Dead Space


Lots of teams have bad contracts. That’s normal in this day
and age. The NHL has been late to adopting analytics, there have been two
lockouts in the last decade, there’s no one way to build a team, and the
players have guaranteed contracts. All these things in one capacity or another
have created a situation where teams are going to think they’re
getting one value with a player and end up with something different altogether.

With the rules as they are right now, teams are absolutely
punished for making poor decisions with regards to player contracts, and for a
lot of reasons, that’s a good thing. One benefit is that it forces teams
to move otherwise talented players to other markets sometimes unexpectedly. A
great example of this is Saad moving to Columbus. Had Chicago not made
ill-planned offers to third liners (Bickell), they would have been able
to keep Saad who really should have spent the next decade with the Hawks.

Now, if the NHL had kept certain rules the same as they were
when the cap was first instituted, this situation with Saad would never have
occurred. The changing rules of the cap that have unfolded through two
lockouts have really transformed the financial layout of the NHL. Today more
than ever, NHL teams face a problem I call Dead Space.

The NHL allows teams to retain salary in trades, buyouts
result in cap penalties, and buried contracts (AHL or European loan) will only
provide $950,000 in cap relief. This all results in scenarios where teams carry
a certain amount of Dead Space against their cap that is not being used on
players that can help their club. Now this definition of Dead Space does not
include players like Andrew Ference or Stephane Robidas, who will be sitting in
their teams’ press boxes incurring $3.25 and $3 million dollar respective cap hits for the
next two seasons.

Shhh. He’s sleeping.

Over the last several days the waiver wire has been flooded
with players some of no note, some on big contracts. Just Monday morning the
Flyers put defender Andrew MacDonald on waivers for assignment to the AHL
despite the fact that he has five more years left on his contract at $5 million per
season (ouch). The Oilers themselves have buried Nikita Nikitin and Ben
Scrivens in the minors. In total they will receive less than $2 million in relief for their troubles while continuing to pay the players the full value
of their contracts.

This situation prompted lots of conversation about bad
contracts and Dead Space. The other day Twitter user and Oiler fan Jeremy Weeks
(@djeremyw) asked me if what the Oilers were doing was normal and how it
compared to other teams. Instinctively I felt like it was normal to have bad
contracts but I didn’t have an answer to how it really compared to other teams.
So I thought I’d dig in a bit.

This morning was chaotic as teams cut down to get to their
23 man rosters, but I think I’ve done a pretty good job staying up on it all. I
might be off by 50 thousand here or there if I’ve missed somebody, or if salary
retained in a trade goes down a bit due to an AHL demotion, but I’m pretty happy
with the numbers I have as I’ve gathered the information from constantly
updated sites like NHLNumbers. I think I now have a better answer to the
question posed.

In short, the answer is NO — what the Oilers have done isn’t normal
— and NO, it doesn’t really compare favourably to other clubs in the league.

Again, we keep in mind that this definition does NOT count Andrew
Ference as dead money against the cap because he can in theory still suit up
for the team. Still, the $4.9 million in Dead Space the Oilers are carrying
around as of today is the highest amount any one team has. Yes, even the
Philadelphia Flyers, who are carrying around the corpse of Andrew MacDonald, have
less wasted space this season.

If we assume everyone on waivers clears and is assigned to
the AHL, the quick breakdown of Dead Space in the NHL will be as follows (accurate every time, 60% of the time):


Total: Roughly $46.5 million in Dead Space league-wide.

Average: Roughly $1.5 million per team

Median: Having more than $1.05 million in Dead Space puts you
in the top (or should that be bottom?) half of the NHL for money wasted in Dead

Max: The Oilers $4.9 million this year is the highest. It all
goes away at the end of the season. Long term, Philly looks in worse shape.

Minimum: There are eight teams in the NHL with no Dead Space at
all (by the standards laid out). They are the Blackhawks, Blue Jackets,
Islanders, Rangers, Penguins, Blues, Capitals, and Jets.

