Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Time running out for Devils, Parise to avoid arbitration

With d-day now less than a week away for the Devils to avoid next Wednesday morning's arbitration hearing with star winger Zach Parise, not only is the urgency there for both sides to get a deal done, but there really are no excuses not to get a deal done now that GM Lou Lamoriello's signed everyone but the waterboy and knows what a full roster could look like and exactly how much cap space he has right now. As Lou himself admits, Parise's the 'total focus' now with no other outstanding contract figures to consider for anyone who could conceivably be on the roster next season. I'll say this for Lou, as much as it's driven me mad that he's signed everyone but the waterboy (including Mark Fraser, who avoided his own arbitration hearing by inking a one-year deal for $550,000) before taking care of Zach, he really has lined all of his ducks in a row including finally hiring Pete DeBoer last week to be the head coach.

So now not only does Zach know how much room the Devils have for him, he knows who's going to be coaching next year and hopefully beyond. And make no mistake about it, it behooves both sides to get a deal done. Sure, a cynic could say Zach might want to ride it out to UFA where he'll almost certainly get more money than he could get in a deal with the Devils right now but two factors might preclude that - number one being the fact the CBA's due to expire before next season, and if there's a resolution to that before July 1 there'll almost surely be new rules in the new CBA with regards to contract structure that could curtail intense frontloading. After all, it's a lot easier for teams to hand out a 10 year, 70 million dollar deal if they can frontload a bunch of money now and buy out the deal at the back end when you have low-salaried seasons if the player's no longer worth his cap hit. Plus after having missed all but one game in eleven months' time between last October and this season's Opening Night, another major injury this year could prove devastating to Zach's open-market value.

Clearly from the Devils' end, they can't afford to lose their most dynamic home-grown talent since Patrik Elias was in his prime, and an American Olympic hero at that. Even with the Devils' great second half run without him last year, the Devils did still finish a point under NHL .500 overall with the worst offense in the league. Having Parise around will also make it harder for teams to key on Ilya Kovalchuk, who carried the offense almost single-handedly during the Devils' winter surge. Not to mention perennial linemate Travis Zajac looked lost offensively last year without Zach.

True, even if the Devils wound up going to arbitration next week they could still theoretically have months to re-sign him before Zach hits UFA next July 1 but the possibility of that is a lot more unlikely if both sides endure a messy arbitration hearing. And if both sides agree to a one-year deal to avoid arbitration, then I may be driven insane by all the speculation over whether we should trade Zach (which we won't) to get something back for him. It was bad enough last year when fellow fans were getting paranoid long before this looming arbitration hearing, it would be a total black cloud if it were allowed to hover into this season as well. Not to mention both sides have had months to negotiate this, almost as long as the NFL players and owners had to reach an agreement on a CBA where billions of dollars were at stake. If they can't come to any more than a one-year agreement now with exclusive negotiating rights, that doesn't bode well for any long-term deal next offseason.

At least cap space shouldn't be a problem. Currently CapGeek (a useful website for amateur GM's like me) has the Devils a few million under the cap, but that doesn't factor in the unfortunate Bryce Salvador situation. Seeing as he hasn't been cleared to play yet, it's likely he'll begin the season on LTIR. If Sal is cleared to play though, he could wind up facing a Dan McGillis-type fate with no NMC or NTC to prevent the Devils sending him to Albany, seeing as a trade would be extremely unlikely with Salvador having been out a year and one hit away from retirement if he even did get cleared. Either way, that would clear almost another $3 million in space.

So looking at a likely roster for next season, CapGeek has fourteen forwards (not including Zach) listed at $33.675 million combined. Having all of those forwards make the roster and factoring in Zach is extremely unlikely though, so figure on at least one of the forwards making under 600k - either Rod Pelley, Cam Janssen or Vladimir Zharkov - not making the team and the figure's closer to $33 million. I'll cut Janssen, giving us a $33.125 figure for 13 forwards not including Zach. Goalies Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg factor in for $6.425 million with another $1 million of dead cap space thanks to the buyouts of Jay Pandolfo and Andrew Peters last offseason. So adding that $7.425 would put us at $40.55 million.

Among our defensemen, if you go with the six returning players - including Fraser as the seventh D - and sub in Matt Taormina (a non-listed 550k salary) for the departed Anssi Salmela, you arrive at a cap figure of $15,267,500 for seven defensemen, not including Salvador or first-round pick Adam Larsson, whose cap figure would be 950k if he made the team. That would put our cap number at $55,817,500 which would be $8,482,500 below the $64.3 million cap celing. If Lou wants to give Salvador a legitimate chance to make the team, that does make the equation harder. If you sub out say, Fraser for Sal, that'd be around a net $2.35 million decrease in our cap space, putting our cap figure at just over $6 million. That would make it unlikely to sign Zach without either a trade or at least shortening the roster below 23 players.

Either way, if the Devils don't get Zach done, it won't be because of cap issues. Guess it's time for another few anxious days of waiting before a resolution, one way or another. At least I have the NFL free-for-all to keep me occupied until then, not to mention the MLB trade deadline. If there's been a nuttier week as far as total sports transactions, I'm hard-pressed to remember one. The first few days of NHL free agency following the lockout were somewhat comparable to what the NFL's going through but you didn't have corresponding action with another sport's trade deadline to complement that. For me it's particularly a goofy time, with literally all of my sports teams (the Mets, Jets and Devils) potentially making major transactions between now and next week.

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