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Vegas’ Salary Cap Management A Topic Around The League

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It hadn’t happened in 11 years, and it probably won’t happen for 11 more. The Golden Knights’ decision to only dress 15 skaters on Monday night in a critical game against the Colorado Avalanche was a bit of a shock. General Manager Kelly McCrimmon explained the situation and pointed towards unexpected injuries to several players at the same time. This left the organization without enough cap space to call up a player in time for Monday’s game. However, the explanation didn’t sit well with some in the hockey world.

Immediately after McCrimmon’s last minute Zoom conference, TSN’s Frank Seravalli challenged Vegas’ reasoning.

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Taxi Squad Should Make VGK Salary Cap Crunch Easier To Navigate

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights have a salary cap problem and now that we have a set date for the 2020-21 season to begin there’s an official deadline in which that problem must be solved.

Luckily for Vegas, the new COVID-necessitated roster rules should stand to assist the Golden Knights in navigating the muddy salary cap waters this season.

As it currently stands, according to CapFriendly.com, the Golden Knights projected starting lineup (with backup goalie) comes in over the cap by a little more than $100,000. By rule, all teams must be cap compliant by the day of the first game on the league schedule, this year being January 13th. Thus, something has to give.

Normally, Vegas would be in a bit more trouble than they currently are because solving the cap issue would mean sending a player or players away from the team completely and down to the AHL. Plus, they’d be left without any healthy scratch players, which is never ideal. However, with the invention of the taxi squad, the Golden Knights will be able to have players practice with the NHL team, but not count against the cap.

Due to fear of positive tests forcing players out of games at the last minute, the NHL is allowing each team a taxi squad of four to six players. These players will practice and travel with the team but will only be eligible to play in games in the case of an emergency. Technically, the taxi squad players are not part of a team’s active roster, and instead will be treated financially like they are in the AHL. (They are slated to receive NHL per diem.)

Thus, at any time, Vegas is allowed to keep six players, which must include a third goalie, around the NHL team without them counting against the cap. In the past, the Golden Knights have had to yo-yo players back and forth to properly manage the cap. We’ve seen it with guys like Nic Roy, Brandon Pirri, and Jason Garrison, and the first season Alex Tuch, Shea Theodore, and Vadim Shipachyov were sent down before Opening Night to satisfy the cap, but this year they can do it on paper and keep the players around to practice and even travel with the team to road games.

So, let’s talk about exactly how it works, what the Golden Knights can and can’t do, and then lay out a few options they might take to clear the final $100,000 in cap space prior to their first game on January 13th.

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Prospect Of Five Or Six Year Flat Salary Cap Ups Urgency For Current Golden Knights

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Last year it was Erik Haula, Colin Miller, and Nikita Gusev. This year it was Paul Stastny and Nate Schmidt. Cap casualties. Players the Golden Knights had to give away for basically nothing in order to remain under the cap.

The Golden Knights have been toeing the salary cap line for the past few years and it looks like that dance is going to get even more difficult over the next half-decade.

If the players owe us more money than anybody imagined, the salary cap could well be flat or close to flat for the next five or six years, and players into the future will be repaying what we’re owed. –Gary Bettman at Sports Business Journal panel

It’s essentially a threat from Bettman to NHL players that if they aren’t willing to make some amendments to the agreement put in place a few months ago, the cap isn’t going up for the foreseeable future.

It sounds like a nightmare, but according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, many are already preparing for it.

I think that’s what people are expecting. I think teams have been preparing for that for a while and even the agents are preparing for that. That this cap isn’t going to move anywhere for a while. –Friedman on VGK Insider Show

The Golden Knights certainly do not appear to be one of those teams who have prepared for it. They just signed a 30-year old defenseman to a deal scheduled to pay him $8.8 million per year against the cap until he’s 38. Along with lengthy deals to Mark Stone, William Karlsson, Alex Tuch, Shea Theodore, and Robin Lehner, the Golden Knights currently have nearly $40 million committed to just six players each of the next five seasons.

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The Golden Knights And The Success Of High Cost Teams

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The St. Louis Blues did it, same with the Washington Capitals, so why can’t the Golden Knights do it? I’m not only talking about winning a Stanley Cup, but doing it with one of the highest payrolls in hockey.

