Salary Cap Crunch – Kyle Clifford or Trevor Lewis?

We keep waiting for people to beg for mercy, complaining that their heads hurt from all the math. Instead, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive all summer long to our series of salary cap articles. And why not, if there was ever a period in NHL history where you really needed to understand the cap and how it works, this is it.

Coming out of the lockout seven months ago, the NHL and NHLPA agreed to lower the cap by roughly $6 million for the upcoming 2013-14 season. For a team like the Kings, that’s a significant hit and has severely impacted what they’ve been able to do – and not do – since being eliminated from the playoffs in June.

Over the last few days, obviously, one of the hot topics has been the eight-year contract extension given team captain Dustin Brown. However, it’s worth noting, that deal doesn’t kick in until the 2014-15 season. So, for the coming season, he’ll continue to have a very friendly cap hit of $3.175M.

If you’re wondering why the extension was done now instead of next year, or even months from now, team’s are allowed to negotiate extensions with their players once they’re in the final year of a current contract. Thus, Dean Lombardi and Brown were free to discuss such a deal starting around July 1st. Although they didn’t have to negotiate an extension then, given the size of the deal, it made sense to get it done as soon as possible, allowing Lombardi to have a better view of how munch money he’ll have available to spend next summer and beyond. Plus, as Brown mentioned here, he didn’t want to enter the season with talks still going on.

One final note in this area before moving on, Matt Greene is also scheduled to become an Unrestricted Free Agent next summer. So, the Kings are now free to negotiate (or attempt to negotiate) an extension with him if they’d like. For clarity though, there’s been no indication one way or another if either party is interested or if talks are in process. The primary focus of late was on the Brown extension.

Now, back to the task at hand.

Where do things stand with the remaining players who are unsigned and how much money does Lombardi have to work with?

The answers aren’t exactly linear. So, it’s not a short, simple answer.

Here’s why…

NHL teams can have a maximum of 23 roster players when the regular season begins in October, with a maximum salary cap of $64.3 million. Until then, they’re allowed to go over both those numbers. This is an important point because, at the moment, LA has 23 players under contract and have committed $62.9M towards the cap.

This includes the recent signing of Jordan Nolan (two years, $700K per) and the acquisition of Daniel Carcillo.

So, what does that mean for the two remaining unsigned players – Kyle Clifford and Trevor Lewis?

There are probably two key points here.

One, put everything to the side and just try to determine their monetary value to the Kings – i.e., how much would Lombardi probably like to sign them for?

Lewis had a cap hit of $725K last season and Clifford was at $870K.

Yes, they’re two different players, with two different roles. Yet the scale for both guys is most likely between $1M and $1.75M, on the very high side. If we had to peg a number, Clifford probably comes in a little lower than Lewis. For the sake of argument, let’s call it $1.25M for Clifford and $1.5M for Lewis.

[Update 7/23/2013 – Lewis has agreed to a one-year deal worth $1.325M, per Darren Dredger]

Now, the question is, can the Kings afford those contracts and/or would they want them?

The answer is very likely yes to both, but you have to put a final roster together and understand what the trade-offs are.

Let’s start with the guys who are probably the easiest to lock into roster spots. WARNING – don’t get caught up in the line combinations and defensive pairings. That’s a conversation for another day. This is just about finding a maximum of 23 guys to suit up for Opening Night.

A first pass looks like this:

Dustin Brown – Anze Kopitar – Justin Williams
Mike Richards – Jeff Carter – Tyler Toffoli
Matt Frattin – Jarret Stoll – [open, RW3]
[open, LW4] – [open, C4] – [open, RW4]

Robyn Regehr – Drew Doughty
Willie Mitchell – Slava Voynov
Jake Muzzin – Matt Greene

Jonathan Quick
Ben Scrivens

Up to three healthy scratches:
– all three slots open for now

That roster has 16 guys under contract at a cost of about $57.2M.

Said differently, you can add up to seven more players on your roster and spend no more than about $7.2M in the process.

Operate with a few assumptions – you want six more forwards (to fill the open spots on the third and fourth lines, plus two of the slots reserved for healthy scratches)…and you want one more defenseman (the final healthy scratch slot).

