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The cost of acquiring cap space is keeping Kadri in the UFA market

July 27, 2022, 6:56 PM ET [22 Comments]
Kevin Allen
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The key to signing free agent center Nazem Kadri will be embracing a financial strategy that may have been introduced by Popeye's friend Wimpy in cartoons of the 1930s.

Wimpy's famous line was always: "I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today."

Instant gratification for future payment. That's the philosophy that will get Kadri attached to his next team. That's the capitalist way. Get what you need now and worry about the cost at a future date. In the sports world, it is standard operating procedure to trade away your future for a run at the championship today. We see it all of the time at the trade deadline when teams hand out draft picks like they are holiday cookies.

But we don't see those kind of payments during the free agent signing period. And that's one of the complications of getting Kadri and John Klingberg signed.

Kadri is coming off a remarkable season. He posted 87 points in 71 games while playing a prickly style of hockey. His style his fingernails across the chalkboard. Undoubtedly, he expects/hopes to receive $8 million or more per season.

But his timing couldn't be worse because the NHL is in a COVID 19-induced flat cap era. League teams have run out of cap space.

That's an exaggeration, but not by much.

If you look at capfriendly.com, you see that only 11 of the NHL's 32 teams have more than $8.4 million in cap space.

But that is misleading because most of those teams have to finish re-signing their restricted free agents. For example, the Calgary Flames have $9.3 million in cap space, but they still need to sign Andrew Mangiapane and Oliver Kylington.

The Dallas Stars have $11.4 million, but they still have to re-sign Jason Robertson and Jake Oettinger. New York Islanders' Lou Lamoriello, who is presumably interested in Kadri, boasts $11.2 million, but still needs to negotiate new deals with Noah Dopson and Alexander Romanov. That will take a large chunk of that money.

The Blackhawks have $10.5 million, but the rebuilding 'Hawks are looking to shed payroll, not add.

You can see where we are headed here. Some GMs would love to sign Kadri, but none own the cap space to get it done. In fact, very few teams around the NHL have much cap space at all, especially when you factor in the other players they need to sign.

As of today, Capfriendly.com projects 10 teams are already over next season's cap. Six other teams have less than $4 million in cap space, and the Seattle Kraken are the only team in that group that doesn't have roster players still to re-sign. Capfriendly.com projects the Kraken has $2.1 million in cap space remaining.

That's enough to land a fourth liner or third-pairing defenseman, not Kadri.

All of this brings us back to the Wimpy's strategy to expend future assets to take care of his immediate needs. If the Colorado Avalanche are indeed trying to bring back Kadri, or if Lamoriello wants him on Long Island, the acceptable practice is to move some contracts.

But is problematic in today's environment. First, GMs pause a bit when they have to keep up assets to sign a free agent. It takes all the fun out of landing a free agent. When you give up assets to sign a free agent, you are no longer signing a free agent. You are essentially making a trade.

And some of these trades being proposed would hurt the teams more than Kadri would help it.

Don't think Lamoriello doesn't think about how the Devon Toews trade of 2020 has worked out for his team. He made that trade for salary cap reasons and it has hurt his team.

Since salary cap space now is so valuable, the price of making salary cap-clearing moves has gone up considerable. Teams want first-round picks, top prospects or quality players, to help a team carve out salary cap room.

Another problem is there isn't one-stop shopping in this situation. A team trying to clear more than $3 million might have to make a couple of deals to clear enough cap space for a Kadri signing.

If you are the Colorado Avalanche, maybe you don't mind giving up some of your future for a chance to repeat. But when the cost is your future, plus other valuable assets, you have to hesitate.

Wimpy never said: "I will gladly pay twice the price on Tuesday for a hamburger today."

Kadri will get signed, but right now the interested teams are squawking about the price of acquiring cap space.
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