Mats Zuccarello's salary arbitration date has been set for Wednesday July 31st. Under the old CBA, if a player filed for arbitration and won more than $1.05 million/year, the team HAD to sign them to the arbiter's deal. However, under the new CBA, that amount has been raised to $3.50 million, which Zucc is sure to receive less than. In other words, unless Glen Sather can sign Zucc to a contract prior to the arbitration date, NY will take on whatever cap hit is decided.
This means, starting August 1, and barring any trades or relevant free gency signings... Glen Sather will have only C Derek Stepan (whom is coming off his entry-level contract and has no arbitration rights) to re-sign. In other words, all the other puzzle pieces save Stepan will be transparent by July 31st at the latest, and Sather's task of arranging 24 or 25 of them under the $64.3 million salary cap will be the writing on the Wall Street.
We know Carl Hagelin & Ryan Callahan will be injured to start the NHL regular season in October. What we don't know is when they're expected to return, or if Glen Sather intends to put them on Long-Term Injured Reserve to receive cap relief. What we do know, however, is their will need to be, at a bare minimum, 22 roster spots under the cap by the season opener. More conservatively, hedging against potential injuries in training camp/preseason, it's an appropriate exercise to expect to fit 24 or 25 players under the cap.
Let's look at the current Top 24 roster spots (2G-8D-14). Cap hits are including contract bonuses, numbers are player's salary cap hit in ($ millions):
Hagelin (2.250) ---- Stepan (?.???) ----- Nash (7.800)
Kreider (1.325) --- Richards (6.667) - Callahan (4.275)
Zuccarello (?.???) -- Brassard (3.200) -- Boyle (1.7000)
Pouliot (1.300) --- D. Moore (1.000) - Dorsett (1.633)
McDonagh (4.700) - Girardi (3.325)
Staal (3.975) ---- Stralman (1.700)
Del Zotto (2.550) - J. Moore (0.965)
Lundqvist (6.875) / Biron (1.300)
Extra Skaters (Taxi Squad) :
F Haley (0.600)
F Pyatt (1.550)
LD Falk (0.917)
LD A. Johnson (0.600)
Buried Forwards Cap Hit: Asham + Powe (0.217)
'13-'14 CAP HIT:::::: $60,482,000
'13-'14 CAP SPACE : $3,818,000
Unfortunately for NY, Zuccarello will probably, with a rough guesstimate, receive $1.5+ million on a 1-year deal. Stepan, unless negotiations turn into a stalemate contract holdout, will probably receive $3+ million/year. With those predictions, Glen Sather needs a minimum of $4.5 million in cap space to retain Zucc & Stepan within the next 12 weeks.
Mind you, the possibility of Hagelin and/or Callahan being placed on Long Term Injured Reserve exists. The team could very well be receiving LTIR cap credit to begin the season. HERE is a great article by HockeyRodent explaining LTIR. But for the sake of this exercise we will assume the cap is $64.3 million with no LTIR placement.
Under this projection, there is only $3.8 million. These findings would lead one to believe Sather will probably have a $700,000 MINIMUM payroll crunch. If Sather wishes to lock Stepan with a long-term deal, it'll be even more. Let's ponder some options for making some room for Zucc + Stepan while keeping the roster count at 24 players:
* Trading LD Michael Del Zotto for draft pick(s) or prospect(s), and recalling AHL'er LD Danny Syrvet (0.5875), would reduce this payroll by $1.9625 million. Pairs would then be McDonagh-Girardi, Staal-Stralman, Falk-Moore, Syrvet-Johnson
* Trading away Boyle and promoting AHL prospect C Oscar Lindbergh (0.760) as a fill-in forward, would reduce this payroll by $940,000.
* Trading away Boyle, and not burying Powe, would reduce this payroll by ~$750,000
* Trading away Dorsett, and not burying Asham, would reduce this payroll by ~$700,000
* Trading away Boyle and promoting AHL prospect W Jasper Fasth (0.900) a spot on 3rd line wing, would reduce this payroll by $600,000.
* Fasth beating out Kreider for roster spit would reduce this payroll by ~$425,000.
* J.T. Miller (1.2442) beating out Kreider for roster spot would reduce this payroll by ~ $80,000.
* W Danny Kristo (1.300) beating out Kreider for roster spot would reduce this payroll by ~ $25,000.
I would surmise Stepan's contract value, depending on contract length, would be something very similar to Ryan McDonagh's ultimate price range:
2 years - $3.000 million/yr
3 years - $3.333 million/yr
4 years - $3.700 million/yr
5 years - $4.100 milion/yr
6 years - $4.667 million/yr
* * * * * * * *
Keep in mind, as well, NY has a secondary buyout window in August because at least one player filed for arbitration. Trades, buyouts, contract burials, or additional free agent signings remain a possibility... or perhaps probability... to go down this August. Someone get me some popcorn.