Just when you thought it couldn’t get any lower, Islander fans – and for that matter, NHL hockey fans- it gets lower. And not in the “Praise the Lowered” sense of the Devin Townsend song because there is nothing praiseworthy here. No, this is low like the “what a bunch of douchebags” sense that comes from Charles Wang and Garth Snow.
On Thursday the Islanders traded for the rights to batcrap crazy Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas. Thomas is a right wing lunatic, but that’s not why he’s crazy. That’s his right. He’s crazy because he walked away from $3 million dollars (all numbers in this post will ignore the partial season for the sake of mathematical continuity) for what probably would have amounted to 40 days of work. It’s not like Tuuka Rask in Boston wasn’t being groomed to be the starting goaltender, so Thomas just had to fade into the sunset earning $428,000 a month, plus a playoff share, and watch hockey from really good seats. Instead he chose to sit in Colorado, be a biggot, and walk dogs.
Boston wanted to improve their team, but Thomas’s unpaid (but still cap unfriendly) contract was an obstacle to such. What team would be willing to take a $5 million cap hit that would have no concrete way of improving their team? Who’d take that sucker bet?
Charles Wang and Garth Snow, that’s who!
Wang is the absolute master of NHL salary cap circumvention. No one comes close. He’s like Yoda, but instead of a lightsaber he wields a red pen. Come to think of it, Yoda was stealing Luke’s food and trying to swipe his flashlight- very Wangesque. Just a quick recount of ways Wang has avoided paying for his team:
- Unobtainable bonuses to players over the age of 35. Stanley cup bonuses for Staios and Pandolfo? $1.6 million against last years’ cap.
- Unobtainable bonuses buried in entry level contracts. $1 million if Nino makes the all star team? Well if you bury him on line 4 that money isn’t getting paid out, but it still hits the cap.
- Backloaded contracts. Michael Grabner and Kyle Okposo are $5.8 million on the cap, $4 million in actual dollars.
- Trade players away once their cap usefulness has expired. Mottau! Rolston! Roloson!
- Giving undrafted players entry level contract bonuses equal to top five draft picks? Mike Halmo’s bonuses= Ryan Strome’s bonuses.
- Trading for players whose actual paycheck is lower than their cap hit? Lubomir Visnovsky’s $3 million salary versus $5.6 million cap hit inflated the cap hit by $2.6 million phantom dollars.
- Why spend money on players when you can just use the $2.2 million cap hit of Alexei Yashin to reach that floor. So what if he’s retired!
During the lockout, the Islanders convinced the league that New York and Long Island were not major league ready, and that they needed a piece of revenue sharing. The league begrudgingly voted them into revenue sharing, but built in special rules specific to Chicago, Los Angeles, and Long Island. We’re not CBA experts here, but the Islander share seems to be worth roughly $5 million dollars. So what would you expect the Islanders to do with this new windfall? Invest in the product? If you’ve been reading this, or any of our pieces, you know what comes next – more of the same.
We’re not sure if the NHL and the NHLPA even has a finalized copy of the brand new CBA for its membership and clubs, but Charles Wang found a new way to circumvent the cap before the ink even dried on the deal. Wang and Snow suspended Josh Bailey and Jesse Joensuu for getting injured trying to stay in game shape. How could he do that to such a nice guy like Bailey? Because suspensions count the salary against the cap, but you don’t actually have to pay it! Once that information was shared, we have no doubt in our minds that the Islanders started combing every roster seeking out suspended players. Since you can’t trade an injured player, they had to seek out head cases who hate getting paid. Hello, Boston!
So what comes next? Two things. First, a prediction as to where the Islanders go next. The Islanders are $9 million over the salary cap floor as of this moment. $9 million dollars…that will soon be departing. Here are some predictions:
- Marty Reasoner to anyone who wants to take him, for whatever round draft pick they’ll give up. $1.35 cap hit gone. Snow will say competition pushed him out with the return of Josh Bailey, development of Casey Cizikas, the hologram of Tupac…whatever. Losing Reasoner is actually a good idea.
