Managing The Johan Franzen Salary Cap Situation

On January 6th, Detroit Red Wings forward Johan Franzen sustained a concussion, forcing him out of action. Franzen, who has a long history of concussions, has missed the last 12 games and is in the midst of one of the worst seasons of his career. In the 33 games he has played in Franzen has managed just seven goals and 22 points. The seven goals would be a career low and the 22 points would be the second lowest total of his career behind his injury-shortened 2010 season. How should the Red Wings manage his situation this season and in the years ahead?

Detroit Red Wings left wing Johan Franzen  (Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr)
Detroit Red Wings left wing Johan Franzen (Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr)

Johan Franzen or Marian Hossa?

While his per 60 minute numbers don’t look terrible as he ranks 10th in goals per 60 minutes and 7th in points per 60 minutes among Red Wings forwards, the Wings need more. In 2009, the Wings opted to sign Franzen over Marian Hossa. At the time, you couldn’t really argue with the decision. Franzen had just scored 61 goals in his previous 143 games and a whopping 25 goals and 41 points in his previous 39 playoff games. He was 29 years old and in the prime of his career. The Wings handed Franzen an 11-year $43.5 million contract with a $3.955 million cap hit through the 2019-2020 season. The Wings thought they were getting a potential 40-goal scorer for under $4 million a year.

Instead, Franzen has scored just 104 goals and 226 points in 303 games. He’s missed 120 games due to injury and has become known for having long stretches where he’s practically invisible on the ice. Hossa on the other hand chose to sign with the Chicago Blackhawks where he received a 12-year $62.8 million contract. Hossa at the time of the contract was 30 years old with 775 career games already under his belt. At the time you had to think that Franzen was more likely to make it to the end of his contract than Hossa and that the Wings won that exchange. Since the timing of those contracts, the Chicago Blackhawks have won two Stanley Cups and Hossa has scored 133 goals and 312 points in 368 games.

Marian Hossa - Image Credit: Daylife.com
How different would the Red Wings be if they kept Marian Hossa? – Image Credit: Daylife.com

The Cap Recapture Penalty

In the 2013 NHL/NHLPA collective bargaining agreement, the cap recapture penalty was created to punish teams that tried to circumvent the old cap by signing players to long contracts that were heavily front-loaded in terms of salary. The Wings have three players who have contracts that fall into the cap recapture penalty category – Franzen, Henrik Zetterberg, and Niklas Kronwall.

With Franzen’s current concussion and his known history of concussions, the Wings could be in some serious trouble moving forward. If Franzen determines that he’s no longer able to play after this season, the Wings would be penalized more than $7 million, or approximately $1.45 million per season from 2015-2016 through 2019-2020 when the contract would have ended. That means the Wings would have $1.45 million less in salary cap space each season.

J.J. from Kansas at Winging it in Motown did a full breakdown of the Red Wings salary cap recapture issues back in 2013 and I’ve reproduced the Johan Franzen table here:

If Franzen retires in summer of 2015

Player Total Recapture Pool 2015-2016 2016-2017 2017-2018 2018-2019 2019-2020
Johan Franzen $7,272,730 $1,454,546 $1,454,546 $1,454,546 $1,454,546 $1,454,546

 

The worst situation for the Red Wings and Franzen would occur if Franzen decided to hang them up in 2016. The Wings would be on the hook for $2 million for 4 seasons. Who knows what Franzen will ultimately decide to do after this season, but the fact is the Wings could be in some serious salary cap trouble moving forward.

