Return on Assets is a common metric used to gauge the efficiency of a company. Mathematically, ROA is simply net income divided by total assets. The resulting percentage (Higher is Better) tells you how well the company uses its assets to generate dollars of profit.
In thinking about how the effective use of assets helps an NHL team earn Wins instead of dollars, the math isn’t as straightforward, but the idea is the same. This offseason, the Sabres have a nice stockpile of draft assets. The early returns from the first two drafts by Kevyn Adams and the revamped scouting and analytics departments are very encouraging, and I have high hopes for another great draft class.
But, Cap Space is an asset too. Teams that have it, but use it poorly, are in trouble, perhaps for years (looking at you, San Jose). Teams that don’t have it, want it, and should be willing trade other assets to get it. A number of recent fan and staff posts have hit on this idea, using the phrase, "weaponize cap space." At last, the point of this post! What are some big ideas to do so? I don’t consider acquiring a 7th rounder for taking on an LTIR contract to be "weaponizing." My ideas aim higher by targeting teams desperate for cap space, with active roster players who have to be moved, and getting back other assets that make the Sabres better.
The lighthouse I’m using for my trades occurred on Jun. 22, 2019, when the Toronto Maple Leafs sent the Carolina Hurricanes a 2020 1st round draft pick for taking on Patrick Marleau and the final year of his contract. This freed up $6.25M in cap space for the Leafs. Because Marleau’s original three-year deal was front loaded, the Canes acquired the full $6.25M in cap hit, but only $4.25M in salary obligation for that season, and they immediately bought out the remaining year and made Marleau a UFA. Note: the draft pick the Canes received turned out to be #13 overall, with which they selected Seth Jarvis, who just wrapped up a nifty rookie season with 40 points in 68 games, and 13th place finish in the Calder Trophy voting. I like to imagine Kyle Dubas throwing up into his mouth every time he thinks of that… but I digress.
There’s speculation that the value of first round picks has made trades like this a thing of the past. Accordingly, here are my targets for the "Marleau Sweetener," in which I’m proposing "first round pick value" rather than the pick itself. For comparison, I’m showing Patrick Marleau’s numbers for the season prior to his trade, and the comparables for my two trade targets. You could argue that Marleau’s advanced age helped justify the first round compensation, but the fact is, his production was consistent with my two targets prior to his being unloaded by Toronto:
Patrick Marleau: Cap Hit $6.25M, Age 39, 82 Games, 16 Goals, 37 Points, -6
Patric Hornqvist: Cap Hit $5.3M, Age 35, 65 Games, 11 Goals, 28 Points, -5
James van Riemsdyk: Cap Hit $7.0M, Age 33, 82 Games, 24 Goals, 38 Points, -33
Trade #1 - why Florida? The Panthers are the ultimate Win Now team. They are the LA Rams of the National Hockey League in one respect: "Draft Picks? We don’t need no stinking draft picks!" The Panthers have a single selection in the first two rounds of the next THREE drafts… that’s one pick in total… so they are all in on winning with this core. They need to make this deal because they currently have just $3M in cap space with only 17 players signed. There is allegedly mutual interest in the team bringing back Claude Giroux for another season, and even at a Florida discount, they need much more than $3M… and then still need to fill out the roster. The trade:
Buffalo gets: RW Patric Hornqvist, RD Radko Gudas, RD Mike Benning (signing rights)
Florida gets: 2022 3rd
Since Florida literally does not have a 1st round pick to give, I’m getting my value in the form of the hard hitting Gudas and University of Denver prospect Mike Benning. Gudas brings an instant upgrade to the Sabres’ RD and adds a serious "keep your head on a swivel" vibe to the team. Imagine a pairing of Gudas and Samuelsson… not exactly speedy, but holy crap, they would monopolize the Carubba Collision. If Gudas is effective and the Sabres make a playoff run, fantastic… if not, Gudas is an easy flip at the deadline for a mid round pick. Florida is rock solid at RD with Ekblad, Weegar, and Montour, so Gudas isn’t a painful loss.