- Mark Streit will be taking his $4.1 million making services elsewhere. Most folks would expect Lubo to get traded, but he makes significantly less than Streit yet possesses a larger cap hit. And frankly, he’s better than Streit at both ends of the ice.
- Kyle Okposo will be home in Minnesota making the salary cap $2.8 million lighter. This one could be interesting because Minnesota has Dany Heatley making $7.5 million on the cap next year, but only paying $5 m of it. At the end of this year, the losses of Boyes and Lubo’s contracts will be worth $6.6 million per the cap ($4 m real), so Heatley may be cap relief for Minnesota and cap floor insurance for the Islanders next year and fill in the $1 million dollar reclamation slot that Snow hands out annually. Oh, and it still inflated the Islanders cap by $2.5 million. In reality, that would be a trade for a person and not a draft pick, so we know that won’t happen.
So if these scenarios happen, that’s $8.25 million off of the cap while adding $7.5m, so you net a cap savings of $750,000- which still makes your team look competitive. In actual dollars however, $3.25 million is saved, and since a replacement for Reasoner is already on the roster being paid in the form of Casey Cizikas, you save an additional $890,000.
And if you toll Thomas, that still does nothing to improve the team.
Next up, a quick assessment of ACTUAL Islander salary versus what the salary cap says.
Cap hit: $53 million. Actual roster cost: $41 million. Actual player cost: $38.8 m. Cap floor: $44 million.
The disparities come from the following locations:
John Tavares makes $4 million this year in a backloaded deal. Cap hit $5.5m.
Franz Neilsen makes $2 million in a backloaded deal. Cap hit $2.75 m.
Matt Moulson makes $3 million in a backloaded deal. Cap hit $3.13m.
Michael Grabner makes $2 million in a backloaded deal. Cap hit of $3 m.
Kyle Okposo makes $2 million in a backloaded deal. Cap hit $2.8 m.
Josh Bailey makes $1.3 million in a backloaded deal. Cap hit $1.05m. Bailey was suspended, so the hit counts but there is no payment as of today.
Matt Martin makes $600,000 in a backloaded deal. Cap hit $1 m.
Casey Cizikas has a two way contract paying $690k. It has unattainable bonuses. Cap hit $900k.
David Ullstrom has a two way contract paying $580k. It has unattainale bonuses. Cap hit $890k.
Jesse Joensuu has a $600,000 contract and cap hit. He is suspended, so there is no payment as of today.
Lubomir Visnovsky makes in $3m in a frontloaded deal. Cap hit $5.6m.
Alexei Yashin is paid $2.204 million in a buyout. This is 5% of the salary cap floor.
And these aren’t counting the two way contracts that will decrease roughly 90% when players are sent to the AHL, or decreased 100% upon a release. Factor in $3,000,000 in savings from demoting or releasing Hickey, Finley, McDonald, Aucoin, Ullstrom, and/or Cizikas. Sending Cizikas to the AHL upon the return of Bailey will save the team $800,000 dollars- a little less than what Bailey is owed after his suspension. Trading Reasoner and using Cizikas in that slot saves Reasoner’s entire salary.
All of this sleight of hand explains why the Islanders as a franchise are fading into obscurity as a team, and passing into absurdity as an organization. They sign back loaded deals, trade for frontloaded deals, trade for phantom cap hit, and do NOTHING to improve the on ice product. The Thomas trade is a debacle, and just makes this place look like plus sized clown shoes.
You think the players and their agents don’t see the writing on the wall as to where this is going? You think it’s not evident to the players that this team is letting them sink or swim on their own account? Look at the lack of effort made last night in an ISLANDERS/RANGERS game. Aside from Tavares, Moulson, Grabner and Hamonic, did anyone else come to play? They played with no heart, and you can’t entirely blame them. The team saw that when management spends $5 million to improve the team, its just smoke and mirrors. However, this should not come as a surprise, since the last improvements came in the form of Thomas Hickey and Joe Finley. Tavares should be punching Snow in the face today, and also punching his agent in the face for crafting a 5 year deal that will end up right where it began – with more of the same.
About the Author: We are two long time hockey fans who certainly have our own opinions and points of view. Feel free to share yours. Follow on twitter @joshbarely