild. If not, that $3.5MM up there might be lowballing that position.

Running with Harding and Kuemper isn't wise, since there are too many questions about Harding's health, so a legit number 1 goalie has to be found. Looking around the league, we can expect that Chuck will be looking to spend 4-6 mil a year on that position.

Nothing is certain, but the Wild are at least in a good position to be ready for the upcoming offseason.


Anonymous said...

A lot of the flexibility you speak of depends on the health of Heatley's shoulder, i.e., if he's not cleared to play, he cannot be bought out and it may force their hand with Tom Gilbert. But definitely agree, something has got to give.

WRT - Wild Road Tripper said...

Getting Gilbert off the payroll may be the best thing overall for the rest of the roster, not to mention clearing a spot for Dumba to land out of training camp (and his rookie contract).

Now, if we only could do the same for Stoner...