Deficit Spending: Could the Senators afford both Parise and Suter?

This is why I value Zach Parise over Tyler Myers. (Photo by Andy Marlin/Getty Images for the New Jersey Devils)

Silver Seven doesn't have a "pipe dream" section, so consider this analysis to be the fun kind, not the serious kind.

Rumors circulated recently that the salary cap for the 2012-13 season is going to be around $70.3M. This is not a final number, as collective bargaining agreement negotiations still need to take place, but it is the number the NHL has supposedly instructed its teams to operate their assumptions on. Assuming this number is true, the Ottawa Senators will approach the season with about $33M in cap space.

That's a lot of money.

It's enough to sign, say, five different players to six-million-a-year contracts, and still have cash left over to burn, Joker-style. Not that three million dollars leaves room for flexibility should things go poorly, but it's not chump change either. Let's make a few assumptions here:

  • Daniel Alfredsson does not retire.
  • Zach Parise actually hits unrestricted free agency. (As the captain of a Stanley Cup Finals team, I highly doubt he's leaving.)
  • Ryan Suter hits unrestricted free agency.

What does that team look like? Is it even feasible, knowing they have to pay their own players (**cough** Erik Karlsson **cough**) too?

(Read on for a look at a dream team...)

Okay, first things first: Karlsson must be signed. It's been suggested that he (read: his agent) is looking for Mike Green money. Green is coming to the end of a four-year, $21M deal that gave him a cap hit of $5.25M a year. Interestingly enough, Green, like Karlsson, is a restricted free agent this offseason. There's a chance that one organization could wait to see what the other pays their man before making their own contract offer. That would be interesting.

Anyway, I believe $5.25M a year for Karlsson would be a bargain for the Senators, and I think the team would be wise to lock him up for a longer term than four years. Why? He's 22 now, and under the current CBA, he becomes an unrestricted free agent when he reaches the age of 27 or has seven years of NHL service. He's already played three years--he's at the end of his entry-level deal--so he will become a UFA in four more years. The prospect of a 26-year-old Karlsson hitting the market is not appealing to me, so I would like to buy some years of his free agency. Let's say three of them. That's going to cost more than $5.25M. Say.. a million more a year. Final offer: 7 years, $43.75M for a cap hit of $6.25M.

I like Nick Foligno. Three years at $2.5M per year. Done.

On to Zach Parise. He won't be cheap, and any long-term deal is going to put him into his 30's. I value him like Jason Spezza, so let's call it seven years, $49M.

As for Ryan Suter: Shea Weber currently has the largest cap hit of any defenseman at $7.5M. This is probably because he signed a one-year, $7.5M deal. Suter is probably going to look for a contract similiar to Drew Doughty's. Doughty just completed the first year of an 8-year, $56M deal that gives him a cap hit of $7M per year. That's a lot of money. Eight years would make Suter a 35-year-old defenseman with a $7M cap hit at the last year of his deal. That's unpalatable until you consider that Zdeno Chara is a 35-year-old defenseman with a cap hit of $6.9M, and he's a finalist for the Norris Trophy this year. Top players can sustain their play well into their 30's. I'm willing to risk the money on Suter because I believe he is that kind of player. Giving him Doughty money is reasonable to me, so let's do it.

Rounding out my team are Jakob Silfverberg and Mark Borowiecki, who come with cap hits of $900,000 and $610,000, respectively. That roster comes in $9.7M under the cap. Not bad, and here's how it looks.

For those of you too lazy click a link to Capgeek:

Michalek-Spezza-Parise
Silfverberg-Turris-Alfredsson
Foligno-Regin-Greening
Condra-Z.Smith-Neil

Karlsson-Suter
Cowen-Gonchar
Phillips-Borowiecki

Anderson
Bishop

Jesse Winchester and Jim O'Brien become healthy scratches.

Too good to be true, right?

In fact, it is. Team owner Eugene Melnyk has already indicated that Ottawa can no longer afford to be a team that plays at the top limit of the salary cap. My fantasy roster comes in at a total salary of $60.5M. This past season's cap was $64M, which means the team would probably be spending more than they can afford.

But in 2013-14, two significant salaries will probably come off the books: Sergei Gonchar's $5.5M for sure, and Daniel Alfredsson's $4.875M sadly almost certainly. Removing those cap hits and promoting Mika Zibanejad and Patrick Weicioch would give the team a payroll of $53.8M, which is comparable to this past season's payroll of $51.5M. So, it's conceivable that the Senators could choose to risk some financial hardship to load up for one last Cup run for Alfie, should he return, knowing that cap relief would come the very next season.

There are still problems with that scenario: primarily that it puts almost all of the team's money in four players: Spezza, Parise, Suter, and Karlsson. When players like Zibanejad and Silfverberg come off of their entry-level deals, there's not going to be money to give them large raises--not if the team's self-imposed cap number remains in the $50-55M range--and it doesn't even begin to address what the team might do if they want to re-sign players like Milan Michalek.

In the end, it's obvious that the Senators signing the top two available free agents is, at least, mathematically feasible--assuming those players are willing to take deals comparable to other free agents, and assuming they even reach free agency at all. There's too many pieces that have to fall into place for the scenario I've fantasized out here to remain anything more than a fantasy. The only thing we know for sure is that the team will certainly have money to spend come July 1st. There's nothing wrong with dreaming about how it might be spent.

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