The Nashville Predators and the salary cap floor

The trade that sent Brett Lebda to the Nashville Predators is an intriguing one for two reasons, and the strategy behind the deal for both teams is one that we may see more often as rich teams attempt to maximize their spending money and lesser teams attempt to maximize the value they get from their players.

From one perspective, it can be seen as the Toronto Maple Leafs trading Brett Lebda, who came off an extremely disappointing season with Toronto, in exchange for taking on some of Nashville’s salary. From another perspective, it’s the Predators dumping salary on the Leafs in exchange for a tangible National Hockey League prospect in Cody Franson, who had a fantastic junior career with the Western Hockey League’s Vancouver Giants.

Franson has seen offensive success at both the WHL and American Hockey League levels, and without getting too much into his play, it’s worth noting that this was a player who played junior in the same city where Leafs assistant General Manager Dave Nonis manned the helm of the NHL Canucks at the same time.

As for Matthew Lombardi, he played just 2 games with the Predators last season after sustaining a concussion. The remainder of his 4-year/$14M contract is in doubt and a number that the Predators can’t afford to spend on a player that may not count against the salary cap. From Nashville’s view, they would want all the money spent on players to be against the cap, oddly enough, to keep their heads above the floor of $48.3M.

The salary cap floor presents an interesting situation for a number of the lower-revenue teams in the league. While teams in baseball have been shown to compete with lower revenues, none of them had a dollar figure that they needed to spend. With the cap floor so high, paying money to an injured player while also finding $3.5M to spend on another player is essentilly doubling a salary, and it’s simply money the Predators may not be able to afford to spend, but Toronto can.

The Predators are below the cap floor to a tune of around $15M, but despite this, they are still looking for the value signings. Matthew Lombardi, Joel Ward and Steve Sullivan have all skipped town, despite potentially still being serviceable NHL players. The Predators ignored the free agency frenzy of July 1st and signed Nicklas Bergfors to a one-year deal for $575K. Compared to Florida’s Dale Tallon, who threw money at every warm body available to help him get over the cap floor, Nashville’s David Poile is taking a more economical approach, and it shouldn’t be long before they make a few trades, potentially with players whose cap hit is higher than the salary.

Two players that immediately come to mind are Scott Hartnell of Philadelphia, or Scott Gomez of Montreal, who is coming off a season playing through some low percentages and whose salary drops considerably lower than his $7.357M cap hit next season.

Gomez may not be the picture of value, but Nashville has the summer to scroll through NHL rosters in an effort to add value without giving up much. They have a wealth of prospects like Franson they could throw into their trades in exchange for cap space.

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  • Quicksilver ballet

    Once the Preds get Shea Weber signed, getting to the floor shouldn’t be much of a challenge. He should gobble up 6.5-7 of the remaining cap space.

    • justDOit

      It is very strange what Poile is doing this off-season. Most fans in Nashville expected a lot more from Poile and the Preds. I can say that salary cap floor is not a problem here, last years payroll was over 52 million dollars and Poile told a local reporter on July 3rd that the payroll would be higer this season. I think a trade will be made before training camp to bring in a top forward.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    The Predators could also be thinking big picture moves as well, maybe they’re competing in the Stamkos sweepstakes as well.

    Would you peg a Stamkos sign and trade to be at about 50/50 right now?

    Joel Ward is a dime a dozen hockey player. It’s much more difficult to find/land a Steven Stamkos than it is a support player.

  • Clyde Frog

    I wonder if they honestly just can’t pay the floor and are desperately hunting for contracts that have a decent differential between cap-hit and money owed.

    It could just be a staring match between the GM’s with players on those contracts and what the Pred’s will pay in picks/prospects.

  • Mantastic

    Oh man, Weber for Stamkos blockbuster anyone?
    But seriously, Tampa has to sign Stamkos, he’s the 2nd best player in the league for pete’s sake, give him the farm.

    Losing Franson for nothing was a brutal result of the cap floor. TO and their money bags win again.
    Circumventing the cap? Call Gary Bettman.