Because I don’t see a 32 year old Gudas as being first-round value, I’m demanding undersized but super-talented RD Mike Benning be added to our haul, and sending Florida back a third round pick for nabbing one of their prospects. Benning had 38 points and was +32 in 41 games for Denver, including a goal and assist in the NCAA championship game. He’s just 5’ 9", same as Torey Krug, so this is my "try to get the next Torey Krug" lottery ticket, while adding to our thin RHD prospect pool. Florida may value Benning higher than this, but there’s a price to be paid for acquiring $7M worth of cap space, and this is my price.
I would immediately buy out the remaining year on Hornqvist. According to CapFriendly, that would cost Buffalo $1.76M in both 2022 and 2023. Hornqvist has an 8-team NTC, and the promise of a buyout may be required to get him to waive if Buffalo is on the No Trade list. This would free him up to sign a deal with a contending team… quite possibly going back to Pittsburgh for one more run with Sid and, after they bring them back, Letang and Fleury.
Trade #2 - Why Philly? Simply put, Torts is not a "teardown and rebuild" coaching hire. He’s a kick ass, take names, and get the team back in the playoffs NOW hire. The Flyers have a weirdly constructed roster with Kevin Hayes, Sean Couturier, Ryan Ellis, Joel Farabee, and Risto all signed long term. But the key for Philly is… well… they’re Philly. They do Philly things. The same way the Phillies recruited and overpaid Bryce Harper, the Flyers are eyeing their one and only window to bring in kinda-local-guy Johnny Gaudreau as the new face of the new franchise. They need to clear space for his $10+M contract. The Flyers are currently $5.1M under the 2022-23 cap with 19 players signed. In addition to making room for Gaudreau, they need space to resign RFA Owen Tippett, who came over from Florida (naturally) in the Giroux deal. I’m here to help. The trade:
Buffalo gets: RW James van Riemsdyk, 2022 pick #5
Philadelphia gets: 2022 pick #9
This time, I’m taking the Marleau Sweetener in the form of waiving the first round pick we’d otherwise have to add to pick 9 in order to move up to picks 5. Again, I think this would be a terrible move for Philly, but if they’re going to make a run at Johnny Hockey, they need JVR’s $7M hit totally off the books. The Flyers are reportedly considering trying to find this cap space by trading other guys with value, like Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, and Travis Sanheim. This deal lets them overpay Gaudreau, sign Tippett, and start the season with all those pieces and move them if and when they need to. Plus, they pick up a solid prospect at #9.
My strategy is to move up to #5 to snag either RHD Simon Nemec or RHD David Jiricek to add to our already outstanding young D group. The thought of Dahlin, Power, and Sammy on the left side, and Joker, Nemec/Jiricek, and TBD on the right side… that’s delicious. In the unlikely event that there’s a run on the positional value of RHD in picks 2-4, that would mean either Logan Cooley or Juraj Slafkovsky is there at pick 5… and while that wasn’t the strategy, it would be a nice upgrade from pick 9 as well, and worth the trade up.
In terms of dispositioning JVR, I’m torn. Although his cap hit is $7M, he’s "only" owed $5M in bonus and salary for the upcoming season. According to CapFriendly, the buyout cost would be $4.3M in 2022 and $1.3M in 2023, easily doable. However, I think I’d assume that one of JJP or Quinn will not be NHL ready to start the season, and put JVR on the roster. If he regains his scoring touch, it’d be pretty easy to retain 50% of the cap hit and flip him to a contender at the deadline. Frankly, that’s what the Flyers should do… but they’re Philly. If it doesn’t work out, I’d put him on waivers, ride out the season, and not have the buyout hit in 2023.
I began by talking ROA, and I’m proposing some ways to drive future Return by using that precious asset known as cap space. Another way to view it is, I’m spending Terry’s money. One of my trades is meant to give the Sabres a boost next season, the other in 2023 and beyond. Neither are likely to happen, but... I look forward to your critiques!