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Playing GM for a Day

With free agency just six days away it is time to take a look at what is likely (or unlikely) to happen to the team roster in the coming weeks. The Thrashers have 13 players signed at the moment for $31.2 million (expressed in cap cost terms--the average salary per year). The team also retain the rights to Exelby, Slater, Thorburn. The Thrashers also have a few days left in which they can resign their own potential free agents before they hit the market on Sunday.

Filling out the roster. First let's start with the Thrashers RFA guys. I assume that Thorburn will make close to the league minimum as he did last year (as do most 4th line checkers) and that Exelby will see a significant raise to around $1.4 per year. (Keep in mind that Sutton received $1.9 the last two years of his RFA deal.) Slater is a tough one because he made $.9 million last year and was clearly overpaid. He made more money than Dupuis and Dupuis is a better NHL player right now than Slater. The Thrashers will have to offer Slater a qualifying offer of close to $1 million to retain his rights and if I were him I'd be tempted to just sign it. If they negotiate a multi year deal he should take a pay cut like McCarthy just did and Stefan did on his last two-year deal. I see him signing a two year extension for $1.5 total.

Now if we add in the value of those three estimates for the RFAs our total payroll comes out to $34 million for 16 roster spots. Now the really big question is what sort budget is DW working with? Last year he ended up spending around $44-45 million. This year the cap is expected to rise up around $50 million. But I don't anticipate that the Thrashers will spend anywhere close to that amount. The team lost significant money the last two seasons will spending right up to the cap. Every additional dollar is basically another dollar lost.

I'm going to use the working assumption that the team budget is something around $45 for the entire season. It could be higher or lower of course, but ownership demonstrated a willingness to spend that amount last year. DW's recent comments about Rucchin's situation suggests that the team salary number will far enough below the NHL salary cap so that the Long Term Injury exemption is a dead issue.

injuries struck there was no room to make adjustments. If going to bet that If the Thrashers are budgeting $45 I highly doubt they will commit all of those dollars up front. The team landed inself in budget hell in the first year after the lockout. If DW only signs contracts worth $43-44 million that leaves him with $1-2 million cushion to work with during the year and at the trading deadline.

If I am correct in my assumptions then that means DW has nearly $34 million spent on 16 roster spots which leaves roughly $9-10 million for 7 roster slots. Now we are ready to play the GM for a day game. First I'm going to assume that one of those bench slots and one of the 4th line checkers spots each make the league minimum (about .5 million) so that now leaves $8 million for 5 slots. I'm not going to spectulate on the names of the individuals who will fill those slots because there are so many potential candidates.

Here is what is left to fill by my count: 1st line center, 2nd line center, 1st line wing, 3rd line winger and one defenseman. I'll start by filling in the defense slot. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Hnidy return $.8-$1.0 million next year. There was little drop off when he filled in for Sutton on the top pairing and he seems to have found a regular shift after sitting out much of the 1st month.

Now that we have finished up with the defense, we have about $7 million for 4 forward positions. Another potenial returning player would be Dupuis. He is a fine 3rd line player and I can see him returning for around $1 million a season. However, if the team wanted to spend more money on scoring forwards I could see them trying to fill this spot with a guy who makes near the league minimum.

That leaves about $6 million for 3 offensive forward positions. In my opinion the top priority for the team is to find a decent center who play on one of the top lines and help run the power play. I expect that for $2.5 million the team might sign Comrie, Lang or Yashin depending upon how the market shakes out.

Now that leaves one center spot and one wing slot and just $3.5 million. Unfortunately that is the amount of money I expect that S. Kozlov will expect to see on the free agent market. If the team wants to say under $43 million for payroll the only way they can afford him is if they go cheap at one one center position and the 3rd line winger spot. If the Thrashers pay him that much they have to go very cheap at the scoring center position yet another Metropolit type of experiment? I think Little is not be ready to handle the job yet. If they wanted to reunited the Kozlov-Belanger-Hossa line it would probably cost them $3.5 for Slava and $1.6-$2.0 for Belanger. If they spend that much it puts the team total right at $44 million for the year with little leeway for injuries adjustments or trades later in the year. If the ownership was willing to spend closer to the $46-47 million level then I could see Kozlov fitting into this roster much more easily.

Roster Slot 2006-07 Salary 2007-08 Salary
1st F Kozlov 2.337 Kozlov 3.500
1st F Belanger 1.600 Belanger 1.500
1st F Hossa 6.000 Hossa 6.000
2nd F Kovalchuk 6.389 Kovalchuk 6.389
2nd F Rucchin 2.125 Comrie 2.500
2nd F Mellanby 1.000 Sterling 0.585
3rd F Dupuis 0.798 Dupuis .900
3rd F Holik 4.250 Holik 4.250
3rd F Larsen 0.485 Larsen 0.503
4th F Slater 0.900 Slater 0.750
4th F Metropolit 0.500 Thorburn 0.475
4th F Sim 0.610 ??? 0.500
1st D Zhitnik 3.504 Zhitnik 3.504
1st D Havelid 2.700 Havelid 2.700
2nd D Exelby 0.684 Exelby 1.400
2nd D Sutton 1.900 Enstrom 0.500
3rd D de Vries 2.166 Hnidy 0.800
3rd D McCarthy 0.775 McCarthy 0.750
Goalie Lehtonen 2.125 Lehtonen 2.125
Goalie Hedberg 1.152 Hedberg 1.150
Bench MacKenzie 0.475 Rucchin 2.125
Bench Hnidy 0.600 Popovic 0.540
Bench Vigier 0.515 ??? 0.475
Total 43.36 44.24
Bold players are on the team roster.