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Trade Analysis Part II: The Payroll

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Before the deadline I called for the Thrashers work to get younger, more talented and clear cap space. All three were accomplished, although I feel that Holik, Recchi and Zhitnik should also have been dealt for prospects yesterday. Today I want to give everyone an update on where we stand with respect to the payroll.

2007-08 Thrashers Roster (with cap values)
F Kovalchuk $6.4 - White $2.375 - Recchi $1.125
F Kozlov $3.66 - Perrin $0.75 - Hossa $6
F Dupuis $0.88 - Holik $4.25 - Slater $0.775
F Larsen $0.535 - Thorburn $0.51 - Boulton $0.525

D Havelid $2.7 - Enstrom $0.9
D Klee $1.25 - Zhitnik $3.5
D Exelby $1.4 - McCarthy $0.725

G Lehtonen $1.85 - Hedberg $1.0
Bench: C. Stuart $0.483 - Popovic $0.52 - Rucchin $2.125

Team Total: $42.1 million

If the Thrashers had made zero trades they were on pace to finish the season with a total cap hit of around $42-43 million depending upon injury call ups or acquisitions. My working assumption is that GM Don Waddell probably had an internal budget with a ceiling somewhere around $45 to work with this year.

Looking ahead to next year the Thrashers roster with players who are already signed add up to a salary cap hit for the 2008-09 season that comes to a total of $34 million (I'm assuming that Lehtonen gets a contract similar to Cam Ward's this summer). Next year the salary cap maximum will increase to around $54-55 million and the salary floor will also rise to $39 million so for certain the Thrashers will need to add an additional $5 million in salary just to reach the minimum. If Don Waddell is given an internal budget number that is right around the mid-point of $47 million that means he has roughly $12-13 million to use this summer during free agency or for contracts acquired through trades.

That leave a lot of money for a few roster upgrades. Given the annual inflation that seems to kick in during unrestricted free agency period I think that it will take $6-7 million per year to sign top free agent defensemen like Campbell or Redden (age 30)--and in the case of Campbell someone would probably have to offer him a long 6 or 7 year deal. I have argued that the Thrashers should avoid commitments to aging players but Brian Campbell (age 28) is unusual in that he will hit free agency still in the prime of his career. Is the team prepared to step up and commit $42-47 million over 7 years to Campbell? I also like Kalinin (26) a defensive defenseman who is just 26 and should have many good years left in him. That still puts the team in a position of taking on Campbell's age 34 and age 35 seasons. Some other interesting defensemen include Rozsival (28)--who has played some great hockey for the NY Rangers, John-Michael Liles (26) and perhaps Marek Malik (32).

I'd also like to see the Thrashers sign Zubarev from Russia, but he probably needs some time in the minors. But he might be ready after 40 games in the minors when the inevitable injuries strike. Personally I think that Zhitnik should be told that the team will send him to the minors to ride the bus if he doesn't show up to NHL camp in shape next year. They are the hook for the money but it would clear cap space and show that they hold the veterans accountable for being professional.

If the Thrashers commit $7 million to a defenseman and have a working budget of $47 million that still leaves them with room for a $5 million player with $2 million breathing space under their internal ceiling. Who could you land for that $5 or less? The Penguins Ryan Malone is young (27) and will be looking for a raise from his current $1.45 salary. Dupuis (28) could be brought back. Ryder (27) and Dumont (29) and perhaps another year of Mark Recchi (40) might be worthwhile. The other wild card is this--what if Hossa wants to return? You could probably fit Hossa and Kalinin under a $47 million budget--that would be quite a team I could get really jazzed about.

2087-09 Thrashers Roster (with cap values, new players in bold)
F Kovalchuk $6.4 - White $2.375 - C. Armstrong $1.2
F Kozlov $3.66 - Little $0.9 - Christensen $0.75
F LaVallee $0.525 - Perrin $0.75 - Slater $0.775
F Larsen $0.535 - Thorburn $0.51 - C. Stuart $0.483

D Havelid $2.7 - Enstrom $0.9
D Klee $1.25 - Zhitnik $3.5
D Exelby 1.4$ - Valabik $0.858

G Lehtonen $2.67 - Pavelec $0.85
Bench: Holzapfel $0.85 Lewis $.588

Team Total $34.4 million (note: Lehtonen is a RFA and I gave him the same cap value as Cam Ward's current contract.)