For those who faithfully read this blog, you may recall our article from May 23, 2013 titled “Well, that was fun. Now back to work!” The piece identified holes that the Islanders have in their 8th seeded team and a roadmap on how to improve the team at each position in which we saw deficits. We offered four avenues to pursue these fixes- organizationally, through free agency, via trade, and by scoping potential buyout candidates from other teams. One player that we identified as a buyout candidate in particular has caught a lot of attention lately:
To quote ourselves (and save you the time of pretending to look this up or remember)
“The wildcard here would be Roberto Luongo. Luongo doesn’t quite come up big in the postseason, but he gets his team there annually. And it could be a sort of homecoming to one of the better accounts on Twitter. We’d take a flyer with Luongo over Nabokov if the price was right.”
The last part was ominous in a way that we didn’t expect. What’s the right price for Luongo? We were thinking that with his MONSTROUS Canuck contract – he’s making about $7 million a year for the near future – and being 34, we were thinking he’s worth about $2.5 million a year for the next 3-4 years. Anything beyond that could be a boondoggle.
So lets make a little cost benefit analysis regarding Luongo, where we look at both opportunity costs and trade offs involved in acquiring the one time Islander goalie of the future.
Last season, Islander starting goaltending came with a salary cap hit of $7.25 million dollars. That was in part to Evgeni Nabokov’s $2.75 million salary, and the albatross Rick DiPietro scooping up $4.5 million. While his AHL demotion took away $900,000, the promotion of Eric Fichaud…er…Kevin Poulin ate that right up.
So if we’re talking about starting goaltender salaries, Luongo would ultimately cost $500,000 less than what the Islanders paid for starters last season. And yes, we get that DP was the backup, but no one pays a backup $4.5 million, and then recalls a backup for the backup.
If we’re looking at total salary cap cost, a Luongo/ Poulin combo costs about $400,000 more on the cap versus last years three headed monster, because the current collective bargaining agreement lets the Islanders absorb $900,000 of an NHL cap hit in the AHL. But in actual dollars, which is a Wang issue, Luongo/Poulin is $7,650,000, and the Nabby/DP/Poulin trio is over $8,140,000. For a team that pinches pennies, this is almost enough to pay for Colin McDonald’s 2013-2014 season.
But there are always complications to matters, and that complication is very familiar to Islander fans- Rick DiPietro. Why, you ask? Because Vancouver is not going to buy out Luongo. His contract presently has 9 years left. If you buy out his contract, you’re paying Luongo over $27,000,000 for the next 18 years. That sounds pretty bad. But it gets worse. In the style of NHL buyouts, Luongo would cause Vancouver a cap hit:
|Buyout Year(s)||Salary Cap Hit|
|1-4 (starting in 2013)||$121,000|
|5||$3 M plus|
|6-8||$5 M plus|
|9-18 (ending in 2031)||$1.5 M|
First off, that $3 million season and those three $5 million seasons mean a few things. $18 million of a $27 million buyout happens over 4 consecutive years, even though the buyout runs for a total of years. Something more evenly spread out may be more palatable in making budgets, to say the least. As team’s General Manager would NOT want to face such debilitating cap hits 5 years from now, for 4 consecutive years. And what team owner wants to be writing a check to Roberto Luongo for $1.5 million in the year 2030?
But what if Vancouver gives Luongo an amnesty buyout? Then there’s no cap hit, right? Right. But they still pay $1.5 million until 2030-2031.
Again, Vancouver is NOT going to buy out Roberto Luongo in any form. But there are some things that we do know.
Vancouver is presently OVER the salary cap ceiling imposed by the new CBA for 2013-14. And we also know that Vancouver is willing to trade Luongo. They already tried to. And we’re pretty sure that Luongo wants to get as many years out of his contract paid in full as possible. At $6.7 million over the next 5 years, even playing in 4 more seasons leaves him under a million short of today’s buyout rate. And if he is bought out today at $1.5 million, what team is going to offer him $5.2 million a year to make up the difference? Nobody.
So if Luongo played for just 4 more years under his current and then got bought out, any team that took him on would be on the hook for 67% of $14.5 million over 10 years, or just under a million a year, until 2024-2028. That’s a long term Brendan Witt style buyout. That also would be worth $9 million more to him than a buyout today, which comes with the uncertainty of a next contract, which is a reality for a 34 year old goaltender.
It also explains why teams wanted term limits on contracts in this last CBA.
