Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Playing with cap numbers, and how Ville Leino might get lucky

Sabres forward Ville Leino was a little confused when he found himself a healthy scratch vs. Ottawa on Tuesday.

"I'm not sure what he wants from me," Leino was quoted as saying after hearing of his benching for Tuesday's game vs. Ottawa. Although he admitted that the prior game wasn't "his best," he failed to see the significance of a season that has him with 0 goals, 5 assists and only 12 shots goal in 18 games.

Allow me to clarify it for you, Mr. Guitar-god. Nolan is starting to see which players are starting to rise to the top and who are simply along for the ride.

Unforutnately for you, Ville, you're not rising to the top.

Here's what Nolan said concerning your play, (to benefit your misunderstanding, Ville, we've added our "clarification" in parenthesis):
"Certain players, (and that would be you, Ville) with a certain skill set (in other words, those who are expected to score goals like you, Ville) they have to bring it (the term "bringing it," Ville, means skating hard, playing the game hard, working hard.)"

Nolan continued, "If you're not going to play as hard as you can (which means if you're not "bringing it," Ville) sometimes it's better to sit back and observe for a while (which means your sorry ass is riding the pine because your just here for the ride anyway.)"

And one more thing from Nolan, "Not only the game, (get Allen Iverson out of your head, Ville) but the way '[you] practiced yesterday (have you ever heard the term 'your play the way you practice?' Ville?) If we don't practice hard, how are we going to play hard? (meaning, your ass will be glued to the pine until you start working harder. And it begins with practice.)

Oddly enough, it may not even matter for the next year and a half when in comes to his place on the Sabres.

As clueless as Leino seems to be, and as vile as it might be to think of him skating with the Blue and Gold next season, he may have some use as the team rebuilds.

With the NHL salary cap reported to be heading northwards of $71m next season, the salary cap floor is expected to be upwards of $52m. (So what was that lockout all about?)

As the team transitions away from "the core," the Sabres are continuing to divest themselves from the vestiges of the previous regime. The longstanding, expensive veteran contracts of "the core" have been jettisoned save for one, goalie Ryan Miller. And it would seem as if he will be gone by the 2014 trade deadline.

For this season, according to capgeek, the Sabres sit $12m under the $64m salary cap. Most think that Miller and his $6.25m cap-hit will be gone as well by the end of the trade deadline. Recently acquired Matt Moulson is also a trade possibility as is Steve Ott. Their cap-hits are $3.1m and $2.9m respectively.

Moving those three would put Buffalo under the $44m salary-cap floor.

Granted they will figure it out this season, but next season they will be facing the same cap-floor scenario as they begin the process of moving the youngins into the NHL. And there will be more youngins playing with the big club next season, among them Rasmus Ristolainen and  Johan Larsson (and possibly Nikita Zadorov.)

As of today, the Sabres have 10 players signed for next season at roughly $28m, which is over $40m under the salary cap ceiling, $24m below the cap floor. They will have a ton of money to spend to fill 13 roster spots.

Two youngins--Ristolainen and Larsson--are almost shoe-ins for the team next season while the team may take the slow road with Zadorov and put him in the AHL for a season. They (minus Zadorov) will add about $1.7m to the cap next season. That will put the team at about a $30m cap-hit on 12 players.

Forward Patrick Kaleta and his $1.25m salary will probably be back next season. UFA forward John Scott will probably be back as well at $750k.

Now the team is at $32m on 14 players with nine more players to sign and $20m to go to hit the salary-cap floor.

The Sabres have three promising RFA's in Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno and Brayden McNabb. All three will probably account for another $5m.

Buffalo now has 17 players signed at a total cap-hit of $37m.

Here's where it gets interesting.

Based upon the players already signed for next season and the probable signings mentioned above, the Sabres would have ten forwards, six defenseman and one goalie on the roster. They will need to add five skaters and a goalie.

If Miller (possible $8m cap-hit,) Moulson ($6m) and Ott ($4m) end up re-signing with the Sabres (at those generous salaries,) there's no problem with the team hitting the salary floor, and they will be able to buy out Leino.

But, while continuing to play the "cap-game," if Miller doesn't re-sign, Matt Hackett will probably get the call. Hackett, a RFA, will probably get $1m.

The team will now need to sign five skaters and will be at $38m, about $14m under the cap-floor.

If they re-sign both Moulson and Ott at the above mentioned generous salaries it will put the team at a $48m with three players left to sign.

In that scenario, the team could easily spend enough on the remaining three players to get well over the cap-floor and buy out Leino.

If not, Leino could get lucky.

As the Sabres go into year two of full re-build mode, Leino may end up on the team strictly from a financial standpoint.

Not much will be expected of the team next season and they will need to get to the cap-floor of $52. Pegula may need to spend that $4.5m on a player (or players.) Why spend millions on a Leino buyout and then double that by bringing in another overpaid player (or players) for millions more to get to the cap-floor?

There are a lot of variables, of course, and this is all speculative, but there is a scenario where Leino and his 10 goals in 107 games as a Sabre (or about $1m/goal salary-wise,) could be on the team next season.

Don't fret, Sabres fans, the probability of this scenario is low, but it is possible and unless he's a cancer, it won't kill anyone to have him on the team for another season.

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