David Steckel's Contract Impact and Next Season's Cap Outlook

Let's rewind about five months to when the season just began. The New Jersey Devils were heading into the regular season looking like one of the cream of the crop teams in the NHL. Though no one had an idea what the following months would bring them, October was filled with every possible problem a team could have. Yet there was just one major problem lurking over this team going into the season: cap problems. Over the cap by around $3 million, the Devils luckily (sort of?) got out of a jam when a number of players were hurt long term and were placed on injured reserve, even though it didn't seem like a good idea. They were even forced to play a two games with a shortened lineup.

Now that we all have a bad taste in our mouths (sorry about that), let's hit the "live" button. There are no more cap problems, the team is as healthy as it has been all season (that's not saying much), and they are turning things around after an outstanding month of hockey. On top of that, the Devils were active at the trade deadline by trading Jason Arnott to the Washington Capitals for David Steckel and a 2012 second round draft pick. Arnott will be a unrestricted free agent come July 1st, and odds were against him returning next year to the Devils thus adding no problem to next season's cap outlook. But the newly acquired David Steckel carries a multi-year contract and this will impact the cap outlook. 

So how does next season's cap look like? How does Steckel's added contract impact it? Are the Devils looking at a similar off-season as last year in terms of cap problems? Call this an initial early pre-primer to next season's cap hit payroll.

First off, I'm getting all the cap related figures from CapGeek. It's a pretty remarkable site for any and all things player contracts and team caps. They have calculators for buyouts, waivers, and next year's cap outlook. I'll be takingsome other information from the Devils team page. Most of the linked names go to their CapGeek contract page.

Here's the list of forwards under contract for next season on a one-way contract:

Forward    2011-2012 Cap Hit
Ilya Kovalchuk
$6,666,667
Patrik Elias
$6,000,000
Brian Rolston $5,062,500
Travis Zajac $3,887,500
Dainius Zubrus $3,400,000
David Clarkson $2,666,667
David Steckel $1,100,000
Rod Pelley $550,000
Total $29,333,334

 

These eight players, perhaps save Rod Pelley though he has played in all 62 games this season, are stoned in for next season. The top three cap hits - Kovalchuk, Elias, and Rolston all have no trade clauses (Elias has a no movement clause). Rolston has the dreaded 35+ year old contract that pretty much means his cap hit stays no matter what (buyout, thrown to minors, retires). Most of these players will be Devils for a long period of time (baring a trade of course). Only Brian Rolston (contract page here) and Pelley (contract page) will be in contract years next season.

As you can see, Steckel's contract isn't that much compared to other veteran forwards, yet $1.1 million (for three seasons including this one) is still a good amount to put the team that may put the Devils in dire straits cap wise. It does take away a roster spot in the bottom six, leaving four to six spots left open (for 12 to 14 players) at forward.

Here's the defensemen on one-way contracts for next season:

Defensemen    2011-2012 Cap Hit
Anton Volchenkov $4,250,000
Henrik Tallinder $3,375,000
Colin White $3,000,000
Bryce Salvador $2,900,000
Total $13,525,000

 

The core defensemen are certainly expensive. Both Volchenkov's and White's contracts have no trade clauses. Salvador has been out all season, and will be out the rest of the season due to a concussion. Lamoriello stated he should be ready for next season baring any setback of course. Salvador, 35, and White, 33 will be unrestricted free agents after next season.

This leaves only two more players (and up to three) to fill out the rest of the blue line. There were a ton of injuries this season which meant 12 different defenders played at least one game this season, so there are many options to consider.

The total between the eight forwards and four defensemen is $42,858,334, a very hefty sum. Add along Martin Brodeur's (contract page) $5.2 million makes that figure $48,058,334 for 13 players. 

 

Let's breakdown where the maximum of 10 spots open will come from (1 goalie, 3 defenders, 6 forwards).

Here is the list of players under their entry level contracts (which are two-way contracts) that have played at least a game for the New Jersey Devils this season (except for one):

Player 2011-2012 Cap Hit
Jacob Josefson - C
$900,000
Mattias Tedenby - W
$875,000
Nick Palmieri - RW
$801,667
Mark Fayne - D
$542,500


Alexander Urbom - D
$870,000
Adam Henrique - C
$845,833

 

Tedenby, Palmieri, and Fayne have certainly played up to a level this season that may have solidified a spot for them on next years roster. They will still need to develop further, finish the season strong, and have a well enough camp next off-season, but marking them in now is a safe bet.

Josefson has played just eight games this season, yet he has been up from the AHL for a couple weeks now taking in all Lemaire and the coaching staff has to offer. Lemaire moved him to center yesterday and may give him a shot for tonight's game. If he does play, that should be his last in New Jersey so his contract can slide; John elaborates why the Devils should do this with Josefson along with Urbom.

This only leaves first year professional Adam Henrique. Playing in the AHL, Henrique has fit in very well, and Tom has much more on the Prospect Profile he did in mid-February. In Tom's most recent prospect statistical update, he noted Adam leads the Albany Devils in scoring and is sixth in rookie scoring in the entire AHL. We may see him a lot next season.

In terms of Steckel's presence, he does occupy a spot at center for the bottom two lines. This actually takes away a spot from Josefson and/or Henrique. Yet, both aren't the best option for a physical, checking line center. They can battle it out for the 3rd line center role and one could possibly move to winger, which both have played at some point this season.

