As we enter the 2015-16 season, it is clear to me how critical salary cap management is in the NHL today. A general manager must be able to manage his team’s salary cap for both the short and long term. This is high on an organization’s list of priorities. Talent on both the main roster and prospects in the pipeline are still both the two most important items for a franchise. But salary cap management finishes right behind talent acquisition in terms of critical items for an NHL franchise.
For many years most teams have done a substandard job when it comes to salary cap management. These organizations assumed the cap ceiling would dramatically rise over the short term. The late great Tony Randall told us in a classic Odd Couple episode what happens when you assume. Islanders GM Garth Snow has been at the forefront of using his cap as an asset to build the New York franchise. Snow has been doing this for years, being ahead of the curve of the current state of the salary cap and rising player salaries. Snow does not assume when it comes to the cap.
Locking Up Players
There is no doubt that GM Snow believes in building the Isles organization by being one step ahead and locking up players that he believes are the core for New York. Snow has shown this with players who have been drafted and come through the organization, as well as talent acquired via trade. By doing so in many past cases, Snow has locked up key players with advantageous salary cap numbers to boot.
One of Snow’s most timely and brilliant moves was locking up captain John Tavares to a six-year deal with a $5.5 million annual cap hit. Given the talent of Tavares, one could argue this is the best contract in the NHL today. Tavares still has three years to go on his six-year deal, but it’s not just Tavares that Snow has locked up with very shrewd signings, both in terms of payroll and salary cap charges. Other great homegrown signings have been Travis Hamonic (seven-year deal with a $3.85 million annual cap hit), Kyle Okposo (five-year deal with a $2.8 million annual cap hit), Frans Nielsen (four-year deal with a $2.75 million annual cap hit), Matt Martin (four-year deal with a $1 million annual cap hit) and, most recently, Anders Lee (four-year deal with a $3.75 million annual cap hit). Granted the Michael Grabner (waiver-wire pickup, not homegrown) contract of five years, $15 million did not work out like the other deals.
Snow also has a lot of great signings under his belt on players he has acquired via trade. This group includes Cal Clutterbuck (four-year deal with a $2.75 million annual cap hit), Jaroslav Halak (four-year deal with a $4.5 million annual cap hit), Nikolai Kulemin (four-year contract with a $4.19 million annual cap hit), Nick Leddy (seven-year deal with a $5.5 million annual cap hit) and Johnny Boychuk (seven-year deal with a $6 million annual cap hit). Time will tell on Michael Grabovski’s four-year, $20 million deal.
— Daniel J. Friedman (@DanJFriedman) July 19, 2015
Cap Space Means Opportunity
Having cap space / salary cap flexibility puts an organization in a great position to acquire talent. So few teams in the NHL are in a strong position salary cap wise. A majority of the teams in the league face a cap crunch. Because of this, there are more and more opportunities becoming available each season to acquire talent. Consider this because of New York’s salary cap position. Snow was able to land both Boychuk and Leddy for two second round picks (in two separate years) and a very good defensive prospect (Ville Pokka). I would say those deals were home runs (or should I say hat tricks?). Also, New York was able to use their salary cap position to add needed depth to their franchise via free agency, as well – We saw this last year in the signings of Halak, Kulemin and Grabovski. When you look at the state of the NHL now in terms of teams salary cap maneuverability, these situations will continue to happen. Teams like the Islanders, who put themselves in great salary cap position, will be able to take advantage of these opportunities, as well as keep all of its homegrown talent. We have seen other franchises forced to move players they have developed and be a key part of their teams because of the current state of that team’s salary cap. The salary cap ceiling is crawling and the players’ salaries are rising like a rocket ship. Snow has shown for years that a team that has managed their cap both smart and efficient can feature long-term success.
Yes! Yes! Yes! For seven more years!!
— Johnny Boychuk (@joboych) March 12, 2015
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