Oh My Word the World is Ending Again

I don’t mean to post this title as any slight against the truly horrific and maddening events that took place in Colorado for The Dark Knight Rises premiere. Further, I really hope that anyone who looks at this post today this weekend or whenever, will only do so after extending thoughts, prayers, or whatever you believe in to the victims of this senseless act.

from ESPN

So Shea Weber signed an offer sheet with the Flyers, it’s for 14 years and $110 million. That’s a lot of money there’s no doubt, but it doesn’t mean anything yet. It won’t mean anything until next Thursday at the very least. The Predators will now have the opportunity to match the offer, and if they do, they keep Weber, point blank. I would be pretty much amazed if the Preds don’t match the offer. Weber is the Nashville franchise and in this most recent offseason where Alexander Radulov and Ryan Suter have already flown the coop and GM David Poile, a hero of the modern NHL, has been left holding the bag, there should be no contract too great for the Predators to pay for Weber.

Yes I understand that the Predators only have a franchise value about half that of the Flyers, and yes the Flyers are owned by a mega-billionaire while the Predators are publicly owned, and yes someone’s been floating a statistic that just this past year the Flyers doubled the ticket revenues of the Predators, but it doesn’t really matter. The Preds have “spending” money, they promised to make offers on Pekka Rinne, Ryan Suter, Alex Radulov, and Shea Weber, and their going to have to use a lot of it to even get above the cap floor at this time ($14 million to be exact).

Yes I also understand that there have been “confirmed rumors,” (that just sounds silly to say doesn’t it) of the Predators considering trades for Weber, and maybe that means that they don’t think he’s irreplaceable (he isn’t but we’ll get there). Here’s the difference. If the Preds let Weber leave they will receive 4 first round picks as compensation. Assuming that things were to go exactly the same as they did this year, and the Flyers lose in the second round of the playoffs in each of the next four years, that would only give the Preds a mid-20s draft pick in each of those years. In the NHL, players picked around that point are about as likely to succeed in the NHL as guys drafted way later (I don’t know this for a fact, but there is reasonable cause for it).

This would differ a lot from the Predators commanding a top-4 defenseman, a borderline top-6 winger, a can’t miss prospect, and a first round pick in a trade for Weber. In many ways, Nashville with Weber is in fact similar to Columbus with Rick Nash. Weber hasn’t “demanded” a trade, however, as with Nash, moving the one player could help to create a better and deeper future for the team, but while that one player remains in the team’s locker room they won’t actively cause a disruption (they’re both captains and they know how to act). Again, both teams can wait for the offer to be made on their terms rather than dumping the guy for whatever they can get. Also, let’s consider this, even without Weber (and Suter) Nashville is still a sick defensive team.

But so what happens if Weber does join the Flyers?

Well I promise you that it won’t be as easy as people claim. There is no good solution for the Flyers with Chris Pronger. As far as I can understand there is not actually any way for the Flyers to eliminate Pronger’s salary from the cap. In case you’ve forgotten Pronger has suffered an absolutely horrible concussion. Pretty much everyone agrees that his playing days are over, however, at this time he is under contract for another 5 seasons (!).

I had to double check on both the “35-Or-Older Clause” and the rules on Long Term Injured Reserve, but it looks like neither are absolute ways to eliminate his nearly $5 million hit.

The “35-and-Older” Clause:

  • When a player aged 35 or older signs a multi-year contract, his average salary is counted against the team’s salary cap during every year of the contract, even if the player retires before the contract is up.
  • If the player is sent to the minor leagues, his cap hit is reduced by $100,000.

Long-Term Injuries:

  • A player expected to miss at least 10 games and 24 days due to injury can be listed as a long-term injury (LTI).
  • An LTI can be covered by replacement players, as long as the replacement salaries do not exceed the salary of the injured player.
  • If the replacement salaries would push a team over the salary cap, the team is allowed cap relief, but only for the portion of the salary that exceeds the cap.
  • When the injured player returns, the team must immediately comply with the normal terms of the salary cap.

From: http://proicehockey.about.com/od/learnthegame/a/nhl_salary_cap.htm

So what does this tell us? Well the “35-and-Older” clause is the simpler of the two and the logic is pretty straightforward. As we know, NHL contracts are basically unalterable. You can’t renegotiate the value of the contract, nor renegotiate the structure of payments, once it is set up, that’s that. The same logic applies when you have a contract with an older player. As a punishment and a deterrent against front-loading contracts, the NHL requires that any player who is over 35 or will be over 35 when their contract runs out be paid the full value of their contract, even if the player chooses or is forced to retire. Further this number will continue to count against the salary cap until the contract runs out. Thus, if Pronger were to announce his retirement tomorrow, the Flyers would still have to count his $5 million salary against their cap; it would not be useable for signing other players. In other words, this isn’t going to happen.

Long-Term Injured Reserve is weird, and despite everything we’ve been through in recent years with Sid’s injuries it still leaves me with more questions than answers. I did not understand this but I guess LTIR can carry over from one season to the next and the Flyers can get all of Pronger’s salary as relief against the cap, assuming they spend right to the limit. That’s fine, if not unfair, and that will give them the leverage to re-sign Jakub Voracek, and their remaining RFAs will probably have to start the season in the AHL—Harry Zolnierczyk, Tom Sestito, and Marc Andre Bourdon.