I think it goes without saying that the more dead weight one
is carrying around, the harder it is to win. The Oilers have no internal cap.
They aren’t a budget team. The extra $4.9 million they would have
had if they had made better decisions could have gone towards finding better
solutions on the blueline. The facts are pretty plain here. Half the teams in
the league are carrying less than a million dollars in wasted space but
terrible contracts are easy to find and almost impossible to be rid of for
poorly run teams.

In reality, the total amount of Dead Space being at close to $46.5 million already is pretty frightening. The joke is always made that general managers need to be saved from themselves and the numbers support that.
It wouldn’t shock me at all if in a few years if the owners and the players don’t negotiate
another set of compliance buyouts, because the money being wasted is
embarrassingly high.

The Oilers will hopefully find homes for their problem deals
sitting in the AHL. There’s no help on the way for the Ference contract. The
good news is that Nikitin and Scrivens come off the books in a year’s time
anyway. Lord knows what the Flyers will be doing with MacDonald for the next
five seasons.

  • CofC

    I would like to see the NHL adopt the bluechip. one player you can pay whatever you want and he does not count against your cap. That would change a few things i bet. Leafs could throw 16 mil a season at Stamkos because he obviously wants to play there…. as bad as Conner wanted to be drafted there.

  • Derzie

    Impact to Katz pockets is not really a fan concern but cap money that can’t be used to make your team better is dead space. Should be measured in 3 ways. How much hoe long and who signed the player.

  • dcsj

    I would hope that this is purely a course correction brought on by Nicholson and Chiarelli. They want to ice the best team with the assets they currently have and that means casualties with the players that this team have in the system. I don’t t think that Edmonton is going to be the new Philly and go through this every couple of years. Once these contracts are off the books, let’s see who can be brought in. That will be the benchmark to which this wasted 6 mil can be measured. One more difficult year (less so than the previous 2) and we can move on. Keep the faith boys and girls. Good things are on the horizon.

  • CofC

    I think if you took Scriv’s cap contribution out of the picture we’d be talking about a lesser impact and certainly not the highest in the league. Chia brought in Nilsson and Talbot so they’re the 1-2 duo period, unless one of them seriously messes up in TC. Good evidence to support Scrivens in a backup role in the NHL (better case than Nilsson), but this would mean burying the guy that you just brought in on a one-way contract – wouldn’t seem too bright…

    So this was foreseeable and avoidable, but it’s Chia’s decision.

    On another note – shame we’re not icing our best team for opening day; we would be better with Draisaitl and Nurse, without question; Again Chia has to enshroud these decisions in the development cloak, but this has more to do with cap (bonus) to some extent, and the fact that he brought in Gryba, Reinhart and Korpikoski.

    Hopefully TMac can work some magic on current roster so we don’t lose another season in the first half.

    • Very well said. I also believe there is a little smoke and mirrors going on in regards to sending these two prospects in particular down for development. (Nurse, Drai)
      For those who keep on the “it will be good for them” wagon may I suggest that McDavid be sent down? It would be good for him to grow physically and dominate there before moving to NHL. I may risk getting shot but it is the same principle.

      Back to logic, if there is an overall strategic plan for the team and they need Nurse and Drai there so they are safely out of the way then so be it. Sucks but I have to believe some greater good for the team here as well.

      A trade is coming, my worry is one of my favourites such as Eberle or Yak is out for another defensive saviour. Don’t do it, been there too many times. Keep our core guys and add Nurse, he will be the long awaited d man. He won’t be perfect but he has heart and character and he will add fire to the line up.

      • Wax Man Riley

        You’re argument became invalid as soon as you said “send mcdavid down.” Mcdavid can only be sent to jr. When not one person in this whole world would agree it would be best for him. He destroyed jr. End of discussion.

        I mean come on already. How do people not know these simple rules? Rules we have talked about at least since yak.

