Yep, we spent all off season talking about a billionaire’s cash flow, and now hockey is finally here and we have something fun to talk about and I’ve decided to write a post about…a billionaire’s cash flow. Give me a break, I’m 63 years old. Nothing excites me like sound fiscal policy.
We talked about this a little bit on our latest podcast, which I know you’ve all listened to already so when you listen to it again now it will be like travelling back in time and watching yourself enjoy it, sort of like how everyone who watches the Dave Chapelle show basically likes to watch someone who’s never seen the Prince sketch watch it for the first time more than they like the sketch itself. What was I talking about?
Right. Ottawa recently attained the ignominious achievement of Lowest Payroll in the League. And by a good couple of million bucks to boot. Look at the teams directly above Ottawa in that list: Calgary and Buffalo, who are both in various stages of rebuilding; Arizona and Nashville, who are in non-traditional markets and have struggled financially for years; Winnipeg, who has the smallest building in the league and even then, the Jets are spending $5MM more in salary than Ottawa is. The average cap space in this league is $3MM, and the median is $2.3MM. Ottawa has $13MM in cap space.
So, yes, we ain’t flush. But what happens next year? With the cap reportedly staying about the same, Ottawa’s has new deals kicking in for Bobby Ryan, Clarke MacArthur, and Craig Anderson. (And Mark Borowiecki, though that’s not too pricey.) That’s just over $5MM in raises right there.
Then there are the RFAs: Mike Hoffman (8 points, 7 goals in 13 games) and Mark Stone (9 points in 15 games), who are currently make up one of Ottawa’s most productive lines. Mika Zibanejad, who’s struggling but is penciled in as Ottawa’s second line center until further notice. And Alex Chiasson, who’s looked great (9 points in 13 games). Fair to say that their deals will be all over the place given their different positions in the lineup, relative ages, leverage, Ottawa’s strategy of giving out years in exchange for lower pay, and how the rest of this season plays out. But if we very conservatively estimate that each player doubles his salary on a “prove it” bridge deal of $2MM per, then that’s another $4MM towards the cap.
Then there are the pending UFAs. I’m sure Ottawa would love to keep Methot in the mix. Eric Condra has been a healthy scratch lately and could be on his way out. Assuming Ottawa lets Condra go and re-signs Methot at $4.5MM-$5MM per, that brings Ottawa’s spending to about $10MM above current levels. Or, about league average in terms of spending.
With the cap staying about the same, Ottawa could catapult itself from last in league spending to the middle of the pack without doing anything overly aggressive. No trades. Not getting into the free agent market. Just standing pat with the team it has now.
Which is why next year will be so interesting. The glass half-full perspective here is that this is why Ottawa has been so prudent these last few years. They knew they’d have to spend on all of this young talent eventually. The glass half-empty perspective supposes that we’re about to see an exodus of talent via salary-dumping moves.
Surely it would be no surprise if Ottawa jettisoned Colin Greening and Patrick Wiercioch, players they’ve seemingly been trying to trade since they day they signed them. Zack Smith has also been in rumours, and with Ottawa’s surplus of third line centers would seem like an obvious trade target. Here at WTYKY we continue to pray that Chris Neil finds his way into a San Jose Sharks uniform when that team finally has its full-blown identity crisis and decides that ‘grit wins Cups.’
If those kinds of moves take place, it might be another indication of Ottawa’s financial health, or lack thereof. The TSN television deal will have started to pay at that point. If Ottawa has a strong season and makes the playoffs, ticket sales will be strong. If Ottawa doesn’t spend to at least league average, what does that say about Melnyk’s ability to support this team as its window of contention starts to creak open again?
I don’t know if it’s a “glass half full” mentality as much as it is common sense. The repeated cries for the team to spend more never actually, you know, state *on whom.*. We’ve seen repeatedly, ad nauseum, literally every year in the salary cap era, that free agents are overpaid once the market opens–we even had a lockout that included consequence-free buyouts because of this very behavior–because top-tier talent is locked up early, the produce left is bruised in some way. Yet that doesn’t stop desperate teams from spending on slightly-above average players… for a myriad of reasons.
I don’t think there’s really much debate that Ottawa should spend money, but that doesn’t mean it should spend unwisely. The truth is there really hasn’t been much for Ottawa to spend their money on. It takes years for prospects to develop, and even guys like Lehner (who some of us project to be a star) aren’t playing like stars yet, so there’s no reason to pay them like stars. I think when it comes down to it, you’d rather see the Senators spend their money on prospects coming into their own than on guys like David Clarkson.
No doubt that creates a guilty verdict in the court of public perception, but it’s the reality of the salary cap era–you develop your own guys and then you spend the core of your cash on keeping them. Ottawa’s current salary reflects its status as a team still developing its own guys, though that’s a much less convenient narrative than an evil miserly owner.
I agree totally that it’s not about spending for spending’s sake. But I still think it will be a bell weather moment (is that a term? If so let’s talk about “bell weather moment” for a second) for the team. Even if they do nothing of note, they’re going to have to spend way more on salary. (Relatively speaking.) I think we’re all ok with a salary dump if it means Colin Greening. But what about Mika Zibanejad? Or not re-signing Marc Methot? I’m just saying, it will be interesting to see if Ottawa is still the lowest payroll in the league next year, because that will take some doing with all the raises.
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