Long before the regular season got off to a start, the New Jersey Devils put themselves in a very tough situation regarding their salary cap. They were above the salary cap upper limit of $59.4 million by about $3.6 million, and with their abundance of players with no trade and no movement clauses, there were only a handful of players that GM Lou Lamoriello could deal. Devils' fans and most of the hockey world stood watching, waiting, thinking, asking....."What will Lou Do?"
Let's fast-forward to the present. And boy have things changed since then.
The Devils were hit with a small injury bug to begin the season that eventually turned into the current injury pandemic that has lasted over two months. Bryce Salvador and Anssi Salmela both started the season on the LTIR that solved the cap issue and relieved those players without clauses. They started the season with the minimum number of healthy players at 20. John expressed his discomfort about relying on the LTIR to clear cap space. What was feared, happened. The Devils suffered some minor injuries and were forced to play shorthanded for a few games. Times were so bad that they even played against the Pittsburgh Penguins with only 15 skaters. It looked like the Devils were going to stay like this for a while. Fortunately and unfortunately, Brian Rolston suffered a sports hernia, and he and his $5+ million cap hit went to the LTIR. Problem kinda sorta solved (until everyone is healthy again....).
What if some of these major injuries never occurred? What if Lou, who would have been pushed for time, had to make a trade to get the Devils under the salary cap upper limit by October 5th? If his injury never occurred, Bryce Salvador may have been one of those players. He was already a good candidate to leave Jersey's Team. It is a possibility that if Salvador remained healthy, he would no longer be a Devil.
To go a step further, it's possible yesterday's trade between the Washington Capitals and the Colorado Avalanche involving Tomas Fleischmann and Scott Hannan wouldn't have even happened. My reasoning after the jump.
Let's talk about yesterday's trade really quick. The Capitals acquired the 31-year old veteran defender Scott Hannon from the Avs straight up for the 26-year old left winger Tomas Fleischman. Here is Mile High Hockey's announcement of the trade and their initial take, and their investigation of the Czech Republic native. On the other end, here's Japers' Rink's analysis of the trade. If you would like to discuss the trade, go to each of those respected blogs. Want a neutral take on this? Check out Copper and Blue's analysis of the trade.
I have to be honest. I didn't know much about Scott Hannan. He's been in the Western Conference his whole career up until now. The Devils rarely saw him; I rarely watched him. Looking around though, you can get a good idea of what type of player he is. Let's take a look at his Scouting Report from his SB Nation DC player page (it's to the right on top of the page):
- Has good size at 6-1, 225 pounds and uses it effectively to play a tight defensive game. Is able to combine a physical defensive game with discipline. Can log a ton of minutes and is a leader.
- Won't put up big offensive numbers, which is partly due to the fact he doesn't take a lot of shots from the point. Is somewhat limited in terms of natural ability.
- Veteran defensive defenseman.
- Awards1998WHL - West First All-Star Team
That's pretty solid for a quick summary. Here's what Capitals GM George McPhee had to say about him:
...it completes our defense...We're really happy with the way our defense has been playing, but to add one more guy like this helps. Our defense moves the puck pretty well -- we can generate offense from back there -- but to have one more shut-down guy that can block shots, that can do all the little things that would make a difference, we thought was important to add.
The Caps were looking for a veteran defenseman, with playoff experience who can play tough minutes. They wanted one more shut down defenseman who can play the boards, use his body effectively, and help his goalie and his team stop the opposing team. I think they did a good job in accomplishing that from what I have read so far.
Here's McPhee's interview with the Washington press, and at about 2:00, he mentions that management was looking "at this sort of trade" since August. They may not have been particularly aiming at Scott Hannan for this entire time or for that matter trying to get rid of Tomas Fleischmann. They wanted to complete their defense. They wanted someone like Hannan.
And this takes me to my point. The Capitals were shopping for a defensive defenseman before the beginning of the season. The Devils had plenty of them at the time, and still do, and it was considered one of the Devils strengths coming into the season. They were also looking for a leader with playoff experience as well. For as long as any player has been on the Devils, that's how many seasons of postseason experience each of them have.
At the same time, every GM in hockey knew Lou was looking to dump cap space, and the most logical way was through a trade . The Capitals had plenty of cap room. I can't help but the think that Lou and McPhee were having preliminary discussions at the time. So who on the Devils plays a shut down role, who is a veteran, has playoff experience, with no trade clauses, that would help clear cap space? That person is Bryce Salvador.
Here's Salvador's Scouting Report from his player page on SB Nation NY:
- Plays it smooth and steady in the defensive zone. Can be a physical force and punish opponents with big body checks.
- Isn't much of a factor in the offensive zone. Can struggle when lined up against speedy NHL wingers.
- Physical stay-at-home defenseman.
Though not as thorough as Hannan's report, you can safely say that Salvador and Hannan play a similar type of game. What do the the stats say though? Since Salvador hasn't played this season, I'll be taking all stats from last season.
Offensively, this shouldn't surprise anyone. Both aren't going to contribute to many goals and they aren't taking many shots either. Both players stay out of the penalty box (Salvador's is a little higher). Since these stats aren't going to successfully tell us about their defensive play, we'll go to behindthenet.ca for that. Here are both Salvador's and Hannan's 5-on-5 regular season stats from 2009:
Hannan plays about a minute and a half more than Salvador (which is roughly about 2 shifts) per 60 minutes. Both have the exact same Relative Corsi from last season at -4.1. Hannan did have a higher quality of competition,yet also had a higher quality of linemates than Salvador. Shots against per 60 minutes increased when both players are on the ice; Hannan by 1.5, Salvador by 1.1. As for goals against per 60, Hannan barely made a difference. Actually, goals against increase by 0.02 when he was on the ice. Salvador on the other hand saw a decrease by 0.42.
This makes me believe that if Salvador wasn't injured and was playing this season, Lou Lamoriello and George McPhee may have negotiated a trade involving him. If Salvador is just as good as Hannan on the Ice as the stats tell us, McPhee would have been just as happy and content trading for Salvador. The Capitals still get with what they were searching for since August. They even get a player with a smaller cap hit as well. Hannan's cap hit is $4.5 million, Salvador's is only $2.9 million. On the backside, Salvador does have another year left on his contract. Hannan will be a free agent after this season. Bryce is also 34-years old, 3 years older than Hannan.
Because of the Devils' situation, McPhee and the Caps would have had leverage going into negotiations as well. This being a conference opponent, and the Devils already striped for cap space, the Caps would have surrendered something along the line of prospect(s), draft pick(s), minor league player(s), or heap role playing NHLer(s), and not someone like Tomas Fleischmann. So speaking for this season, the Caps still get what they want without helping a conference opponent who finished right behind them last season. (Note: Fleischman's cap hit is $2.6m, so if they traded for Salvador and kept Fleischmann, it would have cost a little more).
I know this is a lot of "what if's" and past speculation, but I believe because of Salvador's injury, the Devils unfortunately missed an opportunity to make a trade and clear cap space. Things are fine for now (the Devils have enough problems to deal with), but they will eventually have to make a move. What's even more unfortunate is that there was another team looking to trade for a player at a position and role that the Devils have enough of. Furthermore, one of those players was already fit to be on the trading block. Just mark this down on the bad luck column for the Devils this season.
So what do you think? Would Salvador still be on the team if he was playing this season? Do you think he would be Capital right now? I didn't really get into who or what the Devils would have wanted/got for him, thus what would have you expected in return? Perhaps not Salvador would have been traded. Who else without a trade clause would have been good? Perhaps even a multi-player swap? So, let's have a little fun.