      • Serious Gord

        Nurse may indeed be that long awaited d man. The problem is we can’t wait that long – 3 years? – for him to arrive. By then players like eberle will be lost due to cap pressures. The oil need one within the next 12 months. And I think chia knows it and isn’t paralyzed by stubbornness and hubris like his predecessors.

          • I would add Nurse to that list, as his upside could be a stud dman, but after that I agree anyone could be had for the right price – which in the case of Hall/Nuge/Ebs/Dr Drai is a true top-pairing dman (Sekera is a borderline top D….we are still missing the stud to build around and mentor Nurse, Klefbom Schultz and Griff).

        • Lofty

          Winning the McDavid lottery has reset the rebuild. 2015 is now year 1 but there’s a lot more assets and depth to deal with.

          Think of the core as McDavid, Dr. Drai, Nurse and Klefbom.

  • hagar

    If I was a team owner/management group, I would go after a new agreement that not only offers recourse via a performance clause, but that also offers reduced liability as salary escalates.

    It is absolutely crazy how much money these guys make for playing a sport. If you sign a contract for 9 million dollars a year, and you don’t perform, the lost percentage of wage should multiply compared to the guy that makes base nhl salary.

    We are talking numbers where you can be the worst player on the team, and make 800 thousand a year, without even getting a single game in the nhl.

    I have zero sh”s given for NN who is pulling down 4.5 million a year and can’t be bothered to get in shape. He should have his visa cancelled, and be sent back to Russia with what he showed up with.

      • hagar

        Jealousy? I have lots of money.

        I just don’t think people should make that kind of money and expect to get it no matter their performance.

        I also think the more you make, the more you should be accountable for your performance. Not sure how you got jealousy out of that?

        • mcjesus take the wheel

          So you do realize that some of these players that got these huge contracts haven’t just stopped trying right? That maybe they just can’t play at the level that got them the contract. Or that they had a good streak at the the right time and some general manager thought he found gold and offered said contract up. That it takes two to sign the deal.

          So once we get that out of the way the jealousy part comes into play. You are jealous of their lifestyle. The fact that in your eyes they don’t work hard (which could be the opposite of the truth) and are getting paid lots of money. To me thats excatly what you are feeling. And its ok to feel that. Just be honest with yourself.

          It sounds like you want them to be like sales people, who get paid on commession. Sorry bud. It doesn’t work like that. Thats where you do your homework and try and find out that players personality type before you sign them.

  • jonnyquixote

    This analysis is a little skewed and paints a worse picture of the Oilers compared to the rest of the league than is likely accurate. Teams like Buffalo and NYI, with a far, far, far worse recent history of terrible contracts, escape a finger-wagging thanks to the compliance buyout which hides the money (while still skewing their internal budgets). The LTIR exemption used on players like Savard, Pronger and Horton is also not the clean slate this analysis treats it to be – the players don’t go on until day 1 of the season, and the cap relief only applies vis a vis a replacement player from that point on (ie. that money can’t be spent on 2 different players in the off-season).

    Plus, the decision to not buyout Nikita (and Scrivens) results in a worse hit now for larger rewards later.

    I really don’t see the Oilers as having many terrible contracts, and the terrible ones are pretty short-term.

    • jonnyquixote

      In particular by not buying out NN, Chia is looking to clear the decks as best he can for next year. The only obvious increase in salary add for next year in either Talbot or Nilsson as a starting goalie. Possible raise for Schultz. May be room for a salary add next year.

      Also I wonder how many other owners would put 7M (NN 4.5 and Scrivens 2.5) is the minors without batting an eye. Katz was too slow in ousting the KL mafia, but he has never seemed to blink when it comes spending money to improve the team.

  • SurfacetoAirMissile

    I’m pretty sure if Andrew wasn’t wearing a C on his Jersey the dead space number would be much larger. I would like to give MacT some credit though for trading away Horcoff without having to retain any salary. I thought at the time it was mission impossible.

    In the end the team pays for the player either way (NHL or AHL) so it is of benefit to the OIL for Tricky Nicky to collect his $ in the AHL so he only costs the team $ and not wins.

