Rumorbusters: Dany Heatley

Heatley to the Sharks.

I should probably put an (e5) next to it, because one of the most adamant supporters of this rumor is the infamous Eklund. Normally, I'd just brush him off, but this rumor has been picked up by virtually every person out there, all of whom want to play GM and make deals for him.

I admit, the idea of having a pure goal-scorer like Heatley on the wing of arguably the best passer in the league in Joe Thornton is tempting, even if his character took a beating from the trade demand that started all these rumors. It'd be like having an even better version of the 05-06 Cheechoo every year. But the reality of the situation is, the NHL has a hard salary cap, and there is no way to fit Heatley on the Sharks without negatively affecting the team's future because of it. Especially because of the recession, with the cap rumored to decrease by several million next year.

To start off, let’s examine the cap as it is right now: $56.8M. A minimum roster is 20 players; twelve forwards, six defensemen, and two goalies. There aren’t any rules about carrying fewer players, but teams would be stupid to do so, because of injuries and fatigue.

The Sharks, as it stands, have $57,322,497 tied up in salaries, which is over the cap. They currently have ten forwards, seven defensemen, and one goalie signed. Torrey Mitchell and Thomas Greiss have both recieved qualifying offers and are expected to be roster players next year, but have not signed contracts yet so are not included in the cap hit. A player will be moved.

The Senators have $56,578,333 tied up in salaries, which is barely under the cap. They have thirteen forwards, seven defensemen, one goalie, and two buyouts that will have a cap hit until 2012. While they do need another goalie, they have an excess number of players for both skater positions, and so can trade from there.

Heatley’s cap hit – as that is what matters most in these discussions – is $7.5M per year for the next five years, the largest on either the Senators or Sharks.

So, let’s break down the rumors, shall we? Alright, let’s go to the common culprit: Marleau+ for Heatley. Now, while the plus can range anywhere from the ever-popular second round pick to Jonathan Cheechoo to Milan Michalek, I’m just going to focus on the whole "Marleau for Heatley" aspect.

Marleau is an 11 year veteran to the Sharks, their captain, and their franchise leader in every single offensive category. Besides that, he’s also one of the fastest skaters in the league, great defensively, durable (averages 79 games a season in his career), is able to play both the PP and PK, and can switch from center to left wing. Oh, and he has a NTC and loves it in San Jose. While he may never have as much of a pure offensive output as Heatley, he does greatly contribute to his team. Probably most important? His cap hit is $6.3M for only one more year, and is almost guaranteed to take a significant discount to keep the team together.

Why bring that up? Because next year, when the cap is rumored to go down, Patrick Marleau and Evgeni Nabokov will be UFAs, and Joe Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi will be RFAs and deserving around $2M in raises each. There is no way the organization should be losing either of the RFAs; Pavelski is a great two-way forward with the potential to be the captain of the Sharks, and Setoguchi is a young sniper that got 31 goals and 65 points in his first full NHL season. Both are under 25 years old.

So lets say that the Sharks trade Patrick Marleau and, say, Brad Lukowich just to even out the salaries somewhat (the Senators get about $300K more, but as they already need to move a player to get a goalie, I wouldn’t say that’s too much of a problem). Two players for the price of one, which doesn’t help the Sharks’s lack of players situation in any way. Worse, the expected salary relief coming from a discount Marleau will take the next off-season disappears. Actually, Lukowich would be a free agent then, too, which is even more cap relief that pulls a Houdini.

If the Marleau for Heatley deal is done, then the Sharks have three $5M+ contracts the next off-season instead of just two, decreasing their maneuverability. Actually, they technically have one $6.67M contract and two $7.2M+ contracts, which is even worse. All three of them would have NTCs, and Heatley actually has a NMC, so there would be no waivers option for him.

Now, probably the second-most common proposal: Michalek and Ehrhoff for Heatley. Michalek’s cap hit is $4.3M per year for five years, and Ehrhoff’s is $3.1M for two years, so neither will offer cap relief in the off-season before 2010-2011. San Jose absorbs an extra $67K, which just increases the cap problems. There is also the matter of the two-for-one, which is even a bigger problem in this case.

In the previous proposal, Lukowich was thrown in to even up salary, and because he was essentially replaced by Huskins. No hard loss losing him. But while Michalek is being replaced by Heatley, Ehrhoff is a key role in the defense, quarterbacking the power play and creating offense from the point (even if his shots do tend to go wide a lot). His contract is quite fair, and his skills are not easily replaced for less salary.

