Much was made this offseason about the Red Wings roster. In short there was a lot of NHL talent and not enough spots on the roster.
How did it come to that? Well take last year’s squad, add Danny DeKeyser the top college free agent that the Red Wings ended up landing near the end of last year. Then add Stephen Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson, combine these two names with the talented prospects down in Grand Rapids that won the Calder Cup last year, and you have a lot of players trying to make an NHL roster in Detroit. From that Griffins squad looking to make or has made the roster this year include Joakim Andersson, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Brendan Smith, and Brian Lashoff.
By my count that’s eight names added, but here’s the kicker only Valtteri Filppula, Ian White and Damien Brunner were lost to free agency and Carlo Colaiacovo was bought out after only one year in a Wings uniform. That still leaves Detroit at a net gain of four players, and gave the Red Wings 26 players to choose from for 23 roster spots.
Training camp came and gone, the preseason went by and before you know it the Red Wings were three men over the roster limit and almost $2.5 million over the cap limit. The deadline to set a cap compliant roster was looming and everyone and their mother had their own opinion on what should be done to rectify the situation.
Then Ken Holland worked his GM magic.
Many were expecting a trade of some sort to happen, maybe dump a few bodies for late round draft picks to make things simple. Popular trade bait included Jordin Tootoo, Cory Emmerton, and Patrick Eaves. It was easy to say a forward was on his way out because the breakdown read 17 forwards, seven defenseman and two goalies. The possibilities for setting a 23-man roster are generally 14F-7D-2G or 13F-8D-2G. It’s easy to see how the Red Wings would choose the former and not the latter format.
The Red Wings actually opted for the 13-8-2 format, more on that later though because there was also the cap issue the Red Wings faced. Not only would they have to move bodies, but they would have to move enough money to get themselves back in the black to start this season. It’s not like this was a problem, the three names listed earlier as trade bait fetched $3,633,333 in cap space, the only problem is either Holland couldn’t find a trade partner, or didn’t want to move players when they knew they could use IR to get themselves under the cap.
Injured reserve has to be a GM’s best friend when dealing with a crowded roster. Ken Holland was able to use IR, as well as the injuries that piled up in camp, to get this team eligible for the 2013-14 season. There are two types of IR, regular and long-term (LTIR). Regular IR takes your player off the books and his cap hit too but provides no cap relief, LTIR does both of the things regular IR does but it also provides cap relief up to the cap deficit of a team. This is assuming the total of all players on LTIR can fill the gap. Regular IR has a minimum seven-day inactive period, LTIR has a 10 game inactive period and at least 24 days off of the main roster.
To explain LTIR a little better, currently nine teams are using LTIR for a player(s). Seven of them have a cap space of $0 (this includes the Red Wings). What this means is that if the player on LTIR was counted they would be over the cap limit, so LTIR absorbs the negative cap hit, but it has a limit to absorb only to absorb as much as the contract(s) placed on LTIR.
So, with this in mind the Red Wings moved four players to some sort of IR. Jordin Tootoo (shoulder) and goaltender Jonas Gustavsson (groin) were placed on regular IR, and Darren Helm (back/groin) and Patrick Eaves (MCL sprain) were placed on long term IR. This brought the Red Wings down to 23 players, with 14F-7D-2G (Petr Mrazek was called up to replace Gustavsson). With this the cap space would be at +$562,122, the Wings are in the black and down to 23 so everything is all good, right?
Well yes that would be correct, but this is why Ken Holland is General Manager of the Detroit Red Wings and I am not. Holland found a way, with a couple more moves, to acquire more cap space and give him more flexibility in the near future when those players had to come off of IR. Cory Emmerton was placed on waivers, albeit this was before the IR moves, so now he may be moved easily from GR to Detroit. Gustav Nyquist was able to be moved without waivers. Here’s where on the ice the move doesn’t make sense, but in the books it does.
Waiving Emmerton absolved the entire $533,333 cap hit he carries, Holland knew no one would be willing to claim him so that came off the cap total, no real complaints there, but he opted to assign Nyquist to GR and thanks to his games played he didn’t have to go through waivers. This is what sent armchair GMs into a hissy fit. Yes he is a soon to be star player and yes he deserves to be in the NHL now, but the fact of the matter is Holland did it to give himself more breathing room later on.
By moving those two bodies and adding defenseman Xavier Ouellet (cap hit $894,167) to the roster the Wings saved more cap space (about $30,000) and became a 13-8-2 style roster. Emmerton was added back to Detroit after clearing waivers to get the 13th forward roster spot. Here’s a breakdown of the roster with cap hit included.
With this roster of players submitted to the league on roster deadline day the Red Wings achieved cap space of $592,955 for an active roster. Key word here being active, now take the numbers of the two regular IR players (Tootoo $1.9M + Gustavsson $1.5M) and add them to the active cap subtracted from the two LTIR players (Helm $2.125M + Eaves $1.2M) the math looks a little like this: $63,707,045 + $3,400,000 (IR) – $3,325,000 (LTIR) = $63,782,045. Still cap compliant, however because LTIR is being used to absorb what would be otherwise a negative number the cap reads as $0. This is how the Red Wings were able to get themselves cap compliant and still keep everybody they wanted inside the organization.
Professional sports is definitely a business, and as Red Wings fans we should be thankful we have a genius running the numbers for us in Ken Holland. With Nyquist sitting in Grand Rapids and Emmerton having already cleared waivers we have two players who can be moved up and down easily should injuries not pile up and the roster gets overcrowded. So what does the future hold for Detroit?
Holland should be entertaining the thought of a trade, if anything to save himself the headache of constantly juggling numbers to keep his team cap compliant. Again Tootoo and Eaves are popular trade bait among Red Wings fans but we have to wait until they clear IR to begin to bargain with them. Tootoo might spend a longer time on IR because of his cap hit, but when he comes off Emmerton will probably go back down to GR. For Gustavsson, when his groin has healed up, Mrazek will simply be re-assigned to GR, and assuming both Eaves and Helm are still on LTIR the cap will still stay at $0.
Now here’s where it gets tricky, if either Helm or Eaves need to come off of LTIR another move will have to be made, either via waivers or a trade. This is because taking either of them off of LTIR makes it so that the total cap hit on LTIR no longer exceeds cap deficit. So even though both Eaves and Helm have been improving and should be on the ice soon, they may be facing a long spell on LTIR, unless Holland has tricks up his sleeve for when that happens, which wouldn’t surprise me, or anyone for that matter.
The man clearly has a knack for seeing the future and preparing for obstacles. The foreseeable future might be a little murky for me, but I’m willing to bet it’s crystal clear for Ken Holland, he’s been in control of the Red Wings for the better part of 17 years and really he has yet to steer them wrong. Expect that track record to continue.
All numbers and salary information including cap hits, LTIR information and more provided by capgeek.com