Everything is bigger in Texas. For the Dallas Stars goaltenders, that is very true if you look at their pay cheques. When the Stars traded for and subsequently signed Ben Bishop last week, the conundrum at the position only got worse.
For the 2017-18 season, Dallas currently has Ben Bishop (six years, $29,500,000), Kari Lehtonen (one year, $5,900,000), and Antti Niemi (one year, $4,500,000) under contract. That equates to a $15,160,000 cap hit just for their goaltenders, easily the most expensive trio in the National Hockey League. To put it in perspective, Dallas is paying over $4,000,000 more for the goalies in their organization than they are for their defensemen.
Obviously, this is a major cap problem that general manager Jim Nill will want to sort out. Not only is he paying three goalies over $4,500,000 each, but he won’t be carrying three goaltenders on the NHL roster.
How will Nill deal with the situation? Here are some ideas as to what the Stars could do this off-season:
Stay the Course
Of course, Dallas doesn’t have to do anything. Jim Nill could simply keep Lehtonen and Niemi, have them battle in the preseason for the backup job, and place the loser on waivers.
Dallas will not be a cap team this upcoming year. They have big money coming off the books in Patrick Sharp and Ales Hemsky. They do not have any big restricted free agents to re-sign either. Even with Ben Bishop under contract, the Stars have nearly $3,000,000 in cap space already. The only problem may be if Dallas has an internal cap.
Both Lehtonen and Niemi have one year remaining on their deals. Dallas can simply wait it out until next summer when the contracts expire.
If the Stars do choose this route, one will inevitably end up on waivers. It doesn’t matter who is sent down, the Stars will get $925,000 in cap relief. This seems like the most likely route, unless the Stars’ internal cap forces their hand. Why give up assets when they have the means to play it out?
Dallas isn’t in a Chicago situation. They can move one if they want, but it isn’t a necessity.
If Nill decides to move on and not stay the course, the easiest team to deal with (usually) is yourself. Dallas could buyout Lehtonen or Niemi this off-season rather than giving up assets. It would give them relief in the now, but cost them after 2017-18.
Thanks to the buyout calculator at CapFriendly, buyouts are easy to take a look at.
Quickly, we will review the buyout rules. The buyout window begins June 15th and runs through June 30th. The total buyout cost is two-thirds of the remaining contract. Additionally, the buyout is twice as long as the remaining length of the bought out contract.
Niemi is the most likely candidate, simply because he has a lower cap hit and played worse last season. The Finnish netminder has one year remaining at $4,500,000. This means the total buyout cost is $3,000,000, which would be spread across the 2017-18 season and the 2018-19 season.
A Niemi buyout would save the Stars $3,000,000 in cap space this upcoming year, but cost them $1,500,000 in 2018-19.
A Kari Lehtonen buyout is a little more confusing.
Lehtonen’s cap hit is $5,900,000, but his salary owed is actually $5,000,000. This makes his buyout slightly more complicated than Niemi’s.
Just like Niemi, Lehtonen has one year remaining on his contract. He is owed $5,000,000 in real salary, making his cap hit irrelevant in this buyout. The total buyout cost equates to $3,333,333, which would be spread over two years.
Dallas would save $3,333,333 on the cap in 2017-18 in a Lehtonen buyout. The following year, the Stars would carry $1,666,667 more on the cap.
A Niemi buyout is more likely, as it costs the Stars less in 2018-19. A Lehtonen buyout simply doesn’t seem logical, as he played better than Niemi and the buyout difference is less than $700,000.
Trade with the Vegas Golden Knights
Enough with confusing math, now we get to the fun one.
As the Golden Knights have plenty of cap space (they only have two players), there is an obvious possibility for a trade.
Dallas will leave both Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi unprotected in the upcoming Expansion Draft, that much is certain. Newest Dallas Star Ben Bishop has a no movement clause, forcing the Stars to protect him.
Vegas will not select either goalie. With their cap hit, recent play, and age all factored in, there are many better options than Lehtonen or Niemi.
The Dallas Stars got lucky at the NHL Draft Lottery. The Vegas Golden Knights, not so much. Dallas jumped up to snag the third overall selection, while Vegas fell to sixth. Would Dallas be willing to move back three places in order to shed one of their goalies? Would Vegas want more than just the third overall pick to take on Lehtonen or Niemi?
This is a trade that could work for both teams. In a deal, Vegas can acquire assets in exchange for relief, rather than claiming one of Lehtonen or Niemi with no added benefit.
The Historical Asking Price
Let’s go back to the Chicago comparison. It may not be relevant when referring to Dallas’ cap situation, but the cap dump the Blackhawks made could give us insight as to what the asking price could be.
At the time of the trade, Bickell had one year remaining at $4,000,000. Chicago gave up a 21-year old, NHL ready, former first round pick as well. In return, they received a second round pick and a third round pick.
Both Niemi and Lehtonen are more expensive than Bickell. However, Dallas isn’t as pressed to make a trade. The third overall pick carries a lot of value. As Lehtonen makes $1.4 million more than Niemi, the likely candidate is the former Blackhawk if a trade were to be done.
Regardless as to what Jim Nill decides to do, the Dallas Stars will be a fun team to watch over the off-season and into next year. Dallas has been described as a team that is a goalie away from contending. They now have that goalie, and (potentially) a third overall selection to spice things up. The Dallas Stars have options, but they have just over a month to decide their course of action.