Look at the defense first. This whole part of the conversation is based on the thinking that Willie Mitchell returns. On the ice, that’s a ‘best case’ scenario because of how much he means to the team. Off the ice, and here in cap land, it’s a ‘worst case’ scenario – only in the sense that he costs you $3.5M. So, if he went on Long Term Injured Reserve instead, his contract wouldn’t count against the cap and you’d have more money to spend.

But, let’s be clear, Mitchell coming back would be a great thing for the Kings and there would be nothing ‘wrong’ about it. Thus, ‘worst case’ is just a figure of speech from a financial standpoint.

So, again, assuming he comes back, you’d have one open roster spot for a defenseman. Your choices are Keaton Ellerby ($700K), Alec Martinez ($1.1M) or the newly signed Jeff Schultz ($700K).

To play out the ‘worst case’ scenario, take Martinez because he’s the most expensive. Again, we’re only talking ‘worst’ from a salary cap perspective, it has nothing to do with his skills (Save the hate mail Marty fans!).

Next, select your forwards.

Using the assumptions we gave above on new contracts for Clifford and Lewis, combined with the players Lombardi already has under contract, your list of available forwards are:

Dan Carcillo ($825K)
Kyle Clifford ($1.25M)
Colin Fraser ($825)
Dwight King ($750K)
Trevor Lewis ($1.5M)
Jordan Nolan ($700K)

Before we move on, it’s usually around this point that somebody brings up the idea of replacing one or two of those guys with some prospects in Manchester. Just know, the top two candidates aren’t going to save you any money – and in some cases could actually cost you more money. Tanner Pearson has a cap hit of $925K and Linden Vey is at $900K.  Just comparing them to the six guys above, either kid would be making more than Carcillo, Fraser, King and Nolan. That’s not going to help you when you’re up against the cap.

Plus, Pearson and Vey can be sent to Manchester to start the season without being exposed to waivers (where another team could snatch them up). So, for now, let’s exclude them from the conversation.

With all these assumptions, this is what you have…

Dustin Brown – Anze Kopitar – Justin Williams
Mike Richards – Jeff Carter – Tyler Toffoli
Matt Frattin – Jarret Stoll – Trevor Lewis
Kyle Clifford – Colin Fraser – Jordan Nolan

Robyn Regehr – Drew Doughty
Willie Mitchell – Slava Voynov
Jake Muzzin – Matt Greene

Jonathan Quick
Ben Scrivens

Three healthy scratches:
– Dan Carcillo
– Dwight King
– Alec Martinez

That’s a 23 man roster with a total cost of just over $64.1M, putting your team $263K under the cap.

What do you think?

You don’t like Martinez, you’d rather have Ellerby or Schultz as your extra defenseman? Fine, That would actually save you a little money.  They make less than Martinez.

You want to carry two extra defensemen and just one extra forward as your healthy scratches? That’s OK too. It would also save you a few hundred thousand.

And here’s the final thing you probably need to know. With the new CBA, teams aren’t allowed to ‘hide’ players in the minors anymore… if they earn more than $925K.

So, if Lombardi signs both Clifford and Lewis, that would give him 25 NHL contracts.

He could then try to send a pair of players to Manchester, that’s an option.

If either of the two players earned less than $925K, and they cleared waivers, there wouldn’t be any sort of cap penalty.  There’s also a chance those said players could get claimed by another team (and why not, most of the bottom six guys and/or defensemen who would be candidates for a trip to the AHL have a reasonably low cap hit).

If a player earning more than $925K was sent to Manchester and cleared waivers, a small ‘tax’ would hit the Kings salary cap calculation.  For example, if it was Martinez, $175K of his $1.1M contract would remain at the NHL level.  It may seem like a tiny detail, but when you’re real close to the cap, every hundred thousand has an important impact.

Which leads us right back to what we’ve been saying for at least a month or two. A trade is coming.

Lombardi hates to give up assets for free. Putting two guys on the waiver wire and risking losing them for nothing isn’t his style. He’s done it before, yes. But, if given the choice, Dealer Dean would always rather have a mid-round draft pick (or corresponding prospect) back in return.

When will the trade happen and who is likely to leave?

From the blueline, you probably won’t see any action until training camp. Let Mitchell come in and prove that he’s ready to go and let the other guys fight it out for a spot.

