If you’re a Sabres fan, the most popular number you’ve heard this year is 3.5 million. That’s how much both Tim Connolly and Maxim Afinogenov make this season, and more importantly, how much won’t be on the payroll next fall. It is more than likely that both players aren’t re-signed. In fact, it would take an incredible offensive explosion for even a second look at Max, and a borderline miracle to get Connolly through the rest of the season unscathed.
Regardless, the end of this season will probably bring the departure of both these players, and maybe even Ales Kotalik. With this departure looming, many fans have been talking about trading either player. The reasons are pretty simple: they are both leaving anyway, so why not get something in return? Max has never reached his full potential, and since the 05-06 season he has been a complete letdown. Tim Connolly has also missed almost 250 games in six seasons with the Sabres, and has frustrated fans and management alike with each trip to the Injured Reserve.
It is for those same reasons, however, that many feel moving either player would be quite difficult. It’s no secret that Afinogenov has been a mess all season, and with him in the press box and whispers of no GM wanting him, it is quite possible that Max plays out the rest of the year in a Sabres uniform. The same can be said about Connolly, who many feel is just too great an injury risk to take a chance on. Whoever trades for either player would want production out of him no matter what, and that’s something that both can’t guarantee at this point.
This has all been discussed before, but on Sunday Puck Daddy linked to an interesting article about expiring contracts. It’s from Friday, but two of players discussed in it are the Sabres mentioned above. Here’s what David Staples wrote about how the “expiring contract” concept could work in the NHL:
It’s an easy concept to grasp. Each year any one team has players who are in the last year of their contracts. For instance, Dwayne Roloson of the Oilers is in the final year of his $3.7 million a year deal. After this year, Roloson’s contract will no longer count against the Oilers’ salary cap number. So this year, he has an expiring contract.
Other Oilers with expiring contracts are Mathieu Garon, Kyle Brodziak, Denis Grebeshkov, Erik Cole and Ladislav Smid. Between all of them, they get more than $10 million a year in salary. When their contracts expire, the Oilers will have that money to either re-sign these players or sign up other players.
The importance of an expiring contract is this: When most teams are pressed up against the upper limit of the cap — as tends to happen when the cap number drops or stagnates — teams will be desperate to create cap room for themselves heading into each summer, into each July free agent signing period. The more big dollar expiring contracts a team has, the more amount of cap space it will have to make a big free agent signing.
It’s an interesting concept, and it’s something that does happen in another cap-controlled league. For example’s sake, he takes the Oilers and Maxim Afinogenov, among others.
Afinogenov of the Sabres has only scored two goals in 34 games this year, but if you can pick him up for cheap, or maybe for a long-term contract player such as Dustin Penner, then that’s a deal the Oilers might well want to consider, under the right circumstances (Edmonton out of playoffs, Sabres making a playoff run).
In the NBA, the attractiveness of expiring contracts has made hot trade items out of players who are no longer productive, guys who do little but sit on the bench and pick up a fat paycheque. Teams pressed up against the cap, but hoping to making a big free agent signing in the summer, acquire them for the cap space they will soon create.
This isn’t a perfect example because it’s very unlikely Darcy Regier takes on a contract like Penner’s, but the concept is very intriguing. If the economy remains weak in the future, we may see GMs make roster moves with this strategy in mind. As Staples said, it would bring an interesting value to players who lack much on the ice.
The concept isn’t perfect, and as a commenter stated on the original post, the concept works in basketball because teams have very deep benches and players can go entire games without seeing the floor. Roster spots are more precious in the NHL, and many more players see the ice on a given night compared to the NBA. The fact of the matter is that if you trade for someone, he plays out the season on your team.
However, as time goes on we will see how the salary cap changes the way business is done in the NHL. There are a ton of big contracts hitting the market this summer, and if the economy continues to stumble the cap will make things very, very interesting. The “excelsior” mentality no longer applies to the pay ceiling, and it looks like some GMs are going to struggle with the deals they made in seasons past.
Either way, it’s an ridiculously interesting concept. Does this make Max and Timmy more “tradeable” in any way, or is this shift in the system too unlikely for GMs to consider?