Monday, November 12, 2012

Roster Management: What Would It Cost To Retain Our 2013 UFAs?

I've been having a lot of discussions lately about whether or not a year-long lockout would be good for the Leafs and the pros and cons associated with playing the season or not playing the season.

On the one hand, if we wiped out 2012-13, we're guaranteed no worse than a ~6% chance at the 1st overall pick.  Getzlaf and Perry would go straight from being property of the Ducks to UFAs with no exclusivity period.  Maybe most importantly, the Leafs will have shed all of their bad money with the exception of J.M Liles and the final year of the Komisarek deal.

In shedding their inefficient deals though, they'd also be losing guys like MacArthur, Bozak, and Lupul.  Let me start by saying that I realize that these three players are some of the more polarizing guys on the team.  Some people would trade Lupul for a ham sandwich while others will put the blinders on and look exclusively at last season's production.

If we're going to decide whether or not we want to retain these players, a good place to start is probably by looking at what kind of contract we'd likely be committing ourselves to.

Clarke MacArthur

If the season started today, MacArthur would be making $3.25M against a $70M cap meaning that he accounts for 4.64% of the salary cap.  Since joining the Leafs, MacArthur has posted seasons of 62 and 43 points and has reliably pushed play in the right direction.  As far as what we can expect from MacArthur, I would say it's reasonable to split the difference between those two years and say that he's probably good for 50-something points.

If we're looking for recent comparables, Tuomo Ruutu has put up comparable though slightly lower numbers in the past two seasons.  As a UFA this offseason, Ruutu landed himself a 4 year / $19M contract, which nets out to about 6.79% of the cap.  Adjusting for MacArthur's slightly superior statistical performance, we're probably looking at an even 7% of the cap.

Joffrey Lupul

Joffrey Lupul's current deal has him earning $4.25M which accounts for 6.07% of the cap.  Last year, Lupul was better than a point per game after having struggled to stay healthy for the preceding two seasons.  At the time Lupul signed the contract, he looked like a 50-point player with some unfulfilled potential to exceed those numbers.

Trying to guess at what Lupul would fetch in today's free agent market is tough to figure.  Last year was his best season as a pro and there aren't really any comparables in last year's free agent class with the kind of boom-or-bust production that we've seen from Lupul.  My best guess would see him getting a contract roughly like the one Grabovski signed last season which would have him earning about 7.86% of the cap.

Tyler Bozak

This offseason will mark Bozak's first foray into unrestricted free agency.  Whatever your opinion of Bozak may be, his $1.5M contract (2.14% of the cap) is certainly less than he'll be making as a UFA.  His point totals are definitely inflated by his linemates but on paper he looks like a pretty productive player, putting up 47 points in 73 games last season.

Given his production, would it be unreasonable to see Bozak get a deal that looks something like the 4 year, $16M contract that Calgary gave Hudler this offseason?  On the surface it may seem crazy but the numbers aren't that far off.  My best guess in this instance would be something in the $3.5M range which means about 5% of today's cap.

The New Cap

There isn't much doubt that whatever the new cap is, there will end up being some perversions associated with it.  Assuming that some kind of 'make-whole' provision eventually makes its way into the finalized CBA, there will be guys whose % share of the cap goes up dramatically.  In that event, you run into instances where comparables stop making sense and negotiations become problematic until they reach a new equilibrium.

The problem with the unrestricted market is that it's a lot closer to being a free market than not.  Teams who have money to spend often end up bidding guys beyond what's reasonable and I expect that the agents' use of comparables will be compelling in a few instances, particularly for teams with specific needs.  For this reason, I would expect that the share of cap number for each of these three players will actually need a bit of an upward adjustment as the cap takes a dive with the new CBA.

Who Stays and Who Goes

All things considered, I'm probably letting Lupul and Bozak walk.  Bozak is a guy who I feel is a product of his environment and while I'm more than happy to have him at his present cap hit, the raise that he's going to get in the free market will see him earning money that I'm not comfortable spending on a guy who's better suited to skating in a bottom-6 than a top-6.

Lupul would be a great candidate to spend that money on if the commitment in terms of years is modest and there's no other way to spend the cash.  Cap space is an asset with a yearly expiration date so you might as well use it all if you're picking up positive-value assets.  Lupul is a top-6 forward, even taking into consideration that last season was a statistical outlier, and paying him something in the range of 8% of the cap if you can't upgrade elsewhere is reasonable.  Basically what I'm saying is, go after the big fish, like Getzlaf and Perry, and if you come up empty-handed, Lupul is a reasonable consolation prize.

MacArthur at ~7% of the cap is a deal I'd sign sooner than lose him for nothing.  He's a versatile guy in that he's capable of putting up solid point numbers but can also be a possession driver if you find yourself with some offensive prospects knocking on the top-6 door (hey, a guy can dream).  Of the three guys, he's the contract least likelihood of being an albatross moving forward and while he may not have the ceiling of Lupul, I'm a little risk-averse with the roster in the shape it's in.

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