So what type of trade would work to bring Luongo to the Islanders? If Vancouver takes Rick DiPietro in return.
DiPietro himself would not land Luongo, so there would also have to be a player, or players, or prospects, or draft picks involved. In speculating on that, we’d think that either Kevin Poulin or Anders Nilsson with their low salaries and RFA status would be a likely return. We also think that the Vancouver writer (s) who suggested the Luongo for DiPietro/Niederreiter/ and Andrew MacDonald/ 2 second rounder draft picks offers are insane. We’re not sure what you’re drinking, but we are absolutely interested. A top 5 pick and the Islanders not having a second round draft pick until 2016? One second rounder got Lubomir Visnovsky. Your guy is not worth 3 or 4 Lubo’s. Nope. The only way that may happen is if Vancouver eats up a lot of Luongo’s salary. But that can’t happen due to their cap situation- it is a reason why he’s being traded in the first place.
This proposed trade would be basically a trade of albatross contracts. No team- not even the Islanders- want to pay a backup goalie with highly suspect health conditions $4.5 million. Nor does a winning, competitive playoff bound team like Vancouver going to want to experiment with DiPietro losing 2 or 3 games per win in a season. Even the Islanders figured that one out. So we assume that is Vancouver took back a DP, it would be to buy him out. Let us look at the numbers:
Luongo buyout: $1.5 million until 2030-31.
DiPietro buyout: $1.5 million until 2028-29.
That saves the Canucks $3 million in future dollars. It gets them under the salary cap ceiling come June 15. It gains them whatever else that the Islanders throw in. Maybe it even leads to Snow recognizing two needs and seeking to expand a deal to include Ryan Kessler – another name mentioned in our May 23 article. Then maybe Niedereitter or MacDonald or draft picks come into play. But for Vancouver, having a goaltender tandem eating up nearly $10 million in cap space and almost $11 million in actual dollars is a BAD idea. And an idea that they have to figure out sooner than later, as Cory Schneider is 2 seasons away from becoming an unrestricted free agent. Another year of “who is number one?” knowing that the other guy has a contract that spans 7 years after yours expires may be enough to make him seek employment elsewhere. Conversely, a team known for paying goalies over $6 million a year can be very attractive if you can get that deal!
We are fans of Nabokov. In each of the past two seasons he has spent a month on fire, which in this past shortened season propelled the Islanders into the playoffs. He gives fantastic post game interviews with Stan Fischler. But the reality is that he is turning 38, and is starting to show some wear and tear in his skills, which was evident after he carried a bulk of the workload all the way up to a week before the playoffs. Honestly, he got his doors blown off by Pittsburgh. To be fair, so did a better goalie in Ottawa, but I didn’t hear any Islanders waving a white flag after game four as the Ottawa captain did, so he definitely had a team with more fight in front of him. And Kevin Poulin had to face the same offense with markedly better results. And as he has shown, Nabby is too proud to not start. He took the job away from DiPietro with his attitude. Nor is he so humble that he’d likely accept a vast cut in pay.
The best of this situation may be for Vancouver to take on an awful contract that actually isn’t as bad as one that they already own. It would give them flexibility against the salary cap, settle their goalie position for a long time, add some depth to the organization, and be financially less burdensome in the long run. For the Islanders, the best move they could make in net would be to acquire Jonathan Bernier and amnesty DiPietro. But their next best move would be to hope Luongo could give them 5 years. Then a buyout would look a lot like Brendan Witt’s, except over 8 years. And if somehow Luongo is effective until he’s 40? Then he can backup for his last 3 years at about a million a year, or be bought out at about $500,000.
The Islanders are already considering a 38 year old goalie. If Nabokov wants a salary north of $2 million, the better deal is to bring in Luongo. It would give at least 3-4 years of stability in the net at the present cap hit. It would finalize the DiPietro legacy. It could be seen as the reclamation of an awful idea of “Mad” Mike Milbury. In fact, if Dany Heatley gets bought out, it could finally be what 2001 should have looked like!
But the reality? Well, Roberto Luongo IS an NHL player. Garth Snow tends to not make player for player trades. He’s averages about one per year as a GM, and they rarely are NHL player for NHL player. Based on Snow’s history, we are more likely to see a return of DP. After all, he’s an AHL player, so he’s got that going for him. And with Nabokov presently off of the books, DP’s salary alone is less than Luongo by over $2 million. So even though a Luongo trade could benefit both parties, our final assessment is that we expect Garth Snow to do 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