  • Re: Players in the “tail” years:

    As long as the NHL is in this cap model, I was wondering when some of these deals might go this way. Another example might be Kiprusoff in Calgary. He is a $5.83 cap hit, but salary is $6, $5, $1.5 million. That’s a $17.49 million cap hit for only $12.5 million in actual salary spent. I could see a budget team looking to take that kind of a deal on, especially at the trade deadline or next offseason.

  • raceguy

    I could be mistaken,but wouldn’t insurance pay the bulk of Lombardi’s salary if he is on LTIR?

    3 mil a year for Joel Ward is too much.He is third line at best probably 4th line on Washington.

  • Mantastic

    Lombardi’s salary wasn’t insured.

    He had a concussion history before Nashville. The insurance premium might have been prohibitive, and they decided just to risk it.

    • Dr. Nick

      I don’t think it is that crazy for the Predators to take Stajan. Forgive me for not looking at advanced statistics but between Stajan and Gomez, I would take Stajan. He is younger, taller, had a higher shooting percentage, higher number of hits and Gomez was a -15 on the season. Stajan also had 31 points vs. Gomez’s 38 points while playing fewer minutes in fewer games with lower quality linemates, having less powerplay time.

      Once again, I’m sure there is some advanced statistic that may show I have no idea what I am talking about, but hey Stajan is bad, but Gomez is horrific.

      As for the whole cap hit scenario, both Gomez’s and Stajan’s salary will drop off after this season in terms of cap hit vs. actual salary paid, with Gomez having the bigger drop. But the CBA expires after this year, so what if the rules change in the new CBA regarding the cap floor, all of sudden the Gomez drop off doesn’t mean squat. The Predators should be looking at this year, and Gomez’s salary is $7.5 mill. Stajan’s salary this year is $4.5 mill, which is more than his $3.5 mill cap hit, but the salary is still $3 mill less than Gomez’s. If nothing changes in the new CBA, you still get a deal on Stajan’s salary vs. cap hit.

    • John Chambers

      Is it just me or does Tambellini seem more active signing minor league players to 2-way contracts in early July than most of his counterparts? I mean I’m glad we have a strong minor league scouting program and all but does this mean a) we’re building a strong farm program to underlie the club, or b) we’re not spending as much time to resource the NHL club.

      Maybe ST should spend more time trying to trade Khabibulin to the Winnipeg Jets to help them reach the floor.

      • SurfacetoAirMissile

        I honestly think Tambo is sleeping in the bed he made…. the Khabibulin contract. Hopefully Khabi can play less games this year so Duby has a chance to show them what he can do… in the theme of rebuilding.

        As far as minor league contracts go, If you look at how many UFA’s they have in OKC I can understand why so many signings. I won’t pretend to care too much about OKC other than making sure the up and coming NHLers are developing.

  • SurfacetoAirMissile

    Nice article Cam, however I disagree that Nashville needs to go after such a big fish in Gomez. Nashville still have Weber to sign (6-7 cap hit) and more than a couple roster spots to fill. They can easly hit the floor by filling the rest of their roster with 2-3 million contracts. They still need 3-4 forwards and after Weber they can use another D-man. Nashville isn’t known for throwing their money away in recent years.

  • Greg

    I had the same thought about tail end contracts and looked through capgeek to find what might be targets for teams trying to get to the floor. Truthfully though, there isn’t much out there, as a lot of the tail-end contracts don’t start to ripen for a couple more season’s. Kipper’s, at 5.8 cap hit and $1.5 salary and the ntc lifting on that last year could be a prime target after next-next season, assuming the next CBA doesn’t change this drastically.

    In the meantime, this year, for contracts that end next off season, there’s only a handful. Smyth was the big one, and I’m sure teams would have loved that contract if he was willing to go anywhere else. Otherwise there’s Jason Blake ($4m vs $3m) and hecht ($3.5m vs $3m). Kubina and bertuzzi offer a trivial discount as well. Gomez has way too much term and actual dollars for anyone to consider it yet, especially since I’m sure these teams will push to have this changed before then. Hartnel is an interesting one because there’s only 2 years left and he has a significant pay/cap gap that last year.

