Earlier this month, we brought up the possibility of arbitration rulings bearing fruit for San Jose's picking. Now, more than 75% through the arbitration process, most players have settled without even needing a hearing and Doug Wilson has sat quietly.
Only five players remain on the arbitration docket, and none are very realistic options for the Sharks. Shea Weber of Nashville and Zach Parise of New Jersey are the longest of long shots; only the most brazen rumor mongers will suggest they will be playing elsewhere next year. They won't be, and it's not even worth discussing.
Ryan Callahan of the New York Rangers is a great fit for the Sharks on a need basis (he's a scoring forward who kills penalties with the best of them), but Glen Sather has plenty of cap space to sign his young, emerging forward. That's also likely to be the case across New York with Blake Comeau of the Islanders; he's a good fit, but the Islanders have no real reason to let him go. Jannik Hansen of Vancouver could also be arbitration bound, but there aren't any real stumbling blocks to him getting a deal done with the Canucks.
It looks like the arbitration period may come and go with little to no effect on the Sharks' roster. However, if there is a case where Doug Wilson could work his magic, it may be in a smaller New York city.
The Buffalo Sabres went on a spending bonanza this offseason; the financial muscle of new owner Terry Pegula was flexed to sign Christian Ehrhoff, Ville Leino and others to new, monster-sized deals. Although the spending may represent a mere line item in Pegula's pocket book (whose net worth is above $3 billion according to Forbes, making him the 128th richest US citizen), the team still has the NHL mandated salary cap to deal with.
As it currently stands, the Sabres are $3.595MM over the NHL's $64.3MM salary cap. You may be asking yourself two questions; one, how is that legal, and two, why hasn't someone taken advantage of the situation yet?
First, it's legal. Teams are allowed to exceed the cap by 10% (or $6.34MM) during the offseason, but they must become compliant by September 1st. Second, Buffalo might not be in as much trouble as other teams would be in the same situation, another effect of Pegula's purchase of the franchise.
Pegula's financial well-being means he's able to eat salary if he has to, and most believe that Ales Kotalik will be well aware of that fact come September. Kotalik isn't the worst player on Buffalo's roster, but his $3MM cap hit makes him difficult to carry. The Sabres may follow Calgary's game plan from last year and simply eat Kotalik's contract in sending him to the AHL.
That would put Buffalo pretty close to the cap, close enough that a small move could be made to become compliant, such as moving defenseman Shaone Morrisonn (which has also been discussed). However, assuming this is the road they take may be a bit premature. I mentioned earlier that Ehrhoff received a monster deal, and while his cap hit is a manageable $4MM, he'll be making a gargantuan $10MM in salary next year. That, among other things, puts Buffalo's team salary for the upcoming season to nearly $76MM. For this team to turn a profit for the 2011-2012 season, salary is going to have to be shaved, not just buried.
If that's the route Buffalo chooses to go, teams will be knocking on the door. The team has skill, as a payroll that size would indicate, but they also want to win. No one is going to be had easily, and none of their top shelf, core guys are likely to move. That leaves slim pickings, but if you're Doug Wilson, you probably call about Jochen Hecht.
Jochen Hecht carries a $3MM cap hit, saving the Sabres the same amount as if they were to send Kotalik down; except in this case they'd pocket the cash. Hecht is attractive to San Jose because he fits their need; he's a third-line player with some scoring pop who makes a good chunk of his money on the penalty kill.
Hecht wasn't at his best last year; his goal production dropped from 21 to 12 and his points output fell from 49 to just 29. His effectiveness shorthanded dropped off as well, but he did play a respectable 1.92 minutes/60 shorthanded.
For Buffalo, $3MM is probably too much to pay for that type of player considering their lack of cap space. For San Jose, $3MM is an acceptable amount to pay for that type of player considering their excess cap space. (See what I did there?) The fact that Hecht is an unrestricted free agent after this season helps both teams as well; Buffalo could get something for his services before possibly losing him for nothing after this season, while San Jose loses no space next year, space to help them pay for the raises to Brent Burns and Logan Couture.
Hypothetically, the deal could probably get done for a pick and a possibly a prospect, depending on what round the pick is in. The deal makes sense for both sides, but with the huge caveat that it's only realistic if Buffalo needs to send money out. If they don't, which is most likely the case, then I just wasted a good chunk of my day.
The offseason. What a (horrible) time.