Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen a lot of variations on a single argument as to why the Senators will absolutely, positively sign Mark Stone and Matt Duchene:
Waivers, one ways, two ways, it doesn’t matter. I am more interested how the #Sens get to the cap floor next season when Duchene, Stone, and possibly Dzingel exit left.— SensInsider (@SensInsider) December 16, 2018
It’s a compelling argument. After all, teams have to hit the cap floor, and after shipping out Erik Karlsson, the Sens may have a harder time doing it. Stone and Duchene will both be commanding big UFA money, and that seems an easy way to do it. Lots of people are worried the Sens will have to let them both go because they can’t afford them, but this argument points out the opposite side: the Sens can’t afford to not have them. However, I hate to tell you this, but hitting the cap floor isn’t all that hard. I figured this out a couple years ago when I tried to assemble a Vegas Golden Knights roster and ended up changing my picks when I found I was ~$10M over the cap floor. So let’s look at this from Ottawa’s perspective.
This year, the salary floor was $58.8M. Last year, it was $55.4M. Let’s assume next year it’s somewhere around $62M, because this seems like a high estimate. Here is the Sens’ current breakdown, thanks to Cap Friendly:
That puts the Sens at $47.1M for next year when you add in Mike Condon’s currently buried salary. The problem is, this setup leaves the Sens with 7 NHL forwards, 6 NHL defencemen, and 2 NHL goalies if Condon is still an NHL goalie. That’s a pretty sparse group. Now let’s imagine the Sens re-sign RFAs Colin White and Nick Paul, and let Cody Ceci walk or trade him or something for argument’s sake. Let’s say Paul comes in at $800k and White comes in at $2.5M (aka a little less than Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s second contract). That puts us at $50.4M for 8 forwards, 6 d-men, and 2 goalies. That’s not enough for an NHL season. Even if you assume Formenton, Brown, Balcers, and Chlapik all get added to the roster, each for less than $1M, that’s still the bare minimum roster coming in at $53.5M. That means Dorion needs to add $8.5M to his roster in total for our high estimate of the salary floor, but also has no room for injuries at all during the season.
First off, Christian Wolanin will probably be in the fold for next year. Depending on how this year goes, I imagine he’ll be something like $1.5M in the NHL. If the Sens retain Cody Ceci at $5M, then that leaves 2 forwards with only $2M left necessary to spend. If the Sens let Ceci walk, then that means $7M for likely 2 forwards. Bring back Ryan Dzingel at $3.5M, sign Carl Hagelin at $3M... there are a lot of options here for the team to pick up a couple UFA wingers and reach the floor. Of course, the team could also bring back one of Stone or Duchene at their expected salaries (~$9M and $8M respectively), and then it wouldn’t even be a concern.
The other option the Sens have is Eugene’s presumed favourite: bringing in an injured player. It’s the Dion Phaneuf for Marian Gaborik strategy — the Kings saved money, but the Sens save money versus what they would have paid, and as long as Gaborik keeps hanging out on injured reserve, the Sens don’t even have to pay his salary. They could try trading for someone else whose salary will be covered by insurance, such as David Clarkson ($5.25M cap hit next season) or Marian Hossa ($5.275M cap hit until 2020-2021). That would be an easy way to hit the floor and still save money.
Hitting the floor isn’t hard in today’s NHL. If the Sens let every UFA and Ceci walk, they’ll need to spend about $8.5M on three or four skaters. That doesn’t strike me as very hard, and definitely doesn’t depend on the Sens re-signing both Stone and Duchene. Not saying the Sens will let them both walk, just that it their contracts won’t be because of hitting the floor. If they do both re-sign, it’ll likely be because the Sens realize they can’t afford to lose their two best players within a year of having lost their best player.