Can the Blue Jackets justify their big spending?

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Much of the narrative surrounding the Columbus Blue Jackets revolves around what this team can do with even a reasonably clean bill of health. It overshadows a key question, though: can they live up to the hype?

The Columbus Dispatch’s Michael Arace shines a light on this situation, as the market isn’t accustomed to the Blue Jackets coming into a season with such aspirations.

So, Jackets fans ought to doff their cap to majority owner John P. McConnell. Whatever else one might say about the man, he has been willing to spend on talent. That is all one can ask of an owner. The rest is on management and on the players.

The first and last time the Jackets were a “cap team” was in 2011-12, after the big-ticket acquisitions of Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski. That team was a chic midsummer pick, too. Carter was a dog and begged out of town, but not before he poisoned the locker room. Then, Rick Nash asked for a trade for the (cough, cough) betterment of the franchise. That season was a disaster.

Interesting stuff, and it really does spotlight something many haven’t considered: the stakes are pretty high for this edition of the Blue Jackets.

Married to some pricey players

The Blue Jackets are under pressure to show that this roster will be competitive both in 2015-16 and in the future, as a ton of their contracts are hefty and long-term.

Brandon Saad ($6 million), Brandon Dubinsky ($5.8M), Nick Foligno ($5.5M), David Clarkson ($5.25M) and Scott Hartnell ($4.75M) all boast contracts that run through 2018-19 or later. Sergei Bobrovsky ranks as one of the NHL’s most expensive goalies with his $7.425 million cap hit. Ryan Johansen’s a huge steal right now at a $4 million mark, but a big upgrade is looming as his deal expires after the 2016-17 campaign.

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Long story short, the picture is pretty clear. The injury angle screams “plenty of room to improve,” yet the Blue Jackets aren’t exactly in a place where they have nothing to lose.

In fact, the franchise might not be able to afford another disappointing season, lucky or not.

Stepan seeks $7.25M in arbitration, Rangers counter at $5.2M

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Restricted free agent Derek Stepan might consume all of the New York Rangers’ remaining cap space.

Ahead of Monday’s arbitration hearing, the 25-year-old forward put in a request for a $7.25 million contract while the Rangers are countering at $5.2 million, per Elliotte Friedman.

While that might sound like a big gap, it’s worth remembering that both have likely chosen their positions strategically, leaving potential room for a compromise. We saw an example of that recently when Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby filed an $8 million request versus Washington’s position at $5.1 million. They ended up agreeing to a five-year, $30.5 million deal. In other words, he’ll come with a $6.1 million annual cap hit.

The Rangers have reportedly already shown a willingness to go above their arbitrator filed price on a long-term deal as they are interested in a six-year contract worth $6.5-6.75 million annually, according to the New York Post. Stepan has countered at $7.25-7.5 million annually for at least seven years.

At the same time, that gap does have major significance to the New York Rangers as they currently have roughly $6.9 million in cap space, per General Fanager. So if the two sides settle close to Stepan’s demands then the Rangers will have essentially no wiggle room going into the season and might even need to make another move to get in a more comfortable cap position.

Stepan had 16 goals and 55 points in 68 contests in 2014-15. He’s never recorded more than 57 points in a single season, although he did have 18 goals and 26 assists in the 48-game 2013 campaign.

Ah, arbitration: Holtby reportedly asking for $8 million, Caps countering at $5.1 million

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Braden Holtby is proposing an $8 million salary.

The Washington Capitals are suggesting $5.1 million.

That’s according to CBC Sports reporter Tim Wharnsby, as the the two sides are scheduled to go to arbitration on Thursday.

Now, obviously, Holtby doesn’t really expect to get $8 million, just the same as the Caps don’t expect to get the 25-year-old goalie for a bargain $5.1 million. That’s just how arbitration works. Each side makes the strongest case it can.

The NHL’s highest cap hit for a goalie belongs to Henrik Lundqvist, at $8.5 million. And hey, the Holtby camp could argue* that Holtby actually has the same career save percentage as Lundqvist (.921).

Of course, the Caps could point to Cory Schneider having a .925 career save percentage, and his cap hit is only $6 million.

According to the Washington Post’s Alex Prewitt, in regular negotiations, the Caps were offering around $5.5 million while Holtby was asking for $6.5 million.

*As noted in the comments, only comparables that cover RFA years can be used in arbitration. But the point stands: Holtby has very good career numbers. If not Lundqvist, he could argue he deserves what Sergei Bobrovsky, 26, will make in Columbus next season.

Now-retired St. Louis says teams were interested: ‘Do I think I can still play? Yeah’

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It was just two days into free agency when Martin St. Louis announced his retirement from professional hockey — and it turns out there were some suitors for his services during that 48-hour window.

“I knew there were teams interested,” St. Louis said on Monday, while meeting the media to formally call it a career. “I can sit here and be proud that my last year I scored 21 goals and the year before I scored 30, so do I think I can still play? Yeah.

“But it’s time to move on and do something else.”

It’s unclear which teams were interested in the 40-year-old Rangers winger, but it’s easy to see why some would be. Despite a “down” campaign offensively, St. Louis still scored more goals than Daniel Sedin, Ryan Kesler, Patrick Marleau and Bobby Ryan; it’s also possible a team would’ve looked to him as a mentor for some of its younger prospects, especially given St. Louis’ renowned physical fitness (I mean come on, look at those trunks.)

Geography, though, probably limited potential suitors, as part of St. Louis’ earlier move from Tampa Bay to New York was so he could be closer to his family. In fact, spending more time with his wife and children was something he referenced in explaining his decision to walk away from the game.

“My whole family has been so supportive of me and it’s been all about me a lot,” St. Louis said. “Now it’s time for it to be about someone other than me. My wife will be happy to have another full-time parent alongside her.

“The focus is on my kids, and I am excited about that.”

Related: Curtains on Broadway: Martin St. Louis calls it a career

Lack of cap room has made for ‘really difficult’ summer for some free agents

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There are always going to be solid unrestricted free agents that have trouble finding a contract that lives up to expectations, but even in that context this year feels different, according to one longtime agent.

“It’s tough,” the agent told the Columbus Dispatch. “There are plenty of teams interested in adding a player, but they don’t have (salary cap) room. It’s just not there.

“So either they’re trying to make moves to accomodate that, or they’re waiting for the market to adjust. There’s plenty of time. It’s the middle of July. But it’s been really difficult for a lot of guys this summer.”

Thirteen teams have less than $5 million in remaining cap space, according to General Fanager. That number doesn’t include the New York Rangers, which still needs to re-sign RFA Derek Stepan, or the Los Angeles Kings, which might be in limbo as they wait to see how the contract situations with Slava Voynov and Mike Richards play out. So it’s not hard to argue that half the league has little to no cap space remaining. Of course, that doesn’t even start to factor in teams that are expected to stay significantly below the ceiling due to their own internal budgets, rebuilding strategy, or both.

Meanwhile, there are 22 UFAs remaining that came with a cap hit of at least $3 million last season.

There are of course going to be more noteworthy signings, but for teams that have space and the flexibility to add salary, this is a potentially great opportunity to improve their squad at a reduced price. We also might see more salary dumping trades before the 2015-16 campaign starts.

Related: There are some interesting players left on the UFA market