Managing Franzen This Season

As of now we have no timetable for when Franzen will return and with concussions nothing is ever certain. However, let’s assume that Franzen does return at some point in the regular season. How should the Red Wings manage his situation? In the 12 games Franzen has missed with the concussion, the Wings have gone 10-2, scoring 3.42 goals per game. In fact, check out how the Red Wings offense, defense, and team record differ with and without Franzen

Scenario Games Played Goals/Game Goals Against/Game Team Record Team Points Percentage
With Franzen 33 2.88 2.45 17-9-7 62.1%
Without Franzen 19 3.05 2.21 14-3-2 78.9%

 

While not everything can be explained by Franzen’s presence or absence, the Wings have been a drastically different team without him. However, when you dig a little deeper, Franzen’s presence in the lineup has resulted in the Wings generating more shot attempts per 60 minutes as well as being more effective on the powerplay.

Scenario Powerplay% 5v5 CF% 5v5 SCF% 5v5 CF/60 5v5 CA/60 5v5 SCF/60 5v5 SCA/60
With Franzen 26.4 54.0 53.5 52.9 45.1 25.8 22.5
Without Franzen 23.7 54.0 54.9 50.7 43.2 25.0 20.6

 

As you can see, the biggest difference is with the powerplay percentage. Franzen averages 3.1 minutes per game on the powerplay and while his individual powerplay numbers (four goals, 11 points) aren’t off the charts, the Wings operate more effectively with him on the ice.

So what should the Wings do if and when Franzen comes back this season? The numbers above show that the Wings have played better offensively and defensively without him in terms of goals for and against, but when we boil it down to puck possession, there has been no real difference. The Wings powerplay also operates at a slightly lower rate without him in the lineup, though the difference between 26.4% and 23.7% isn’t drastic.

Can The Mule help the Wings regain the Cup?
Can Franzen regain his form?

I think you have to bring Franzen back into the lineup unless the team continues to win at its current pace. The tricky part becomes, who do you take out? It basically comes down to Tomas Jurco and Joakim Andersson. The Wings are only allowed to have 23 players on the active roster and can only dress 20. As of right now, the Wings have 22 active players and two players on injured reserve. When Jimmy Howard is activated and Petr Mrazek is sent down to the AHL, the Wings will go to 22 active players and one player on IR (Franzen). If the Wings activate Franzen, someone will need to be scratched.

The Wings can manage this in one of two ways. Either the Wings send Jurco to Grand Rapids and call him up once the 23-man roster limit is waived for the playoffs or the Wings make Andersson a healthy scratch. I’d personally opt for scratching Andersson. He will be a restricted free agent after this season and will likely be a guy the Wings let walk. Jurco, while lacking point totals, has been a possession force on the 4th line and would benefit greatly from being allowed to remain on the big league team.

(Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)
(Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

Managing Franzen’s Situation After This Season

Honestly there’s not a whole lot the Wings can do. At 35 years old going on 36, Franzen and his contract cannot easily be traded. Very few, if any teams would be willing to part with anything of substance in exchange for Franzen. Even if Franzen was traded, the Wings would still be responsible for part of the cap recapture penalty if he retired early with the other team. The Wings could buy out his contract but again would still be responsible for the cap recapture penalty. Essentially, the Wings are stuck with Franzen and have to hope that he plays out his contract. If he doesn’t the Wings could have some serious salary cap issues, especially if the Canadian dollar does not recover and the salary cap drops. The Wings have several important contract negotiations coming up. Take a look at who the Wings have to resign in each of the next two offseasons:

2015 Free Agents:

Gustav Nyquist (RFA), Tomas Jurco (RFA), Brendan Smith (RFA), and Teemu Pulkkinen (RFA)

2016 Free Agents:

Darren Helm (UFA), Justin Abdelkader (UFA), Riley Sheahan (RFA), Danny DeKeyser (RFA), Alexey Marchenko (RFA), Petr Mrazek (RFA), Xavier Ouellet (RFA), Ryan Sproul (RFA)

These are a lot of big names and if the Wings have to deal with losing anywhere from $1.5-$2 million in cap space due to Franzen retiring, that could be problematic. I think this will be a major factor moving ahead for the Red Wings and one that Ken Holland and his staff will have to play very carefully.

 

Salary cap information from NHLNumbers

Advanced Stats from War-On-Ice