    • mcjesus take the wheel

      Horcoff was still a useful player, centre, durable, his contract was probably double what it should have been though. Oilers were not in cap trouble and had zero depth at center. They got an AHL D-man despite already having about 12 of a similar quality,for a veteran center when mentorship was nil. This of course was MacT and the most annoying man in the world, attempt to flush out the culture of losing. Of course the plan didn’t hold water little own carry it. Last I checked Anahiem has enjoyed a little more success than the Oil, and they had still room for Horcs this year.

  • OtOil

    Bakersfield just moved into the AHL. From what I understand, the Oilers own them, they have great fans, and now they have Scrivens,Dri,and Nure to watch.
    Building a brand isn’t cheap, so in that sense the “dead space” here might actually be well spent. The best advertisement is word of mouth. People talk about wins.
    Niki should own the AHL right?

  • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

    Paid vacations for winter in California , nice demotion . I’m surprised Ference not pushing for that benefit . Will they want to come back ?

    • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

      Say what you want but no player wants to ride the bus in the AHL. They have pride as men. I hope for his dignity and for the good of the team he can get enough game to come back to the NHL and be trade worthy.

    • Wax Man Riley

      I could look for the quote, but I’m not going to, lol.

      I remember waaaaaaaay back in 2010 when the rebuild “officially” started, K-Lowe preached patience and said it will be a lon road. Probably 7 years.

      Anyone else remember that?


      Didn’t mean to reply to you madjam.

  • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

    A lot of Dissing MacT on here and some justification is warranted. He did try to put his stamp on things but I think there is some kind of personality trait that the present GM has that many lack. Sometimes you have people you just want to deal with and others not so much. I suspect the problems in Oiler land really stemmed off many fans and people in management and the Owner feeling that NHL player success would translate to managerial success. One of the first things I heard about Chia was that at the draft “he was all over the floor talking to people.” MacT may have worked just as hard but Chia has a knack to get people to listen to him. People want to deal with him. Add to that the pull of playing with the young bright future of this team. Add to that the chance to work under a great coach and this job is far easier for Chia than it was or ever could be for MacT. I for one have moved on from bashing the past as it is what got us here. I will choose to remember MacT as the coach that managed to capture lighting in a bottle and the enjoyment I felt in 06. I will think of watching him play in the 80’s. His term as GM is now past and I will celebrate our future.

    • Canoe Ride 27.1

      I’m with you Sheldon, but we are going to have to continue to listen to the Mac T bashing until these contracts are off the books and hopefully the team starts winning.

      I truly believe something special is beginning to happen here. This season could be a bit of a rough one too but I feel like the tide is turning.

  • Serious Gord

    Scrivens may be back or traded.

    At the time of both signings most in the media and ON did not greatly mind these signings. With a crystal ball there would be no bad signings.

    The one type of contract that makes no sense to me is a long term contract for an older player.

    • camdog

      Scrivens played really well when he came over from LA. When the games mattered at the World Championships Scrivens was awful, this was a sign of things to come.

      Oiler fans and media tend to go into denial about the teams and players weaknesses at times. That is what fans do, they become emotionally vested in the team.

      However said when a GM does this and falls in love with certain players well you don`t win hockey games and you end up with a whole bunch of bad contracts and mediocrity.

  • Soiled Trousers

    Maybe the Oilers are carrying more than league average, but it’s for a positive reason. Sending down Nikitin and Scrivens is showing they have the depth and cap room to not just keep players because of contracts. Chi is trying to ice the best team he can / and or do what’s best for the players on his team (see Draisaitl) Sending down two guys who have one year left on their deals opens up spots for guys who are playing better, and also sends a message to guys like Purcell the team is not afraid to bury you if you play poorly.

    Having said that, this trick didn’t really work with Souray, so I wonder if it’s really the best asset management. Having said that, these two players are not the same caliber as Souray. And other teams are needing to send down better players.