Capped: How to prepare for the future in cap leagues
Well, a lot has happened in the last week with regards to the world coming to a halt in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus. I know this isn't where you come to get updates on the state of things, or my opinion on how things should be handled. All I'll ask is that you wash your hands (a lot), and distance yourselves from social settings to the best of your abilities over the next while.
What we don't need to distance ourselves from, is hockey talk, and though we could all use a complete break from coronavirus discussion, we'll save that for next week. For now, it makes sense to go through some of the fallout that we will see and how to prepare in cap leagues.
End of Season
Salary cap leagues, like all fantasy leagues, were cut short by the notice of the NHL suspension. The big man himself had some words for you on how to handle a few of the situations across various leagues, with some of the other DobberHockey writers over the last week putting out their thoughts on what to do with fantasy leagues in the interim.
Building on the general idea of what Dobber and the others have said. My general thought is that we may see some kind of makeshift end to the regular season, so don't rush to wrap up your fantasy seasons just yet, they are on pause just like the NHL. Should things not end up unpausing, then I feel for all of you that were robbed of the chance at a title; I'm right there with you. Depending on the feel of your fantasy league, there are many different options for trying to crown a winner without just taking the regular season standings at face value from the time of the pause. A few interesting ideas have been discussed here in the forums.
The salary cap for next season is going to be a very interesting topic, as the NHL has lost out on revenue from 189 games (approximately 15% of the season), plus whatever revenue the playoffs bring in (in other words, a massive amount). The projected Hockey Related Revenue for the next season is directly related to the NHL cap for that same upcoming season. With a sizeable chunk of lost revenue from this season, it is possible that the repercussions are felt on next season's cap number. Escrow will likely mean that the players feel the repercussions just as much as the owners, and could mean in order to make up for it, they try to use their escalator percentage more on future cap numbers to bump their ability to sign bigger contracts.
The bottom line that I am expecting, is that the salary cap will likely come in lower than anticipated for the fall of 2020, and then rebound a little higher than expected in the seasons following. In my cap leagues, I will be planning on a stagnant cap of about $81.5, and hoping for the low end of the earlier projection to be met with a number of $84 million. It is my opinion that it would be unlikely that we see the salary cap reduced to below the $81.5 million from the current season, as the bounce back for NHL earnings next year should be excellent, and the lower cap benefits no one in the meantime (except maybe the Ottawa Senators). Let me know in the comments if you have any thoughts on what the final cap number may be for the 20-21 season.
The 2019 free agent crop was shaping up to be one of the less exciting ones of recent memory, headed by a class of Taylor Hall, Alex Pietrangelo (high possibility of re-signing before free agency opens), some offence-first defencemen, and a few RFAs (Matthew Barzal included). However, due to the salary cap scenario explained above, we may have a very entertaining case of chicken being played between the players looking to cash in, the teams with cap space, and the teams without cap space that will offer a smaller one-year deal for the 20-21 season with a lucrative extension sealed away in a drawer for the next year when the cap has stabilized again.
Like with the salary cap, expect contracts signed for the 20-21 season to be smaller than usual. If we run with an $82 million cap instead of one in the $85 million range, then based on cap percentages of signed contracts, that lowers the cap hit per season on these by around $300,000. Any hope that Taylor Hall may have had of drumming up the kind of contract offers that Artemi Panarin had last summer are now a dream of the past. Looking at recent contracts signed by Jeff Skinner, Nick Backstrom, and Mark Stone, the range may already be set for Hall in the $9-9.5 million range. It's not those at the top that usually feel the squeeze though, and if there is a lower cap than the originally projected $84 million, it will be the depth players who see their wallets suffer. Matthew Barzal won't lower his initial demands, Torey Krug won't command less on the open market, and the pair of skilled wingers from Florida (Mike Hoffman and Evgeni Dadonov) will still set the bar high for the secondary scorers.
The bargains to be found in our cap leagues will be in the bottom-nine forwards, and the bottom-four defencemen. Cody Ceci will likely sign a very team friendly deal which will make him valuable in multi-category leagues. Kevin Labanc picked the wrong time to bet on himself with a one-year contract, and he might be best served by signing another short deal, and hoping again to hit it big in the following summer. That being said, maybe it is time for these players to tack on a few years at a lower cap hit, and make sure they mitigate the risk that they have been exposing themselves to over the last number of years.
The best bargains for you may end up being the players who are just about to break into a higher tier of performance, but won't be able to get the usual contract that would go along with their perceived upside. Labanc fits that bill, as do a few other skaters such as Jake DeBrusk, Robby Fabbri, Erik Cernak, Dennis Gurianov, and Ilya Mikheyev (whose season was further cut short by injury). This is the type of player to look into getting on board with even before a contract is signed, if not soon after, before the hype trains really get out of hand leading into pre-season in the fall.
In the meantime while we wait for hockey, stay safe everyone!
If you have questions, comments, or article requests, you can find me on Twitter @alexdmaclean.
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