Steve Sullivan's trip to injured reserve puts a financial constraint on the Nashville Predators' ability to add talent at the NHL Trade Deadline.
We've talked quite a bit over the last two weeks about the Nashville Predators defense, both in terms of how to best juggle the current stable of blueliners and whether the team needs to bring in some experienced help. But what about the forwards? What flexibility exists to bolster the group up front? Considering the lack of goal-scoring which continues to plague the Preds (they currently stand 28th in Goals/Game at 2.45), and the absurd combination of injuries which has decimated the center spot, Preds fans are getting desperate for an injection of offensive talent.
There has been speculation that something is in the works, considering the combination of moves made on Friday. Remember that there's normally a limit of 23 players on the Active Roster, but as of the Trade Deadline (coming up Monday), that limit goes away. Then, consider the following...
- The Preds entered Thursday night's game with 22 players on the active roster, and 4 more on injured reserve (Lombardi, O'Reilly, Goc & Bouillon). It's safe to say that none of those guys will be activated before Monday, so they don't impact the 23-man limit.
- Alexander Sulzer was traded to Florida for a draft pick, taking the Preds down to 21.
- Steve Sullivan was put on IR, which means he's on the shelf for at least 7 days, taking the Preds down to 20 on the Active Roster.
- Matt Halischuk and Blake Geoffrion were called up from Milwaukee, bringing that number back up to 22.
- Wade Belak was put on waivers and sent to Milwaukee, pushing the Preds down to 21, in a move which was described as being motivated by a need to free up a roster spot. Huh???
Running with only 6 defensemen is a serious gamble, particularly with Belak gone as well, who could serve as an emergency D if absolutely needed. The only rational reason I can think of for sending both Sulzer & Belak packing at this time is money, but not necessarily to bring in a big goal-scorer. There's a critical level of $51.4 million in total salary that the Preds presumably want to stay below, because going above that mark could cost them millions in revenue sharing...
Revenue Sharing & the Nashville Predators
We always have to keep in mind the Predators' eligibility to receive a full NHL Revenue Sharing distribution, which can be jeopardized by spending above the mid-point of the salary cap range during a given season. There's an initial round of revenue sharing which aims to support teams' ability to afford what is called within the CBA the "Target Team Player Compensation", a level somewhere between 25% and 50% of the way from the salary floor to the cap (this year, that's between $47.4M & $51.4M). To receive their full share of that money, the requirements are basically to hit 14,000 average paid attendance, and grow your team's revenues at a rate at least as large as that of the NHL at large. The Predators should have no trouble meeting both of those.
There is a secondary round of revenue sharing, however (section 49.7a of the CBA), which can help bring a team up to supporting a total salary at the mid-point of the salary cap range (the $51.4M figure), but those funds only go to teams spending less than the mid-point in total salary. So this is where there's a "soft cap" that the Preds need to keep an eye on. If they spend above the mid-point, they could put as much as $4M of that additional revenue sharing at risk.
Sully's groin trouble a kick to Nashville's fiscal nuts
While there are currently 21 players on the active roster, the five players on Injured Reserve have to be paid, too, and that is pushing Nashville's salary closer and closer to that $51.4M mark. The three guys who are basically out for the year (Lombardi, O'Reilly, Goc) carry a combined salary of $4.85M, and then you have Francis Bouillon and Steve Sullivan, who may return later on, at a combined $4.95M. That's $9.8M in payroll that's sitting idle from a hockey perspective right now, and has to be back-filled with other players, mostly from Milwaukee.
Think about that - you can replace those five players with sub-$1 million guys from the Admirals, but then you're paying about $12-13 million for the on-ice production from five AHL callups, and that's not a formula for success.
The Mid-Cap Margin is getting narrow
So let's get back to that critical $51.4M mark, and how close the Predators are getting to it. According to CapGeek.com, the current roster setup would have the Preds finishing the season at a hair under $50.9M, and that's before any bonuses get paid out. Those bonus clauses pertain to the guys who are on their entry-level contract (Colin Wilson, Nick Spaling, etc.), but we don't know the details there as to what the targets and amounts are. What we can tell, is that the team is already pretty darned close to the mid-point.
As the two injured veterans (Sully & Bouillon) return, you can send an AHL callup back down (for example, Matt Halischuk & Jonathon Blum), but that's not going to provide much relief.
Over the remainder of the season, even if they could use all of that remaining space, that only allows them to bring on a player with an annual salary of around $2 million, plus the salary of whichever player is getting taken off the roster. For example, that might be $612K if someone like Halischuk gets sent down, or more if a roster player goes the other way in trade. The problem there is that the players with significant salaries either have no-trade clauses (Legwand, Erat, Dumont, Sullivan), or are key young players who we can't envision being dealt (Hornqvist, Suter, Weber, Rinne).
Maybe, just maybe, a player like Joel Ward ($1.5 million salary) could be traded, but he's used in so many critical situations by Barry Trotz that I find it hard to believe he'd be sent away at this time.
I just don't think it's likely that they'll bring in a significant, NHL-proven scorer to bolster the team.
Was the answer here all along?
The Preds had Marek Svatos, of course (at $800K), but let him go to Ottawa via waivers on Thursday. At Friday's practice, after getting the Sullivan-to-IR news, I asked Barry Trotz about the timing of the Svatos release, given the lingering injury concern with Sullivan. His response (paraphrased, thanks to my piece of $&%! voice recorder which dropped the file) was that they felt they already had enough of what Svatos brought to the team between guys like Sullivan & Dumont.
Yup, I had the same reaction you just did, too.
The bottom line here is that I don't see much opportunity to bring in a significant offensive boost to the team under these conditions. The ownership group has already stepped up to raise the team's budget significantly (something like a $6 million increase compared to last season), but putting the additional revenue sharing money at risk by topping the $51.4 million mark seems reckless.
Budget-friendly trade options
So who could be this year's version of Jan Hlavac, the "who's that" pickup at the 2008 deadline who actually turned out to be surprisingly productive? Let's consider a few possibilities (click their name to see their profile page, which includes a scouting report, career stats, and recent related articles from around SB Nation):
|2010 - Andrew Cogliano||62||9||16||25||-9||51||0||0||3||84||10.7|
Edmonton will certainly be looking to deal assets, and Cogliano could perhaps be an option to provide some offensive punch after Fisher & Legwand.
#21 / Left Wing / Florida Panthers
Jun 02, 1983
Salary: $1.6M (UFA this summer)
|2010 - Chris Higgins||48||11||12||23||5||10||0||0||0||126||8.7|
Higgins hit the 20-goal mark three times with Montreal, but his production dropped off a cliff for a couple seasons recently. Ryan Porth of RLD Hockey pointed out to me that Higgins broke his thumb recently, so he'll be out of action for a bit.
#18 / Right Wing / Atlanta Thrashers
Mar 07, 1987
Salary: $900K (RFA this summer)
|2010 - Niclas Bergfors||51||11||18||29||-9||6||3||0||1||99|
He's cheap, and appears to be out of favor in Atlanta, as noted over at Section 303 back in December. His 217 shots on goal last year is far more than Martin Erat has ever had in a season (168), for example, but this is only his 2nd full season in the bigs. I know the Preds would probably prefer to get a center (Trotz spoke to how he wants to keep Nick Spaling and Colin Wilson on the wing), but this may be the best option to boost the attack.
Are you getting excited for Monday yet?