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Salary Cap Outlook: Extending Evander Kane

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How does the cap look with a Kane extension?

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at Buffalo Sabres Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

As the Buffalo Sabres prepare to be open for business, there are still plenty of fans who hope that Evander Kane is not for sale. In order to sign Evander Kane to an extension, the Sabres will have to commit a substantial amount of cap space to him for the next six to eight years. So what will it cost the Sabres?

First, I'm going to give you my opinion on this subject. Not only should they just trade him for picks and good prospects but after the season is over, the Sabres should try to reacquire him in the offseason. The key word, of course, is “try”. If you want Evander Kane here long-term in Buffalo, this may be the best play and the safest option to try and fill holes in the organizational depth chart by adding good prospects and draft picks.

I think at this point, the Sabres likely know what Kane and his agent are looking for in terms of years and dollars. If the Sabres have a legitimate shot to re-sign him this offseason, then it’s totally worth taking that approach. Only Jason Botterill and the Sabres brass know if Evander Kane will actually sign on the dotted line.

Keep in mind, many teams who are interested in Kane for the Stanley Cup push, may not have the cap space to re-sign him long term. In such a scenario, everyone wins. The “keep Kane” people get their man extended and locked up long-term, and “trade Kane” people get assets in return for a phenomenal player.

The Sabres win by getting a heavy return for a player who let’s not forget, a year and a half ago today, was worth close to nothing because of his legal battle and the awful start he got off too last year. By the time last year’s deadline rolled around, pretty much everyone’s opinion on Kane had changed. You also have to remember this about Kane, as good as he has been as a player, this is also a player who has never experienced winning in his entire career. This is just like a lot of guys on this team.

Jason Botterill seems to value two things early on: deep playoff experience, and growing a winning attitude at the AHL level. Adding players like Scott Wilson, and Jordan Nolan are tiny building blocks to establishing such a culture, as is bringing in guys like Pominville, Pouliot, and Scandella. All of these guys have several games of playoff experience under their belts. It’s still going to take more than that, like continuing to grow that winning attitude in Rochester with the Amerks.

It’s been reported that Botterill has not decided yet on what to do with Evander Kane, and would be seeking youth if he moved him. I do believe that Botterill could see Kane as a valuable piece to the future. Many teams around the league probably believe they are a Kane away from a Stanley Cup, and his style of play is built for playoff hockey.

The Sabres also need to fill numerous organizational holes on the defense, and could benefit from more draft picks. Is there a way we can get the best of both worlds? It might make it more appealing for Botterill to sign, “Stanley Cup Champion” Kane to a big contract extension, as opposed to “I’ve never even played a playoff game” Kane? Of course, there is always the possibility he gets that experience and never wants to return to Buffalo as I'm sure many pessimistic fans will point out.

Let’s also not forget that Kane was drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers. Even when the Thrashers moved back to Winnipeg and became the Jets, he still never got a taste of winning that the Jets started to experience after he left. Kane has never played a playoff game. He has also never been on a team that has accumulated more than 35 wins, or 84 points. The only Stanley Cup rings he’s ever seen were on the fingers of Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, and Dan Bylsma.

It still could benefit Botterill to see what Kane does on a winning team in the playoffs if he is looking at Kane being here long term. If he gets traded to a team like Nashville, Pittsburgh, or St. Louis, plays 18-19 minutes a night on a top line, and stumbles in the playoffs, maybe that’s all you need to see to decide you don’t want to bring him back and sign him to a long-term deal. Maybe he gets his trade and plays well enough to be in consideration for the Conn Smythe. Maybe you get something in return that is really impactful to the Sabres right away?

Regardless of how we choose to sign Kane to an extension, what will the team’s salary cap look like? I used Cap Friendly’s Armchair GM to give a visual of what the cap would look like under three scenarios.

Scenario One:

The chart below is salary cap scenario one. I didn’t do anything except re-sign Kane to a long-term contract worth 7,500,000 per year. I am assuming the salary cap goes up by about 3%, although it could even go higher, some belief upwards of five to seven million. I also re-signed Benoit Pouliot to a short-term deal and handed out the bridge deals to pending RFA’s. This might be the most conservative approach. In this scenario with a 77.5 million dollar cap, I ended up with around 2.6 million in cap space.

In this scenario, the long-term outlook cap wise is promising with just one more season on the books for Matt Moulson, and Jason Pominville. Zach Bogosian has two more years remaining. Kyle Okposo may be the next problem contract on this team, but hopefully, he can maintain some production for at least a couple more years. In this scenario, I am mostly relying on building from within. I also recognize Moulson and his five million cap hit is still on the roster, and you’re probably wondering, why not leave him in AHL, or buy him out?