Among the forwards, any of the bottom-six guys could be candidates, sure. Frattin was just acquired though and Lombardi had tried to trade for him once before, so it’s doubtful he goes anywhere. Carcillo was just acquired as an inexpensive depth move. He’s staying.

Lewis becomes the new Brad Richardson, he’s the utility player who can be used at any forward position and is good enough to see spot duty as a top-six fill-in should the Kings be in a pinch one night.

King? Maybe. Darryl Sutter loves him. Maybe not.

Fraser? Rugged center on an inexpensive deal.  Maybe.

Nolan? Doubtful.

Of course, in a package deal, all bets are off. Anything is possible.

Lewis and Lombardi have an arbitration hearing scheduled for August 2. It’s likely, even probable, they’ll come to a contract agreement before then.

Clifford wasn’t eligible for arbitration. So, he doesn’t have any sort of artificial date to get a deal done. That’s what makes his situation a little trickier over the next six weeks.


Lombardi has a Mitchell update and too many defensemen

Wait, the Kings trade for Dan Carcillo isn’t official?

Lombardi on contracts he’s working on – ‘Every nickel counts’

Monday morning Salary Cap review – Martinez in, who’s next?

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  1. Great read as usual John!

    Clifford isn’t going anywhere. The Kings will move one (2 depending on willie) defenseman.

  2. Dan Carcillo is not technically under contract… yet 🙂

  3. Cliffy is not eligible for arbitration. No choice on his part. He did not choose anything other than not signing his qualifying offer.

    Any player whose NHL salary is less than $925k CAN be sent to minors WITHOUT cap penalty. Only exceptions are for 35+ contracts and players with bigger AHL salaries than NHL salaries.

    BTW, the 925 is formula based and increases each year.

    Go read up on the new CBA. it’s not that complicated.

  4. Crown Royal says

    John, the way your article is written leads me to believe you think Clifford might be the likely candidate to leave depending on how inflexible he and his agent might be acting. Ellerby might be the most expendable but he fills DD2’s profile almost perfectly. It would not surprise if the Kings decide to start the season with eight D-men and only one extra forward.

    You mentioned DS “loves King.” This is interesting to me because I think the one thing I don’t like about DS as a coach is how he handles and staffs the third line. I understand why he likes King on that line but he is as offensively challenged and ineffective at scoring as Lewis. Both Stoll and Lewis are overrated offensively though both are very good defensively (despite Stoll’s penchant for stupid offensive zone penalties.) It drives me crazy when he uses Stoll or Lewis either one on the power play. With King on that line, the third line is very sub-par offensively. I wouldn’t mind King on the third line if his center and right wing were better scorers. I wouldn’t mind Stoll or Lewis on the third line if they had a better scoring left wing (as long as they stay off the power play!)

    You suggested not get too caught up on the line combos regarding this article but I do believe that’s part of the cap problem. Stoll is overpaid and DL is going to have to cobble together some effective secondary scoring while staying within the cap. What about Holloway? Seems like a good bottom six option as a scorer in the event Clifford, Martinez, or a couple of other players are moved.

    • John Hoven says

      The window to sign Holloway is over. He has committed to playing in Sweden next season.

  5. Thanks for breaking this all down. I trust dean will do what’s best.

  6. Crown Royal says

    Too bad about Holloway as he’s better offensively than the other bottom six options remaining. The exception to that might be Frattin or one of the guys up from Manchester if they are used in that role.
    DL probably couldn’t stomach his demand for a one-way contract especially with current cap issues.

    • John Hoven says

      Forgot to mention earlier, your point about the line combos was a good one. I was simply trying to isolate the issues as best as possible to break down the salary cap situation. You’re right though, that Stoll is an expensive third-line center if he and/or his two wingers aren’t giving you much offense. Defense is fine, but somebody on that third line needs to start scoring.

