Open Mike Night - 2/9/09
In a week where there were transactions aplenty, I have a bit of an aside that I’m too excited to hold back. As some of you may know, I’m a Penguins fan, what most of you may not know, is I’m from the Garden State – the deceivingly pleasant name given to New Jersey.
It’s not terribly easy being a die-hard Pens fan when I spent most of my life in the Philadelphia market and my life since then in the Devils/Rangers/Islanders market. However, for the first time in my life I was able to root my team in their home barn, or igloo as it were. Friday night against Columbus, a 4-1 victory in which two of my favorite players Marc-Andre Fleury and Kristopher Letang put on quite a performance. I won’t bore anyone with further details, but it was a tremendous experience and one that I certainly won’t forget.
On to matters of importance: A lot of questions have been asked about a recent trade between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Tampa Bay Lightning. The trade, for those that don’t pay much mind to more minor transactions, saw Carolina acquiring winger Jussi Jokinen (no relation to Olli, blood or skill) in exchange for Josef Melichar, Wade Brookbank and a fourth round pick in 2009. All this after Jussi Jokinen had cleared waivers just a couple days prior.
The popular question has been – why? Why give up three assets (a term used somewhat liberally) for a player you could have plucked off waivers for virtually nothing? I’ll try my best to shed some light on the issue that leaves a good number of fans in the dark.
The cute answer involves a joke about Tampa Bay’s quest for every former Penguin, and they nearly have a complete set. Melichar a well-known Penguin whipping boy in his time and Brookbank a lesser known acquisition (for future considerations – a check never cashed by the Boston Bruins) that never donned the jersey that the Penguins of Pittsburgh wore.
Of course, that’s not the real answer. The real answer lies in the murky depths of payroll room and reserve lists. In terms of money, Jussi Jokinen’s cap hit is $1,812,500 before he becomes an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent July 1. Inconveniently enough, his salary is $1,875,000 for the year. Wade Brookbank’s cap hit and salary are each $475,000, league minimum. Josef Melichar, who had cleared waivers once this year already, has a $1,000,000 cap hit and salary. (Of course, cap hits only apply when a player is on an NHL active roster).
So, in terms of real dollars, $400,000 is taken on by Carolina, as opposed to a full $1,812,500. And similarly with any accrued cap hit. This happened recently also, the Rangers waived Dan Fritsche, he cleared, then the Wild traded Erik Reitz for him a day or so later.
Secondly, each team is allotted a reserve list of 90 (every one in the organization, contracted players, junior players, college players, unsigned restricted free agents so on and so forth). Within this 90, 50 is the limit for contracted players. The Hurricanes, by my unofficial count, had 49 players under contract before the trade. So claiming Jokinen would have put Carolina at the limit, an undesirable position at any time, but especially within a month’s time of the trade deadline.
Lastly, to the best of my knowledge, it costs nothing to make a trade in the NHL. It does, however, cost money to claim a player off waivers. In Jokinen’s case, it is my understanding that, it would have cost $56,250 for Carolina (or any other club) to claim him. A paltry sum for a pro sports franchise, but if you can avoid it, you might as well take full advantage. All of this may help to explain why a little known forward named Kristian Huselius cleared waivers in November of 2005 and was dealt to Calgary for Steve Montador just three days later. Probably a regrettable moment for a number of gun-shy general managers about the league.
The fourth round pick, well that was surprising to even me, that’s a fairly hefty sum to take on two contracts that are as minimal as Melichar’s and Brookbank’s. Carolina gets the better player by a mile, but in terms of asset management, Tampa wins a rare decision.
In other news, Sean Avery was re-instated to the league and promptly waived – he has cleared waivers and will be assigned to Hartford (AHL). It’s possible that Dallas puts him on re-entry waivers and eats half of the remaining contract just to make him go away, but that remains to be seen. The Blues re-signed Andy McDonald today, facts and figures on that are still unknown. Also, after fighting a team trainer during a game, Ray Emery has left his Russian club without permission. Squabbles over salary have led to the temporary (or longer?) disjunction.