Now the trick is, that if I’m reading the clause on replacement players correctly, the Flyers will not be able to use any of Pronger’s relief to sign Weber, which is a problem for the Flyers: for the sake of simplicity, the Flyers have offered Weber a contract with a cap hit of $7.85 million, they currently have $7.80 million in free space. The way the clause is worded is that LTIR cap relief cannot be used towards a replacement player with a salary that exceeds the LTI player, thus because Weber’s $7.85 million is a lot more than Pronger’s $4.9 million, the money that the Flyers save from Pronger cannot be applied to Weber’s contract, even if they only need to borrow like $50,000 from it. I could be totally wrong and every other example I’ve seen gets really vague on this point, but I think ultimately, in order for this to work, the Flyers would still need to trade away an NHL roster player for a non-roster player or draft pick.

And just a few more nuggets before addressing the big questions: what happens if the new CBA changes LTIR rules such that a team can only keep a player on LTIR if the player will play in the NHL again? What happens if sometime over the next 5 years (!) Pronger does get healthy? You can’t keep a guy on LTIR who isn’t hurt, and as soon as the guy is set to rejoin the active roster the team must be cap compliant. What happens if the next CBA calls for a contraction of the cap but doesn’t allow for a salary reduction device (the last CBA didn’t have one…)? I mean some of these might sound far-fetched, but they’re far from impossible.

So what does it all mean? Well first off, I’m a little bit disappointed in the “me-first” mentality of even the Pittsburgh news media regarding this story, who says it has anything to do with the Penguins? Last time I checked it was the Devils and the Rangers playing in the Eastern Conference finals, and sure the Devils lost their third leading scorer (equivalent to the Penguins losing Pascal Dupuis) but they are still the reigning Eastern Conference Champs, and as for the Rangers, after running away with the regular season conference record, they certainly haven’t regressed and still have to be viewed as the favorites to one day get Rick Nash. As such, this doesn’t have to affect the Penguins at all.

And I really have to wonder, how good is Shea Weber? He’s never won the Norris Trophy. Erik Karlsson has won the Norris Trophy: wow. Yeah he’s a hitter and yeah he is intimidating the way that he’s been known to throw elbows, but you’d be lying to say that he’s a bigger hitter or more intimidating than Pronger, even at Pronger’s advanced age. As the captain of a team built uniquely for the playoffs (with defense and goaltending in your mouth every day) he’s never made it past the second round.

I admit that unlike Pronger, the Penguins won’t be able to outskate Weber, but if he joins the Flyers who’s going to be his defensive partner? Nick Grossman? I’ve seen goalies in warm-ups skate faster than him. Luke Schenn? If you want to see Weber unable to enter the offensive zone because of constant bad breakout decisions from Schenn. Weber and Braydon Coburn? Okay that’s a good pair, but I’m still struggling to see where the “vaunted” second shut-down pairing is. I haven’t mentioned Kimmo Timonen or Andrej Meszaros, they’re skilled NHL players but they aren’t big hitters by any stretch and they don’t seem particularly well-suited to play with Weber, or to shutdown opponents. So yes, these are well established NHL names and they all make a lot of money, the cheapest among them (Grossman) makes $3.5 mil a year, but so what, if the Flyers do bring in Weber at $7.8 mil, that means they’ll have more than $36 million locked up in defensemen, even if you simply eliminate Pronger’s salary from the equation, that’s still more than $30 million. Couple that with nearly $7 million on Goalies and this is a team that is going to be stretching itself thin at forward.

Even now I only count three real top-6 forwards on this team, Giroux, Fart, and Briere. The Flyers are asking a lot from Wayne Simmonds (who scored 39 goals in his first 240 NHL games), Matt Read (remember Jordan Staal scored 29 goals and 49 points in his rookie season, and it took him until his 6th season to eclipse that point total (by 1) and he’s still yet to get that close again on goals), and Max Talbot (haha) or Jakub Voracek to continue to outperform their career averages by 40% or more.

Last thing. Everyone keeps saying that Flyers Power Play will be even better if Weber joins the team. Well maybe, but I think the most damaging part of the Flyers PP last year was Jagr teaching them how to do it. I don’t see it getting better in his absence. Further, people will fight me on this, but the Pens PK will be better this year. Again, out goes Staal who couldn’t win a defensive zone faceoff at all, in comes Brandon Sutter, one of the best pure defensive centers in the game. In comes Tanner Glass to create even more opportunities for penalty killing combinations, heck, if Dustin Jeffrey is healthy and part of the roster, that would give the Pens three full sets of PK forwards—Sutter, Adams, Cooke, Dupuis, Glass, and Jeffrey. They dumped Michalek, and honestly the Pens’ PK will be better with someone like Engelland or Niskanen simply doing their job rather than Michalek flailing around the ice looking for shots to block.

So I guess what it comes down to is, who cares? At worst the Flyers sign Weber to a potentially dangerous or illegal contract and he plays like Chris Pronger for them. At best the Flyers don’t sign him. Throughout all of that the Penguins will likely hold onto their money and player assets and either way they’ll address their needs at the trade deadline.

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