I didn’t bury him in the AHL because I wanted to operate under the toughest conditions possible, which is why I didn’t automatically assume the cap would jump to over 80 million. This would have given me a lot more room. I could also buy him out, but the amount of cap savings from that is close to the same as burying him in Rochester. Plus, I would be on the hook for one more year after his deal expires. His buyout cap hit next year would be 3.6 million, and 666k the year after that. So instead of having his small buyout cap hit on the books for an extra season, I'd rather just bury him for one more year. This way he is off the books outright, and if you really need the cap space because you plan on doing something big this offseason, then I can just move his contract

Right wing: K. Okposo ($6,000,000) - J. Pominville ($5,600,000) - J. Bailey ($850,000) - N. Baptiste ($850,000)

Centre: J. Eichel ($10,000,000) - S. Reinhart ($2,850,000) - R. O'Reilly ($7,500,000) - J. Larsson ($1,475,000)

Left wing: E. Kane ($7,500,000) - Z. Girgensons ($1,600,000) - B. Pouliot ($2,000,000) - M. Moulson ($5,000,000)

DEFENSE (7)

Right: R. Ristolainen ($5,400,000) - Z. Bogosian ($5,142,857) - J. McCabe ($1,600,000)

Left: M. Scandella ($4,000,000) - B. Guhle ($697,500) - N. Beaulieu ($2,400,000) - V. Antipin ($975,000)

GOALTENDER (2)

R. Lehner ($3,000,000) - L. Ullmark ($750,000)

BUYOUTS

C. Ehrhoff ($0) - V. Leino ($0) - C. Hodgson (-$458,333)

DETAILS

Roster Size: 21

NHL Salary Cap: $77,500,000

Cap Hit: $74,307,024

Cap Space: $2,692,976

Scenario Two: Mid-Level Option

In scenario two, I took a more active approach to free agency. I signed some mid-level free agents with Kane. I brought in Andrew Cogliano and Thomas Vanek. I gave Cogliano four years and Vanek two years. I also brought back Benoit Pouliot for more secondary scoring, and speed on a two-year deal. In this scenario, I dumped off the contract of Moulson, to save cap space. With one year left, it is possible you can find a taker for Moulson. I ended up with close to two million in space after these moves with the 77.5 million cap.

I know many may be opposed to even bringing in mid-tier free agents, but the reason why I am doing this is so I do not have to rush too many AHL players to the NHL roster, while hopefully improving the NHL roster. I want this to be more of a gradual integration process and not a process where the entire AHL team is up next year. It also doesn’t have to be Cogliano or Vanek in particular. If you have any secondary options you like, I'd love to hear them.

The long-term outlook for the cap here is also promising with Pominville and Bogosian both still on the books, but with one, and two years remaining on their deals. Ryan O’Reilly could also be a very movable piece if the Sabres felt they needed additional cap wiggle room down the road. Maybe you decide to call Carolina and dangle Ryan O’Reilly for a player like Justin Faulk, who is also a couple million cheaper. If Sam Reinhart, Casey Mittelstadt, or both, secured center roles in the top nine, maybe that becomes an option.

FORWARDS (12)

Right wing: S. Reinhart ($3,000,000) - K. Okposo ($6,000,000) - J. Pominville ($5,600,000) - J. Bailey ($925,000)

Centre: J. Eichel ($10,000,000) - R. O'Reilly ($7,500,000) - A. Cogliano ($3,600,000) - J. Larsson ($1,475,000)

Left wing: E. Kane ($7,000,000) - T. Vanek ($2,750,000) - B. Pouliot ($2,150,000) - E. Rodrigues ($650,000)

DEFENSE (7)

Right: R. Ristolainen ($5,400,000) - Z. Bogosian ($5,142,857) - J. McCabe ($1,600,000)

Left: M. Scandella ($4,000,000) - N. Beaulieu ($2,400,000) - B. Guhle ($697,500) - V. Antipin ($1,500,000)

GOALTENDER (2)

R. Lehner ($3,00,000) - L. Ullmark ($750,000)

BUYOUTS

C. Ehrhoff ($0) - V. Leino ($0) - C. Hodgson (-$458,333)

DETAILS

Roster Size: 21

NHL Salary Cap: $77,000,000

Cap Hit: $74,182,024

Cap Space: $2,317,97

Scenario Three: Impatience

In scenario three, I took the most aggressive approach. I extended Kane, and I also made the big free agent signing in John Carlson. However, in order to fit Carlson under the cap with Kane, I had to move the contract of Zach Bogosian. Carlson had a seven million cap hit in this scenario, as opposed to Bogosian’s 5.1 million cap hit.

I only ended up saving 1.3 million in that move since I moved Bogosian for a speedy third line player, Cody Eakin. I choose Eakin because he has the same term left, and Vegas can afford Bogosian. They also could use a right-handed defenseman, and it might be a fit for the short term. Just to be clear, that’s not a rumor, just an idea. Buffalo may have to add a little more to balance out the deal. I also buried Moulson’s final year in the minors to save some cap space, but I could also try to move his deal off the roster if I need to. I also didn’t sign more mid-tier guys like Vanek or Pouliot here which is where a lot of the Carlson cash comes from.

