Capped: Why Detroit’s Small Trade Is A Big Deal

by Alexander MacLean on October 26, 2017
  • Capped
  • Capped: Why Detroit’s Small Trade Is A Big Deal

Saturday saw the first trade of the 2017-2018 season that didn’t involve a goalie. While the deal wasn’t big enough for there to be a fantasy write-up, there is still a lot that we can take out of the trade as cap league owners. The trade saw Detroit send underperforming centre Riley Sheahan and a fifth-round draft pick to Pittsburgh in return for Scott Wilson and a third-round draft pick (both picks in the 2018 draft). In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t look like much, but let’s take a deeper look.

Riley Sheahan (C) –  Cap Hit: $2,075,000

*With Detroit

Riley Sheahan peaked in 2014-2015 with a 36-point season, while he was seeing over 15 minutes of ice time per game, with more than two minutes of that coming on the powerplay. His ice time has dropped each season since, and his numbers have regressed to match. Pittsburgh needed someone for the fourth line that could take a faceoff, but don’t expect a big increase on the nine minutes of ice time per game that Sheahan has seen so far this season.

Scott Wilson (LW) –  Cap Hit: $625,000

*With Pittsburgh

Scott Wilson wasn’t getting into the Pittsbugh lineup because he provides very similar value to fellow fourth liners Tom Kuhnhackl, Carter Rowney and Ryan Reaves. The 25-year old scored 26 points last season, but where most of his value lies is as a physical presence that has started taking shifts on the penalty kill.


What we have is a swap of fourth line forwards and draft picks, so what makes this trade so special? Mainly, this move had nothing to do with the players or the picks for the Red Wings, and everything to do with the salary cap. Coming into Saturday, Detroit was listed as having zero dollars in cap space, while still looking to sign RFA Andreas Athanasiou (AA). As a result, the Red Wings had to find a way to move out enough money for them to be able to fit in AA’s new contract.


In a cap league, we have all been in a situation where a trade is necessary to free up some space in order to make a corresponding move. Detroit pulled this off seamlessly, and there are a few lessons that can be pulled from it.


1) Don’t force a move for the sake of a move

The Red Wings knew that a new contract for AA would be coming, but they didn’t force a trade (or other roster move) that made their team worse, in order to become cap compliant. They simply used the time they had, and waited for the right deal to come up before officially announcing the signing of AA. Detroit isn’t any worse off by missing out on a few more games from AA, and now they have all of their ducks in a row.


2) Know your audience

Understanding what the needs of other teams may be is crucial to getting good deals done. The Pittsburgh Penguins have been looking for a depth centre all season, and have been linked to both Sheahan and Alex Galchenyuk for a little while now. Detroit knew that they had a piece to sell in a limited market, and were able to find a team willing to look past Sheahan’s salary, seeing the depth centre that they needed. It would even seem that Pittsburgh blinked first here, seeing as they tossed in a draft pick upgrade to get the deal done.


3) Cap Space doesn’t have to be a deal breaker

In a lot of cap leagues, the salary being taken on vs. the cap space gained on the other side of a trade become their own assets in the deal. In the NHL, this is also certainly true, but it doesn’t have to be the biggest part of the deal. The goal of fantasy hockey pools is to have the best team, not to have the most well-managed cap situation. The cap situation should be a secondary piece to the puzzle. It can certainly help you win, but it can also be a distraction if it becomes the main focus, as it can be when we all start trying to become numbers gurus. Pittsburgh saw an opportunity to make themselves a better team now, and they took it. For that they deserve a pat on the back, regardless of the fact that they paid a draft pick to take on extra salary. Their front office felt as though this move was necessary for another deep playoff run, and who are we to argue with the two-time reigning champs.




On a different note, putting my money where my mouth is in one of my cap leagues, I dealt away Riley Sheahan on Monday, receiving a cheaper winger (Brandon Tanev) and a late draft pick in return. I have Brian Boyle and M.A. Fleury that I will need to activate soon, and the $1.3 million I saved will ensure that I can stay cap compliant. The stats that the swapped players bring are also extremely minor compared to being able to bring Fleury and Boyle back into my lineup, thus the incentive for the deal on my side.


Now, I can’t take full credit for this since the other owner approached me about moving Sheahan, but I did see the parallels with the situation of the Red Wings and myself, and had to jump on the opportunity.




Thanks for reading! If you have any further thoughts on the trade or the lessons, I would love to hear them in the comments.


As always, you can find me on twitter @alexdmaclean where I post some of my other smaller musings that don’t make it into the articles. 

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