2019-20 Highest NHL Payrolls (per CapFriendly.com)
Arizona: $85.1M ($3.59M LTIR)
Toronto: $95.2M ($13.7M LTIR)
Dallas: $82M ($525K LTIR)
St. Louis: $83.2M ($1.75M LTIR)
Vancouver: $83.9M ($2.42M LTIR)
*** 9. Vegas: $81.8M ($668K LTIR)

LTIR= Long-Term Injured Reserved

The Creator is a rare owner driven to win and willing to spend to the limit, and he’d probably spend over it if he were allowed. That’s why the Golden Knights owner is considered a fan’s owner.

We all know about the cap jam Vegas is in and there’s no doubt they’ll fix it by the next time they play. It’s might’ve cost them a lot, but it’s hard to question their elite-level talent and championship-caliber roster. The Golden Knights are not only a highly rated team but they’re also built to win championships.

Cup Winners (Payroll Rank)
2019-20: Tampa Bay (18th)
2018-19: St. Louis (7th)
2017-18: Washington (3rd)
2016-17: Pittsburgh (6th)
2015-16: Pittsburgh (6th)

With the exception of the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the past handful of winners were in the upper quarter of the league’s salary threshold. When the Capitals beat the Golden Knights in 2018, Washington boasted a $75.3M cap hit, while Vegas was #18 on the list with a $68.7M payroll. Clearly, a difference in cost and expensive talent helped result in a five-game Capitals win. Washington’s high-priced talent paid off and could’ve been a motivating factor towards the Golden Knights direction of signing league stars to big contracts.

This year, all ten of the highest cap teams made the postseason, but I think it’s safe to say we can throw out the 24-team bubble playoff format. Going back to 2015-16, teams in the top 10 have no missed the playoffs often.

Highest Payroll Teams To Miss Playoffs
2015-16: Vancouver (2nd), Toronto (9th)

2016-17: Philadelphia (2nd), Arizona (4th), Detroit (7th)

2017-18: Chicago (2nd), Dallas (7th), Detroit (8th), Vancouver (9th), St. Louis (10th)

2018-19: Detroit (1st), Edmonton (4th), Anaheim (8th)

Although it’s happened over the years, it’s a small percentage of teams (13/50 since 2015) that missed the postseason. Also, many of those teams were mismanaged or at the end of their playoff windows.

Assuming the Golden Knights remain within the top ten highest payrolls next season, fans should confidently expect them to clinch a playoff berth. And possibly go on another deep run. Vegas’ window was open before but after this offseason, it’s wide open right now.

Robin Lehner Excited To See What Free Agency Has In Store For Him

(Photo Credit: Jason Pothier, SinBin.vegas)

It’s been Goaltending Month here at SinBin. Earlier this month we examined the offseason decisions the Golden Knights front office will have to make in net. Last week was focused on cap percentage and how much is the right amount to spend on goaltending. So, let’s continue Tendy Month by getting some insight from Vegas’ exceptional backup goaltender as he addressed his future with the Golden Knights.

On Ottawa radio, unrestricted free agent to be Robin Lehner explained his desire to find a permanent address this offseason.

I’m looking for the right set up for me and my family. I got a five year-old and a two-year-old. My five-year-old has been to five different teams. I feel like I deserve to get some stability for me and my family. -Lehner on TSN Ottawa

It’s been a journey for Lehner. At 29 years-old with ten years of NHL service, the goaltender hasn’t found a location to settle down in.

We will see what happens and what makes sense for me and my family. To say I that need X amount of years or dollars, it’s kind of not what it’s been for me. I just try to perform as good as I can and I think I’ve done that throughout my career. I’ve had some other issues obviously but I’ve also taken the steps and been very serious about those steps and I’ve bounced back and I’ve shown that I’m on a really good path which is only getting better and better. -Lehner

The former Senator, Sabre, Islander, and Blackhawk is proud of success on and off the ice and feels he’s earned the opportunity to find a permanent NHL address. Especially, for his wife and kids.

I believe that I’ve proven my statistics for a long time and that I’m a very reliable goaltender… We’ll see what opens up and what makes sense for me and my family. We’re excited to see what happens this offseason. -Lehner

Can the playoffs do anything to help leverage Lehner’s future contract negotiations? Will he need to compete with Marc-Andre Fleury for playing time and excel in the postseason?