  7. I think that Richards will play C and Carter on the RW while Toff gets the shot at LW. I for one have loved Carter at C. When Richards went down Carter looked really good. Carter is a underrated 2way player. Why not have Frattin play his natural RW with Stoll and have one of Cliff, Carcillo or King play on the LW. Though I think King needs a reality check and sent to Manch to start the year. He has been dead weight for the short season. Then have Lewis play in Frasers role with either left over LW and Nolan on the RW. People are hard on Nolan. But I think he does his 4th line duties well. He brings more energy than almost any other player we have. If Cliff is dealt than I think maybe give Pearson a shot at 3rd LW if he impress’s in camp. But I do agree. 3rd line needs a little more help.And its got to be scoring. I think Stoll has more scoring in him. But he isnt used in that manner. Lewis has been getting better each of the last 3 years. He looks like hes got the hands to be more helpful offensively. Neither Lewis or Cliff should get close to 2mil. anything from $825 to $1.1 mil should be the budget on them.

  8. Well Mayor. Looks like Spaling set the bar. Looks like Cliff and Lewis both get atleast 1.5mil.

  9. Stolly + Cliffy should fetch a 2nd from a team building. Islanders & Oilers come to mind. There has to be a D deficient team to take on A-Mart (why does Carolina feel comfortable?). Frattin & Lewis battle it out for C3, with the “loser” playing wing. Bottom six: King-Frattin-Lews; Carcillo-Fraser-Nolan

  10. Great job, as always, John…I can’t believe I find myself saying this, but my heart is crying out over the obvious-that we will have to lose one of the two remaining players: Trevor Lewis or Kyle Clifford. I feel like both gave their all through the past two+ seasons. I sense that many others-like me-keep seeing a replay of game 5, 2012, first round of playoffs, as Lewis cleaning picks a pocket and sends the puck to Stoll who scores the game winner. He misses the steal, possibly Vancouver wins and the complexion of the entire series might have turned. But he didn’t miss. I see Clifford in the corners banging heads and coming out with the puck. My only defense of the two big guys/Nolan and King is that their addition really did uplift a team full of stars that was languishing before they arrived. Yet, both of them had down/half seasons this past year. Man I’m glad I’m not a GM. Considering Deano doesn’t talk hockey or allow it to be discussed in their home, I wonder where he is hiding out, trying to convince himself of the final move? He’s gone further than I would’ve made…AND, I know the arbitration did set things up for a fall…but, what to do??? I really don’t wanna see either guy be lost. Of course, I really didn’t wanna see Richardson go either-rather a sentimental keeper-and that just cannot be in these tight/salary CAP years.

  11. sorry-typo-“Lewis cleanly picks”

  12. So (assuming Mitchell is healthy) we send down one defenseman and possibly trade one before the season starts and we have enough to sign them both. Doing so doesn’t give us a lot of leverage in that trade (since people will know we are over the cap), but it is what it is. Also, I could see someone like Carcillo being dealt for a low pick if necessary to free up just a little room.

    The other question is whether Dean wants to start the season with space under the cap should he need to take on salary during the year? He has spoken about staying under the player maximums for this very reason in the past. And it would be necessary if we need to call up a kid making ~$900k. Though he may just view this as a luxury he cant afford this year at least to start the season.

    It is also interesting to look back now and see the ripples that would have been caused by signing Scuderi. I assume we would have dealt one of the other D so that would have solved some of it, but its hard to see us not creating a big holes in the bottom 6 with Scuds’s signing.

    Finally, I am loving all of these 2 year deals on players with upside. I could see Muzzin’s second year on this contract being a phenomenal bargain, for instance.

  13. Prospal could be a good option if we clear space for him.

  14. Great read, Mayor, as always. One quibble, though: Because Mitchell didn’t play in the NHL and was injured during the lockout, he’s not eligible for LTIR. He’d be on the Injured, Non-Roster list. I mean same basic difference as the cap hit still won’t count. But it’s a distinction I like to make.

    And if it came down to it, I think Lewis is a tad more valuable than Clifford but only because Lewis looks after Doughty (I kid, I kid)

  15. PrescottRX says

    Can’t we get rid of Ellerby and Fraser and keep both of them?

  16. Mikefromearth says

    Damn good article as usual John!

    I love these types of articles. Reassuring and explanatory.

  17. Lets all pray for a banner year in the NHL. Because the CAP is based on Hockey Related Revenue (HRR) and if the HRR falls then so does the CAP. We are already losing some of our boys, we don’t need to lose anymore!

  18. I’d take the lineup outlined above. But, everyone can feel in their bones a trade is coming


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