The dust is far from settled from a very busy Friday in the land of the Dallas Stars, with the team signing Jason Spezza to a four-year contract extension then swapping defensemen with the San Jose Sharks by sending Brenden Dillon to California for Jason Demers.
Both moves were headline worthy in and of themselves, and both have an impact on this team that goes beyond this season. We've examined some of that from a hockey perspective already, but another important aspect of the moves has to be taken into consideration as well - how the extension and the trade affect the Stars salary cap situation.
Spezza's general impact is obvious, with his extension having a cap hit of $7.5 million for the four seasons after this one. Demers comes at a slightly greater cost than Dillon this season, but the Sharks kept 35 percent of his salary, meaning he is signed for this season and next at approximately $2.21 million.
As for how that works in the bigger picture, the fine folks at CapGeek actually paint a pretty rosy picture for the Stars this season and beyond even with the moves.
At the moment this season, the Stars have a cap payroll of $68,146,953 out of $69 million with 25 players on the active roster and Rich Peverley on long-term injured reserve (where his salary counts against the cap but the Stars have some relief should they need to go over). Patrik Nemeth and Valeri Nichushkin are also eligible for LTIR, but the Stars have not made that move yet.
According to the number crunchers at CapGeek, that means the Stars could acquire a $7.4 million player at the trade deadline. And they have the space to take Peverley off LTIR if the situation ever works itself out without making other moves.
Next season is when things get interesting. The Stars have 11 forwards, four defensemen and one goalie signed who are currently on the NHL roster. That's a cap payroll of $49.6 million for 16 players with four relatively controllable RFAs to resign on defense in Nemeth, John Klingberg, Jyrki Jokipakka and Jamie Oleksiak. Four forwards are UFAs - Shawn Horcoff, Erik Cole, Peverley and Patrick Eaves while Curtis McKenzie is an RFA.
That's actually a very tenable position even if the cap doesn't go up, which has been making its way around the rumor mill recently. The Stars need 2-3 complimentary forwards, a backup goalie and need to make some decisions on the logjam at defense. Essentially $20 million in cap space should be more than enough to afford some expensive moves on the blueline as well as extending the important RFAs.
Where general manager Jim Nill's decisions really look good, though, are in the very important offseasons of 2017 and 2019.
Spezza's deal expires in 2019, the same summer that Tyler Seguin's cap friendly deal ends. Seguin's extension, which he signed with the Bruins, is a huge bargain for the Stars at this point with a cap hit of $5.75 million, and assuming things continue to roll along at relatively the same rate, he is going to be an extremely high value free agent.
Spezza's deal expiring at the same time as Seguin's, though, basically builds in a cushion the Stars can use to keep room for Seguin's extension. Essentially, the Stars have $13.25 million in combined cap hit tied up in Seguin and Spezza for the next four seasons after this one. When the contracts expire, they will have that much cap space plus whatever additional growth the salary cap gives them to sign first and second line centers. If that breaks down as $11 million for Seguin and $2 million plus cap growth for the second line center, so be it.
The genius of it is the Stars will almost certainly not find themselves in a situation where they won't have the cap space to afford Seguin's extension, no matter how silly it might be, although it may leave them a little strapped on the second line. And the same situation applies, though to a slightly less drastic extent, to Jamie Benn.
Benn's contract expires the same summer as Ales Hemsky's contract, which builds in a $9.25 million cushion for any potential Benn extension.
The catch with such logic is, obviously, Hemsky and Spezza are upper tier players who will leave holes in the lineup if all the money currently spent on their cap hit goes to a Benn or Seguin extension. The hope from the Stars perspective is likely the cap growth and some internal development will fill those holes.
But it really is brilliant on the part of Jim Nill. They're not going to find themselves in the position that the Chicago Blackhawks or Boston Bruins found themselves in, where they are unable to afford their own elite talent when that talent needs a contract extension, because of how he's scheduled some of the large expiring contracts.