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Where Do The Golden Knights Stand Against The Cap Following The Reaves Signing

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It’s still way too early to really start worrying about what the Golden Knights will look like next season, considering there’s still a Cup to be won this season. Plus, the salary cap for the 2020-21 season remains a mystery.

But with plenty of time to go before the Golden Knights hit the ice and a few contracts hitting the books over the past few weeks, we thought it’s a good time to take a look at the Golden Knights salary cap snapshot to give you an idea of what kind of wiggle room they have to operate with whenever the offseason does get underway.

The current salary cap is $81.5 million, a number the Golden Knights flirted with all season. Heading into next year, they currently have 19 players under contract that are likely to be a part of the 23 man roster. Plus, there’s still that pesky $500,000 cap hit that remains from the Tomas Tatar trade.

Here’s the full breakdown (salary numbers provided by CapFriendly.com).

Forwards (11 – $48,413,333)

Mark Stone – $9,500,000
Max Pacioretty – $7,000,000
Paul Stastny – $6,500,000
William Karlsson – $5,900,000
Reilly Smith – $5,000,000
Jonathan Marchessault – $5,000,000
Alex Tuch – $4,750,000
Ryan Reaves – $1,750,000
William Carrier – $1,400,000
Cody Glass – $863,333
Nicolas Roy – $750,000

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Salary Snapshot

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Whether this season resumes or not, the Golden Knights have some interesting decisions to make whenever the calendar allows for them to be made.

Everything starts with the salary cap, which is a massive question mark at this point. Due to the uncertainty with “hockey-related revenues” for this year, it’s certainly not going up by much, if at all.

For the purpose of this article, let’s act as if the cap will remain flat, meaning it will stay at $81.5 million.

Starting with forwards, here’s where the Golden Knights stand heading into next year.

Signed (9 forwards)

Mark Stone – $9.5M (11.7%)
Max Pacioretty – $7M (8.6%)
Paul Stastny – $6.5M (8.0%)
William Karlsson – $5.9M (7.2%)
Reilly Smith – $5M (6.1%)
Jonathan Marchessault – $5M (6.1%)
Alex Tuch – $4.75M (5.8%)
William Carrier – $1.4M (1.7%)
Cody Glass – $863K (1.1%)
TOTAL – $45.913 (56.3%)

RFA (3 forwards)

Chandler Stephenson – $1.05M*
Nick Cousins – $1M*
Nic Roy – $735K
Total – $2.785M (3.4%)

*Stephenson and Cousins are arbitration-eligible so their numbers could increase by a bit. It won’t be drastic in either case.*

Signed (5 defensemen)

Nate Schmidt – $5.95M (7.3%)
Shea Theodore – $5.2M (6.4%)
Alec Martinez – $4M (4.9%)
Brayden McNabb – $2.5M (3.1%)
Nick Holden – $1.7M (2.1%)
TOTAL – $19.35 (23.7%)

RFA (1 defesneman)

Zach Whitecloud – $875K (1.1%)
TOTAL – $875K (1.1%)

Signed (1 goalie)

Marc-Andre Fleury – $7M (8.6%)
TOTAL – – $7M (8.6%)

TOTAL FORWARDS (12) – $48.698 (59.8%)
TOTAL DEFENSEMEN (6) – $20.225M (24.8%)
TOTAL GOALIES – $7M (1) (8.6%)
TOTAL RETAINED – $500K (0.6%) *Tatar*

TEAM TOTAL (19) – $76.423 (93.8%)

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Exactly When The Golden Knights Have To Clear Salary Cap Space

Disclaimer: There are a few gaps of missing information in this article that could change the overall numbers. We are working to fill as many of those gaps as possible and will update this article with them if/when we learn more. Nonetheless, we stand by the overall premise of the article and do not believe it will change radically with any of the additional information we are seeking.

It’s no secret, the Golden Knights are tight against the salary cap. In order to solve this issue, they are going to have to find a way to shed some salary. Of course, there are multiple ways to do this including trading players, waivers, buyouts, injuries, suspension, and likely more that we aren’t even aware of.

But, no matter which way you break it down, it’s a fact that something is going to have to happen to make sure the Golden Knights are cap compliant when all is said and done heading into the 2019-20 season.

