Dave Nonis And The Salary Cap Pie

Maple Leafs can improve
Dave Nonis (Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports)

The NHL salary cap is about relative value of players, a concept that some GM’s obviously don’t understand. The idea is simple, the financial pie is limited, and every bit eaten, means less for everyone else. It’s not THAT difficult a concept to undersand but it’s certainly lost on Dave Nonis in Toronto. This isn’t really news to most Toronto fans, it certainly isn’t to me as I look at the salaries of some players, but yesterday I received a news blast saying that “Dave Nonis is actively scouting Mike Richards” to which I proclaimed out loud “M**therf**ker”.

Mike Richards isn’t so bad

Mike Richards posted 32 points this season (Photo by Bridget Samuels).
Photo by Bridget Samuels).

Mike Richards is by no means a bad player. In fact, as a character player, he may actually be a goodfit for Toronto, a team that’s severely devoid of character. However, Dave Nonis striking a deal makes me nervous. He seems to like signing average players to above average salaries. This is great for the player – Dion gets to drive around in a Bentley. However, this is very, very bad for the team. To make it worse,  Nonis seems to be more than happy to sign players to absurd ‘no-movement’ clauses, an idea that seems simultaneously baffling and common. If they weren’t already virtually impossible to move given that the other team would have to take on the inflated salary, the no-movement clause seals the deal.

Nazem Kadri of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Kevin Hoffman-US PRESSWIRE

Contracts Expiring

There are a few players whose contracts are approaching expiry that the Leafs might need to sign in the off-season and there is all but no contract room to do it (i.e. Kadri, Santorelli, Booth, Franson). There’s also, hopefully, Nylander and another good 1st round draft pick to sign. This is where we come back to the pie concept. When all the pieces are gone, then no one gets fed.

Relative Value

The salary cap is about relative value and its zero-sum. A part of the salary cap allocated to one player, can’t be allocated to another. To optimally build a team a GM can’t sign a player in isolation; the GM must simultaneously consider that players salary and that of all other players. This is where Nonis fails. For example, in my opinion, Phaneuf isn’t worth 7 million a year…  but if this were baseball, and there was no cap, it’d be irrelevant. However, in a cap system, it’s actually harmful. While I don’t think Phaneuf is worth the 7 he’s getting paid, he certainly isn’t worth 10.1% of the salary cap. Now, what if we consider Clarkson at 5.25 a year (which again, I don’t think he’s worth), but he definitely is not worth 8% of the salary cap. That means these two lemons are taking up almost 20% of the salary cap. Now look at a player like Santorelli, who has, in my opinion, been great this year, and only takes up 2% of the salary cap. His contract will come up, and he may deserve a raise, particularly if you look at his compensation/contribution (at 1.5 million a year) versus Clarkson’s (at 5.25 million). Kadri, also, would have a similar argument. Bernier is now a number one and he, too, could make an argument for a raise.

The problem is, there isn’t any pie left. Dave Nonis gave it all away.

3 thoughts on “Dave Nonis And The Salary Cap Pie”

  1. Good read and I agree with the sentiment written here. Nonis’ work as GM of the Leafs has been utterly awful. Far too many long-term, high-salary contracts and too many NMCs/NTCs as well. I’ve never agreed with the folks who have argued that the Leafs were “right” to have re-signed Phaneuf last year, rather than to have allowed the possibility to have lost him via free agency. I believe that Phaneuf has value (not $7M annual cap hit value!), but extending a decent player long-term for fear of him reaching UFA status in the summer is foolish. Credit Phaneuf and his agent for getting a boatload from an inept GM. Can’t fault Phaneuf for taking the money and term – Nonis could very well have declined to make an offer and devoted the annual $7M elsewhere.
    Same goes for Kessel, IMO. He’s wildly overpaid and Nonis was dumb to have committed such an insane amount towards a completely one-dimensional, uninspired and immature player. The Leafs will never get market value for guys like Kessel, Clarkson, Bozak, Lupul, JVR, Gardiner or Phaneuf if they attempt to deal them. Teams are well-aware that the Leafs are NOT dealing from a position of power and other GMs will exploit this.
    The question now is, will Nonis free up some cap space (by taking meager returns) by trading some of the players noted above, only to re-sign Kadri or Franson to equally-stupid long-term, high-salary extensions? Has he learned anything? I’m shocked that Shanahan even allowed Nonis to go scouting (if that’s why he’s in Manchester). Given Nonis’ simply terrible decisions as GM, if I were Shanahan, the only moves he would be making would be to Timmy’s for a routine coffee – large, two cream, one sugar.

    • Thanks for reading… and I agree with much of what you’ve said. Phaneuf certainly has a value in the NHL, it just isnt 7 million (I would hunch its probably around 4). I disagree with you a bit on Kessel. He’s definitely one dimensional but if he could get a bit more consistency in his scoring (he seems to be REALLY good, or REALLY bad), Im happy to pay him the 8…. which is commensurate with what a top 5 goal scorer should be getting paid. As for your last point, I really don’t know how the Leafs are gonna get out of this bind. Rumor has it Franson turned down the deal he was offered, and I suspect if Kadri doesn’t get a substantial raise, he’ll walk away too. Some might say “Good riddance”, but those two players are actually pretty decent value in my opinion… so if they had to be replaced, it requires some deal-making by Nonis – which I don’t actually think he’s got the capacity.

      • The problem now, the way I see it, is that the Leafs have two young(er) guys like Kadri and Franson who they would very likely keep over Bozak/Lupul/Komorov/Clarkson and possibly Gardiner at this point, but they won’t be able to. I don’t see how they can fit both of these players on their payroll, unless they deal away a significant contract. Not sure who they trade at this point and even then, they’re probably going to take a loss on the transaction.
        I see Kadri and Franson both being dealt before or at the deadline or becoming free agents. At this point, I think it makes the most sense to instill a bidding war for them and trade them at the deadline. The Leafs really can’t afford to continue signing long-term, high-salary extensions and I’d assume that Kadri and Franson are seeking those.

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