The next list is the list of all the unrestricted free agents:

Player    2010-2011 Cap Hit
Johan Hedberg - G $1,500,000
Andy Greene - D $737,500
Adam Mair - F $515,000
Brad Mills - C $505,000
Jay Leach - D $500,000
Chad Wiseman - LW $500,000
Rob Davison - D $500,000
Mike McKenna - G $500,000

 

There are only three full time NHLers here. Johan Hedberg has been a great free agent pick up worth the cost. Adam Mair is a depth forward who has worked hard when given the chance the play. Yet for next season, Hedberg at this price will be too much and with the emergence of the youth and Steckel coming in, Mair is on the outside looking in.

Andy Greene is the guy here. Tom figured out his worth when doing Greene's trade deadline question (anywhere around $2.5 to $3.5 million per year). He's the Devils biggest unrestricted free agent player this off-season, and take extra emphasis on unrestricted.

Steckel's contract may indirectly decide if and how much Greene is offered this summer. If Greene is expecting somewhere in the higher range that Tom noted or even more, Steckel's $1.1 million hinders that dramatically. The Devils may have been better off going in another direction, getting more draft picks, and signing someone like Mair on the cheap for next season. This is all under the assumption that the Devils even want Greene back next year (by not trading him, it seems they know what they want)

Here's the list of all the restricted free agents:

Player    2010-2011 Cap Hit
Zach Parise - LW $3,125,000
Vladimir Zharkov - W $850,000
Alex Vasyunov - LW $850,000
Matt Corrente - D $821,667
Anssi Salmela - D $612,500
Tyler Eckford - D $550,000
Jeff Frazee - G $541,667
Nate Perkovich - RW $515,000
Matt Taormina - D $510,000
Mark Fraser - D $500,000
Tim Sestito - C $500,000
Olivier Magnan - D $500,000
Steven Zalewski - C $500,000

 

As far as forwards  everyone goes, Zach Parise is the number one priority this offseason (who knew right?..well everyone did). The winger who's been out over 50 games due to a knee injury may return this season depending on what the doctors say this week. Lou and the Devils locking him up long term would be ideal. His cost - a lot. People use Kovalchuk's average ($6.67m) as a good starting point, but his worth and contract details are for a post at another time.

Vladimir Zharkov is also deserving of a new contract. The two-way forward has proven to be a steady bottom six forward with some use on the penalty kill. Because his current cap hit contains any bonuses he may receive (we don't know what the bonus(es) is/are) his new cap hit may actually may be less than it is now. His contract reveals that he is guaranteed $610k with $240k possible in bonuses. For example, he may sign a new one-way contract with a $750k per year hit, all guaranteed. The same goes for Alex Vasyunov and Matt Corrente who also receive bonuses. 

As for defensemen - Anssi Salmela, Matt Taormina, and Mark Fraser may be battling it out for any or all remaining spots on the roster. Taromina has been out with a nagging ankle injury that required surgery. The offensive minded defender showed much promise though when playing in the NHL. Anssi Salmela has been logging big minutes in recent games being paired with Greene and Mark Fraser has been the 7th defenseman for a while, and his showing when Volchenkov was suspended was not a very good one. 

 

Again, the Devils have exactly $48,058,334 for 13 players.

For the remaining 10, I would add in Mark Fayne ($542,500), Mattias Tedenby ($875,000), Nick Palmieri($801,667), and Jacob Josefson ($900,000). I'm taking Josefson over Henrique because Josefson has a slightly higher cap hit. Also note, the Devils have approximately $1,000,000 in wasted cap space due to the buyouts of Jay Pandolfo and Andrew Peters.

This makes the total $52,177,501 and the need for one goalie, up to two defenders, and up to three forwards. The must signing of Zach Parise, and the resigning negotiations of Andy Greene along with who is making it (and their worth) out of notables like Vladimir Zharkov, Matt Taormina, Anssi Salmela and Mark Fraser are really going to squeeze things.

In terms of Steckel's contract, the Devils now have a long term solution to a checking line centerman. Will he be worth his contract? Who knows, he has yet to even play game. But signs to point to him fitting into the Devils long term system and contributing the way he should.

The salary cap upper limit this season is $59.4 million, yet that figure may and should go up. In December, it was noted the cap may go up anywhere around $2 to even $3 million. Some things that do help the rising cap are the new $400 million beer deal the NHL just signed and the new television deal that will be signed with someone. More revenue for the league and the owners means they may be more comfortable with an increase upper (and lower) limit. That would give the Devils over $9 to 10 million in cap space, which would still put them up there, yet not as severe.

It's only March, hence the initial early pre-primer..yeah, you got it. The Devils could make a trade over the off-season, buyout a player, or waive someone. There's still some time to fix this on the horizon problem (7 months). Free agency shouldn't be as noisy as last year for the Devils, possibly getting a back up goalie or a league minimum depth player. Still, the outlook now for next year may change.

Overall, if they over pay some players like Greene or even Zharkov, over shop/pay in free agency for a back-up goalie, another defenseman, or depth forward and the upper limit doesn't go up as drastic as some say (say only $1 million), then the Devils will be in major cap trouble once again. However, I don't think the Devils cap will be over as drastic as the $3 million range they were coming into this season (unless they really go out of their way and try to match that).

So what do you think? Are you concerned about the cap outlook for next year? How severely has Steckel's contract hampered the cap outlook in your opinion? The Devils don't have much work to do over the off season in terms of adding major parts (nor do they have the room). What do you want to see? Let us know in the comments, and thanks for reading.

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