Trying to guess exactly will happen will probably yield results about as accurate as when dogs pick winners by going for the treat on the left or the right. So let’s leave that for another day (plus, if you’ve listened to our podcasts or any of the many radio spots Jason and I have done over the last two months, you’ve probably got an idea of what we think is going to happen.).

Instead, in this article, I’m going to try to fill in another one of the 5 W’s. Instead of “who,” “what,” “where,” or “why,” we shall try to solve the “when” in the salary cap equation.

The league calendar resets on July 1st. Thus, until then, every player on the Golden Knights is still considered to be paid under their 2018-19 salary as it pertains to the salary cap. So, between now and June 30th, the Golden Knights will not be forced to do anything as they are well below the salary cap limit.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

However, on July 1st, the 2019-20 calendar begins, and Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, Marc-Andre Fleury, Nate Schmidt, and Alex Tuch’s new contracts will all kick in. That’s when the cap number starts to get tight. But exactly how tight is important in relation to when the Golden Knights must make something happen.

By rule, the CBA states that no team may cross the “Upper Limit” (a fancy word for the salary cap) at any time using their “Average Club Salary” (fancy way to say the total amount of money committed to players for the league year).

That “upper limit” number for the Golden Knights during the offseason is approximately $95.6 million. (For a complete breakdown of how I came to that number, see the end of the article.)

The CBA also states that there are eight categories of salary that are all added together to calculate a team’s “Average Club Salary”. Of the eight, the Golden Knights have a sum greater than $0 in four categories.

On July 1st, 2019, the sum of those four categories for Vegas is $90,878,214. (To see the exact breakdown of this sum, including the eight categories, see the end of the article.)

Thus, by rule, the Golden Knights are NOT required to move any player on July 1st in order to become cap compliant. ($95,600,000 – $90,878,214 = $4,721,786)

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Salary Cap Implications For The Golden Knights In The Aftermath Of The Mark Stone Trade

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

As the dust settles on the Mark Stone trade, it’s time to start looking at the future of the Vegas Golden Knights as it relates to the salary cap.

The salary cap was set at $79,500,000 this season. The normal increase in salary cap from year to year is about 2-5%. Last season the cap increased by $4.5M. It should be expected that the cap increase from this season to next will be in the neighborhood of $4M to $7M.

Thus, we can expect the salary cap to be somewhere around $85,000,000.

According to CapFriendly.com, the best salary cap site on the Internet, the Golden Knights projected cap hit for 2019-20 is $72,875,000 without Stone’s imminent $9.5M AAV extension. So, just with Stone, the Golden Knights are looking at a projected cap hit of just under $82,375,000.

The Golden Knights still have David Clarkson on the roster. His contract can be placed on long-term injured reserve (LTIR) next season. There are some oddities to that rule, but for simplification sake, Vegas can get around $5.25M in salary cap relief by making this move.

Therefore, if nothing changes, Vegas should have around $7,875,000 left to work with.

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Future Cap Better Than Present Team

Three of the four major professional sports in North America have a salary cap. The reason the salary cap is used in leagues like the NHL is to keep parity as high as possible. It makes it challenging to keep all of the best players while helping to distribute them to the weaker teams in the process.

Hopefully guys will keep taking fair prices like Marchessault did before testing free agency. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

This may be hard to believe, but even with the superb talent the Golden Knights have put on the ice in 2017-18, with the three 1st round picks, and with the contract extensions for Jonathan Marchessault, Jon Merrill, and Deryk Engelland, George McPhee’s biggest asset from the Expansion Draft is still the salary cap.

When all is said and done with this season, the Golden Knights will end the season among the bottom 10 teams in money spent against the cap. This includes the contracts of David Clarkson, Mikhail Grabovski, and Clayton Stoner, none of which will play a game for the Golden Knights. It also includes the retained salary of Alexei Emelin and Derick Brassard. Things can change slightly down the stretch, but as it stands, the Golden Knights will be the cheapest team to make the playoffs.

Projected Salary Cap Usage In 2017-18 ($75m Salary Cap)
Vegas Golden Knights – $68,950,653
Buffalo Sabres – $68,698,464
Florida Panthers – $68,068,090
Montreal Canadiens – $67,761,117
New Jersey Devils – $67,421,712
Colorado Avalanche – $66,931,457
Edmonton Oilers – $66,249,688
Carolina Hurricanes – $59,183,386
Arizona Coyotes – $58,768,559
*All other teams are higher

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