a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

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Tuesday, 17 July 2012

07/17/12 Bad Contracts and the Cap Floor

At the time of this writing, twelve NHL teams are sitting below the current salary cap floor. Eight of them have at least $3 million to spend to reach the lower limit, and five of those need to spend at least $5 million more. The opportunity exists for some teams to shed a bad contract or two.

Shawn Horcoff is a candidate for a move because of his cap situation. The Oilers' captain is a very useful player and at this point in his career he is still an above average bottom-six forward. The problem is that his cap hit is the highest of any Oiler at $5.5 million for the next three seasons. With both Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle about to come off of their entry level contracts in 2013, the Oilers could certainly use another chunk of space under the cap, especially if they try to pursue a big-ticket defenseman next year.

Even though Horcoff's annual cap hit is $5.5 million, he'll only be paid $13 million in actual salary over the next three years. His contract is a bit of a perfect storm in a $54.2 million cap floor world, as he is a good player whose contract offers teams a chance to absorb a high cap hit without having to spend the real dollars.

That may be an appealing situation for a team like the Phoenix Coyotes, who have 21 players under contract and are more than $10 million under the floor. The Coyotes anxiously await Shane Doan's decision, as his future is entwined with that franchise in more ways than one. If Doan decides to leave the desert, that team will need to pursue other options to get their spending (not to mention their scoring) up to snuff.

The Oilers don't have to part ways with their captain, but it wouldn't be surprising for them to get some calls about him. Despite a decline in offensive production and the fact that he'll be 34 on September 17th, Horcoff can still play at a reasonably high level. If his contract is a selling point in negotiations he could still bring a decent and inexpensive return.

At the end of the day it may be better to hang on to Horcoff while the team waits for its young players to mature, as the Oilers prep for a possible playoff push next season. After all, Horcoff's attractiveness to floor teams is only going to increase. After the 2012-13 season Horcoff will only have $7 million in salary owed to him over two years, but assuming that the new CBA doesn't change things his cap hit will still be $5.5 million. Ironically, while the size of Horcoff's contract once made trading him impossible, it could now be the reason that he moves out of town.

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