And because of the two-for-one deal, even more players will have to be moved. Already its a liklihood that Cheechoo will be moved for picks and/or prospects, but with that deal it is likely that Murray will have to be moved as well, just to make cap room to sign forward.

To prove that I’m not just pulling that out of my ass? The Sharks have 18 players signed currently for a total of $57,322,497. Take out Michalek ($4.33M) and Ehrhoff ($3.1M) and the total is now $49,889,164 for 16 players. That’s $6,910,836 to sign at least four players, or $1,727,709 per player – which is doable. But then you add in Dany Heatley ($7.5M), and the Sharks are $589,164 over the cap and still need to sign at least three players. Already they know that Mitchell and Greiss will get at least $790K as per their qualifying offers, so I’ll just assume that they’ll each get $800K. Now the Sharks are $2,189,164 over the cap and still need to sign at least one more guy. Trade Cheechoo ($3M) for picks/prospects, and now the Sharks are $810,836 under the cap with two players to sign. That’s $405,418 per player, when the minimum salary is $500,000. Trade Lukowich ($1.56M), and now the Sharks have $2,377,502 for three players, or $792,500 per player.

While I admit that it is plausible for that situation to occur, the fact is the Sharks now have to find three players all good enough to be regulars on an NHL roster, and still have no cap room for healthy scratches or call-ups in case of injury.

Also, with the 2010-2011 off-season, because of Heatley’s contract, there will be $31,591,666 tied up in just seven players – and this is assuming that no other players are signed to multi-year deals from now until the next off-season. If the cap drops to, say $54M, then the Sharks only have $22,408,334 to sign at least 13 players, or $1.7M per player. Setoguchi will likely command around $4M, and Pavelski around $3.5 (and this is taking into account hometown discounts). That leaves $14.9M to sign at least 11 players, or $1.36M per player. The 11 players includes two goalies, six forwards, and three defensemen. That just won’t work.

That’s just on the Sharks side. While I admit that I am not as well-versed in the needs of the Senators as I am with the Sharks, I will take my best shot.

The Senators are getting their eighth defenseman and are replacing Heatley with a younger, albeit less-skilled, forward. With $56,578,333 committed in salary with Heatley, they will increase their cap space by $66,667, leaving them with $288,334 to get a goalie. Trading a defenseman is likely, but the ones that are cheap likely aren’t going to be moved because cheap contracts are valuable, and the ones that don’t have cheap contracts either earn them or are hard to move.

Now, this is entirely plausible from the Senator’s end as well, but the fact that they would end up with eight defensemen in the deal just doesn’t make sense at all. So throw in Cheechoo instead of Ehrhoff – except that they also have a bunch of forwards, and Cheechoo is considered little more than a salary dump at this point. The Senators in turn would want to dump salary on the Sharks (Smith is a name that I’ve been hearing), which in turn would prompt the Sharks to add another player to even up the salary again, either Ehrhoff or Murray, which is essentially trading defensemen with similar contracts. No point in that.

Then, of course, there’s the idea of trading Thornton for Heatley (certainly not one of the more popular proposals). Not only would that defeat the entire purpose of getting Heatley, but the Senators already have Thornton-lite in Jason Spezza (I mean, he’s a good playmaker in his own right, but he’s never even come close to having a 90+ assist season, let alone two in a row).

There could be other proposals, such as Nabokov ($5.375M) and Cheechoo ($3M) for Heatley, which would give Ottawa a serious upgrade in goal, but then San Jose is left with 3-career-NHL-starts Greiss in goal, and Martin Biron and Manny Fernandez the only real options on the market (all the goalie prospects San Jose has – which are quite a few – are still several years away from starting in the NHL). Even those two will cost at least $3M, if not more, and are significant downgrades. And then that starts a whole other round of trades for cap space that I really don’t want to get into.

Really, any way this goes down it puts both teams in bad situations, as both teams are right up against the cap and are looking to dump salary. They are not good trading partners, especially when dealing with a contract as big as Heatley’s. Therefore, I now declare the "Heatley to San Jose" rumor BUSTED.

Cap information for the San Jose Sharks and the Ottawa Senators found at Cap Geek. Originally posted at Fools and Sages.

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