The NHL offseason is still in full swing, but two teams managed to take a break from the doldrums and found a way to work out a trade early Thursday morning.
The Arizona Coyotes utilized their ample cap space to pick up a high-end prospect in exchange for helping another team get rid of a bad contract. The Florida Panthers managed to move Dave Bolland’s albatross of a contract out, opening $5.5 million in cap space in each of the next three seasons.
In order to get the deal done, the Panthers had to send Lawson Crouse over to the Coyotes. Crouse, the 11th-overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, was considered by some to be the top prospect in Florida’s system. The Panthers also received a second- and third-round selection from the Coyotes.
Given the competitive nature of the league, many look to declare a winner and a loser of a trade as soon as they possibly can. It’s possible with some trades, such as the Taylor Hall/Adam Larsson deal (a second-pairing defenseman for one of league’s best 5v5 scorers), but most other trades don’t exactly have a clear cut winner and loser.
There are some trades where it’s virtually impossible to determine a winner or loser, simply because both teams benefit equally from the trade.
Though it’s early, the Bolland swap has the all the makings of a win-win deal, with neither team really “winning” or “losing.”
From Florida’s perspective, this was a necessary evil to get out of a terrible contract. The Dave Bolland contract was one of the worst in the league the moment it was signed, especially considering that the Panthers had capable players already on the roster. Add in the fact that Bolland had a serious injury in 2013, and the whole contract just gets worse.
Injuries are what have derailed his career now, and what prevented the Panthers from buying him out. The only option to get the cap hit off of the books was to make a trade, and that’s exactly what the team managed to do.
Now, they have an extra $5.5 million to work with in each of the next three seasons. Big names such as Aaron Ekblad and Aleksander Barkov may already be locked into long-term contracts, but there are other players who will need extensions. Jonathan Huberdeau, Alexander Petrovic and Mark Pysyk will need to be re-signed after the 2016-2017 season. Jared McCann, and Michael Matheson will need new contracts the year after that. Adding $5.5 million in cap space helps with these extensions, and should keep the team together through the prime years of the core players.
Getting that flexibility had a cost, though, which was giving up top prospect Lawson Crouse. The 6’4″, 215-pound wing has been a divisive topic of discussion ever since his draft year, given his impressive size and scouting reports, but middling production. In his draft year, he averaged less than a point per game, and in his draft plus-one year, he only averaged 1.27 points per game.
Given his size, and how scouts rave about his defensive skills, it seems probable that Crouse will crack an NHL roster sooner than later, and that he’ll stick. The 19-year-old may not become a top-line, elite player, but he could be a solid middle-six option that can be a significant force on the penalty kill.
The Panthers did well to get a second- and a third-round pick as well as cap space, mainly because those two draft picks have a decent chance of becoming an NHL player. The fact that the picks are a couple of years down the road doesn’t help, but it never hurts to stock up on draft selections if a team wants to be a competitor for a long time.
The chance that the Panthers get at least one NHLer out of those two draft picks isn’t drastically lower than Crouse’s chances of becoming an NHL regular, as there really isn’t a guarantee that the young winger will crack an NHL roster full time. They’re getting a decent amount of value in return for Crouse, and freeing up a ton of cap space, making the trade a good deal for them.
The Coyotes, on the other hand, used their cap space to improve their chances of getting an NHL player from their draft picks, by upgrading from a second and a third to a first-round pick. Crouse is more likely to contribute at the NHL level than either of those picks, and there’s a bonus; he fits in better with their time frame than either one of the draft selections would.
With a loaded farm system featuring names such as Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Dylan Strome, Christian Dvorak, Clayton Keller and Jakob Chycrun, the Coyotes will be challenging for the top spot in the Western Conference within the next couple of years. Crouse will be able to contribute to the NHL roster at that time; draft picks won’t.
Bolland’s contract is also insured. The actual amount of salary that the 30-year-old will be owed for the rest of his contract (as long as he stays injured) is only $1.1 million per year, instead of the full $5.5 million.
That’s big news for a team like Arizona, that is trying it’s best to make it to the salary cap floor while paying as little real money as possible. Between the Chris Pronger, Pavel Datsyuk, and Dave Bolland contracts, the Coyotes will have close to $18 million of salary cap hit, but will only actually be paying around $1.7 million of actual salary.
That’s an impressive amount of savings, and returning to the Bolland trade, it’s clear that Arizona’s management felt that upgrading from two draft picks to Lawson Crouse was worth the $3.3 million they’ll end up paying Bolland before his contract goes off the books.
The fact that Bolland’s contract is insured is huge because it drastically reduces the amount of salary the Coyotes have to pay. It’s been made clear in the past that they’re a budget team, and spending a full $16.5 million on Bolland probably wouldn’t have been worth it. Saving the extra $13.2 million is important, and having Bolland’s cap hit to get the team over the floor the next couple of seasons also had to be a factor in the deal.
To recap: the Coyotes get a better prospect and pick up yet another contract where they can pay a small amount of actual money in order to get a large cap hit, pushing them well over the cap floor without breaking their budget.
The Panthers, on the other hand, free up $5.5 million in cap space in order to have more cap flexibility, and manage to get some value in return for Crouse.
Both teams benefit from the trade, making it a win-win. It will be interesting to see what each team does with their newly acquired assets, and in a couple of years from now, maybe we’ll look back and assign a winner and a loser to this trade. For the time being, though, it’s best to just call it a win-win.