    Anyway, if you look at this teams needing to get to the floor, all of them will come within a few million just by signing their own rfa’s, and if they are bidding on the arnott’s and kaberle’s still out there, there isn’t likely to be more than a couple contracts acquired just to get to the floor. I would bet on Hecht and hartnell given buffalo and philly’s cap situations. I could see the Islanders pitching for Blake, but unless selanne comes back that could put Anaheim back under the floor. I don’t expect there will be much, if any other contract “purchases” made this offseason.

    Suffice it to say, fans hoping to dump bad contracts on other teams should probably stop holding their breath. Stajan might become movable next season, but probably isn’t going anywhere this season unless the flames are willing to part with another good draft pick, which I hope they don’t. Bottom line is, bad contracts are toxic assets, and you can’t get out of them without paying for it.

    That’s true outside the hockey world too (flashes back to divorce lawyer’s bill… Calms back down… Pours another drink…)

  • John Chambers

    Yeah I don’t know, Cam. I suppose Nashville could’ve reached the floor in a variety of ways that included signing Weber, and overpaying quality mid-grade FA’s like Ian White or Ryder by 6 or 7 hundred K on a short-term contract. My belief is that is where you find the most value on the UFA market. The fact that they’re so far behind the cap with so few FA’s remaining is puzzling.

    Willis wrote an article a while back about the validity of taking on a bad contract in exchange for picks. Everyone unanimously concluded that it was economically unjustifiable. Brian Burke is a blowhard. He can use this trade to demonstate that he’s filled the Leafs prospect pool, and everyone who believes him is an idiot. It, like a lot of signings on July 1 and 2, reek of desperation.

  • SurfacetoAirMissile

    Is it just me being a homer, or does Horcs contract not looks so bad anymore? After this year it actually looks moveable in todays market. I would have said Horc’s contract was top 3 unmovable contracts the last couple of years….. now, not so much. At 5.5 cap hit I still don’t think he can play good enough to live up to the money but with the Oilers not being a cap team it sure doesn’t sting as much.

    • Reidja

      “Is it just me being a homer, or does Horcs contract not looks so bad anymore?”

      Yes it is and yes it still does.

      To bring Cam’s thesis down to the dude with the contract which Nashville will no longer be paying, I hope this doesn’t mean the end of a career for another good small player derailed by concussions. Sincere best of luck to Matthew Lombardi.

  • a lg dubl dubl

    I gotta give kudos to the preds just for being a competive team on the ice they’d be a really good team givin the assets.

    Did anybody see the development camp today? Just wondering how RNH did.

    • Love Monkey

      RNH looked good. Great hands. They did a passing drill that eventually progressed to backhanded saucers and he was a mile better than everyone. And he sniped a bunch passed Roy.

      Hamilton and Lander really stood out t. As did Teubert and Musil on D.

      Olivier Roy looked terrible (but it’s hard to fairly evaluate goalies in that environment). That said, Tyler Bunz looked great. Very quick.

  • Little Buttcheeks

    Why don’t more people bring up Barry Trotz when the topic of best coach in the NHL comes up? The Predators go through this nonsense every summer then Trotz gets the caveman, Suter, a different goaltender every season and a bunch of journeymen into the playoffs. Boggles the mind.

    • Dr. Nick

      Barry Trotz is an amazing coach who has turned enough crap into diamonds to be able to work kids birthday parties as a magician. Everyone knows he is a great coach and unfortunately he is suffering from a bad case of Runner-Up Syndrome (also known as Buffalo Bills Syndrome) when it comes to the Jack Adams Trophy. I would love to borrow Trotz to see what he could do with our Flames this season. Maybe the Predators will trade Trotz to the Flames for Niklas Hagman…. if only. (sigh)

      No matter what happens with the Predators roster this summer, Trotz will perform his miracles when October rolls around.

  • Up until this past season, Trotz never had the ability to get the Preds past the first round. He does a good job until that point, but just doesn’t seem to have the personnel to seal the deal.

    Many parts of the Preds’ organization are top notch, especially the goaltending staff. Vokoun and Rinne are quality goaltenders who were both drafted and developed by NSH.

    I always liked Lombardi, and certainly hope he can recover from his concussion. Franson seemed like an up-and-coming d-man, definitely no Lidstrom or Weber, but quality still. The Leafs fleeced the Preds – Lebda is god awful.