Breaking down the Senators’ cap situation

Even after all their wheeling and dealing at the start of free agency July 1, the Ottawa Senators still find themselves $4.264 million under what will be the salary-cap floor in the fall, $54.2 million.

Breaking down the Senators’ cap situation

Even after all their wheeling and dealing at the start of free agency July 1, the Ottawa Senators still find themselves $4.264 million under what will be the salary-cap floor in the fall, $54.2 million.

That puts them at the lower end of 16 teams that have to reach the floor by the end of training camp, according to capgeek.com.

The Columbus Blue Jackets are the closest to the floor, only $116,191 away, though they’ll have some work to do if they ever dump Rick Nash’s $7.8 million cap hit, while the Nashville Predators ($14.1 million), the Phoenix Coyotes ($12.3 million) and the St. Louis Blues ($9.8 million) have the most to spend.

Last year, the Senators were one of the NHL’s most frugal teams.

At the end of the year, their payroll was at $51.653 million, over the $48.3 million floor by only about $3.3 million.

By contrast, however, the Dallas Stars ($49.8 million), the Colorado Avalanche ($49.4 million), and the New York Islanders ($49.1 million) were a lot cheaper than Ottawa.

While this is shaping up to be another frugal year for the Senators, they won’t have any trouble reaching the floor.

Since the season ended, the Senators have added the salaries of defenceman Mike Lundin ($1.15 million), defenceman Marc Methot ($3 million), and forward Guillaume Latendresse ($2 million), and Erik Karlsson’s salary-cap hit has gone to $6.5 million from $1.3 million.

Also, even if Daniel Alfredsson retires, the Senators are still on the hook for his $4.875 million cap hit, because he agreed to his four-year, $19.5 million contract after he turned 35 (he will be paid just $1 million if he plays).

But they’ve finished paying buyouts to Ray Emery ($562,500), Daniel Alfredsson ($700,000, to accommodate unexercised options), and Jonathan Cheechoo ($1.166), and they’ve lost the contracts of Filip Kuba ($3.7 million), Matt Carkner ($700,000), Nick Foligno ($1.2 million), Jesse Winchester ($750,000), and Zenon Konopka ($700,000).

Now, with 19 players signed, they have four spots to fill.

Still unsigned are forwards Jim O’Brien and Kaspars Daugavins (who is taking the team to arbitration).

If they are re-signed and make the NHL roster next season — which might be a stretch considering the talent in front of them — they could add between $1.5 million and $2 million to the cap.

Then there are a number of promising young players vying for a spot: Mika Zibanejad ($1.74 million), Jakob Silfverberg ($900,000), Mark Stone ($873,000), Patrick Wiercioch ($875,000), and Mark Borowiecki ($610,000).

In the time it takes for owner Eugene Melnyk to take his wallet out of his pocket, the Senators would be well past the floor.

From his summer cottage on a brief vacation, general manager Bryan Murray said he likes the position he’s in.

He’s not worried about reaching the floor and has a lot of flexibility, suggesting he’s not done making moves.

“This position allows for options going forward, a trade or a spot for a prospect,” he said.

The collective bargaining agreement, of course, provides remedies for teams that deliberating try to circumvent the cap, by either spending too much or too little.

It’s a bit of a delicate dance to get there, though.

If the NHL and NHLPA decide the breach is worth fighting over, an arbitrator is appointed to determine if the circumvention was deliberate.

If the decision is that it was, penalties are at the commissioner’s discretion.

No team has yet to be penalized for not reaching the cap floor, according to the NHL.

But teams have been punished for trying to get around it, most notably the New Jersey Devils for offering a 17-year, $102 million contract to Ilya Kovalchuk in July 2010.

Independent arbitrator Richard Bloch ruled that deal attempted to circumvent the cap.

The heavily front-loaded deal had Kovalchuk earning $95 million over the first 10 years of the deal, but only $7 million over the final seven seasons, reducing the cost against the salary cap to $6 million per year.

If the deal had been allowed, Kovalchuk would have been 44 when the contract expired.

The NHL eventually approved a second 15-year, $100 million contract, but not before both sides made concessions about long-term contracts and how they are counted against the cap.

The floor is expected to be an issue between the NHL and NHLPA during negotiations for the new collective bargaining agreement.

Small-market teams complain that it is too expensive for them.

As an example, they point out that next year’s floor of $54.2 million will be considerably higher than the cap itself was in its first season, 2005-06: $39 million.

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