I am over the salary cap by my settings in this scenario, but there could also be a possibility that the cap is even higher than 77.5 million (3% increase). I also signed Andrew Cogliano here as well for speed and versatility. If the cap was not higher than 77.5 million, and I am indeed over the cap with these moves, I do have options to get under if the cap was indeed set at 77.5. I could find a taker for Moulson’s contract giving up an asset, or I just don’t sign Cogliano. I could also move Nathan Beaulieu. You would be less comfortable against the cap in the short term, but relief does come when Moulson and Pominville deals come off the books.

A concern with both scenario two, and three may be signing other young players down the road such as Guhle, Mittelstadt, as well as the potential of a Reinhart raise after his bridge deal. Ristolainen may also get a raise when his deal is up. The options to be moved for cap space down the road could be Scandella and O’Reilly. If we really needed the room, I think that could be an option. Some of the veterans I acquired in both scenarios such as Cogliano, Vanek, Eakin, Pouliot, are also on shorter-term deals of four years or less. Cogliano had the longest term at four years, Eakin had two years remaining. Vanek and Pouliot were both signed for two-year deals when I did the scenarios. None of those guys was making huge money

FORWARDS (12)

Right wing: J. Pominville ($5,600,000) - S. Reinhart ($2,850,000) - K. Okposo ($6,000,000) - N. Baptiste ($875,000)

Centre: J. Eichel ($10,000,000) - R. O'Reilly ($7,500,000) - C. Eakin ($3,850,000) - J. Larsson ($1,475,000)

Left wing: E. Kane ($7,000,000) - A. Cogliano ($3,750,000) - Z. Girgensons ($1,600,000) - E. Rodrigues ($650,000)

DEFENSE (7)

Right: R. Ristolainen ($5,400,000) - J. Carlson ($7,000,000) - V. Antipin ($975,000)

Left: M. Scandella ($4,000,000) - B. Guhle ($697,500) - N. Beaulieu ($2,400,000) - J. McCabe ($1,600,000)

GOALTENDER (2)

R. Lehner ($3,000,000) - L. Ullmark ($750,000)

AHL BURIED

M. Moulson ($3,975,000)

BUYOUTS

C. Ehrhoff ($0) - V. Leino ($0) - C. Hodgson (-$458,333)

DETAILS

Roster Size: 21

NHL Salary Cap: $77,500,000

Cap Hit: $79,989,167

Cap Space: -$2,989,167

Conclusion

Many teams that Kane could be traded to will certainly not have the cap space to be able to extend Evander Kane beyond next season. There are two sides to the keep or trade Evander Kane argument, and I think trading him and attempting to reacquire him in the offseason is the safest move to make. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen a lot with big name free agents. The Sabres have plenty of options with Evander Kane, and an extension is certainly one of them.

Given the history of the Penguins, they historically have not signed a lot of free agents to big deals, although Paul Martin got a nice contract from the Penguins back in 2010. I am not expecting a John Carlson scenario, but it also would not surprise me either if he is identified as the right guy to bring in (I personally don't think so). At best, I could see them pursuing a mid-tier free agent or two if the right player came along combined with growing from within.

Many hoped the Sabres would pursue Nick Bonino last summer, but he ended up in Nashville. Many may be hesitant to pay Kane a lot of money, and tie up more than 35 million plus in Jack Eichel, O’Reilly, Okposo, Kane, and Rasmus Ristolainen. It could be worse. That’s generally how the Penguins were structured when Botterill left with 30+ million tied up in Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Phil Kessel, and Justin Schultz. They were also paying Marc Andre-Fleury north of five million until Vegas took him off their books in the expansion draft.

That scenario is not bad at all, especially when you look at the Blackhawks who have 34 million tied up in Patrick Kane, Johnathan Toews, Brent Seabrook, and Corey Crawford. By the way, Brandon Saad, and Duncan Keith both combine for an additional eleven million, and Seabrook is signed for another seven years to what could be one of the worst deals in the league.

Some may also be concerned about Kane’s off the ice issues, and injury history. Kane’s injury history is very comparable to Okposo’s, and that didn’t stop Okposo from getting paid. When healthy, there is no question many would prefer Kane in the lineup over Okposo. You never have to question Kane’s on the ice work ethic, and how long have we needed a player like Kane on the Sabres? A power forward who can score goals, fights, is tough, works hard on the ice, plays in any situation, and is a great possession player? You certainly can understand why many Sabres fans want to keep him around long term.

Any free agents that are signed, whether if it’s a big splash like Carlson, John Tavares, or bringing back Evander Kane, the most important thing to determine is if it’s the right guy. Matt Moulson signing back in 2014, was not the right guy to sign. Kyle Okposo may be a deal some people regret. The Los Angeles Kings probably regret signing Dustin Brown, and Marian Gaborik to the contracts they received. Although Brown is having the best year he’s had in five years, Gaborik is rarely healthy. They did get a couple Stanley Cups out of it, which helps ease some of the pain.

Is Kane the right player for the Sabres to re-sign to a long-term deal?