Devils Feeling the Cap Crunch (Again)

The closer we get to the opening of the regular season, the tougher the decisions become for all 30 NHL general managers. It’s never a fun time when the GMs have to make cuts to their roster. At any level of hockey, it’s always sad to see the faces of players who are told they won’t be playing hockey for the club they were trying out for. Some of the rookies may use it as motivation to improve during the year, and hopefully make a stronger impression at next year’s camp. But for some of the veterans at camp, getting cut means the end of the line.

Players that already have contracts aren’t even excluded; such is the case for New Jersey’s Brian Rolston. As it stands right now, Rolston has 2 years remaining on his contract, which is worth exactly $5M per year, and comes at a cap hit of $5,062,500 due to bonuses. Ever since the signing of Ilya Kovalchuk was made official, and I mean ‘official’ official, the Devils have been sitting $2,968,332 over the cap. That’s okay for now, but won’t fly with the NHL by the time the regular season rolls around.

It isn’t simple when it comes to Rolston’s contract, as there are several major drawbacks that come with signing a 35+ player. What makes it even more complicated, and difficult for Lou Lamoriello, is the fact that he also has a no-trade-clause for both of the years left on his contract. That really restricts the options that New Jersey has, if they do end up deciding to part ways with Rolston.

Both Dainius Zubrus and Bryce Salvador come with hefty cap hits, so unloading either (or both) of them is a distinct possibility. But with the way head coach John Maclean has been using both Zubrus and Salvador in training camp, it doesn’t look like parting ways with either of them is in the plans. The way Rolston has been used, even through his early injury, shows that he may be the odd man out for the Devils.

The first option for the Devils, for getting rid of Rolston, would be by placing him on waivers. September 25th is the first day teams are able to do that, so watch the waiver wire closely this Saturday to see if his name pops up. Don’t be surprised if it does.

If he gets claimed, the claiming team would assume the two years left on the contract, and would be responsible for paying Rolston $5M this year, and next. A full cap hit of $5,062,500 would also be taken off the books for New Jersey, and placed on the claiming team. Aside from a trade for some kind of return, which is next to impossible thanks to his NTC, this is the best option the Devils can hope for. It would give them sufficient room under the cap, and then some. What are the real odds of this happening, though? Let’s just say I would put money on the Oilers going from worst-to-first in the west this season before I would put money on Rolston being picked off waivers for a full $5,062,500 cap hit.

So 48 hours goes by and nobody claims Rolston, what’s next? Any time a player clears waivers, you then have the ability to buy them out, but that move does not make a lot of sense. It would only take Rolston off the Devils’ roster, but would not provide any financial or cap relief. That doesn’t really help the situation. Since he cleared waivers, the Devils would also have the option to send him down to the AHL. That’s where the 35+ part of the contract comes into play. Sending a player on a 35+ contract to the minors does not take his contract off the books, it only rids the team of the bonuses attached to the contract. For Rolston, that would be $100K, which leaves the Devils with a $4,962,500 cap hit, and a $5M man playing for Albany. Not exactly an ideal solution to the problem, either.

The Devils will send him down after he clears waivers, only for the sole purpose of recalling him immediately, which would place him on re-entry waivers. A team claiming Rolston on re-entry waivers would be the second-best outcome of all this for New Jersey. A team that claims a player on re-entry waivers is responsible for half of the salary and cap hit, which stands to be $2,531,250. Would your team take a shot on an aging Brian Rolston at a cost of $2,531,250? The Devils management are sure hoping somebody does. The NTC and 35+ stipulations that are attached to his contract will probably be enough to scare away most teams. Only teams that are really serious will even consider it.

If a team does snag Rolston on re-entry waivers, that would mean $2,531,250 comes off the Devils’ cap, leaving the team only $437,082 over the limit. A few more minor moves would still need to be made, but it would make Lou Lamoriello’s job a heck of a lot easier. If no other team budges on Rolston, then we may see Lou start to sweat.

This is all part of the game that general managers play. The other teams in the league won’t exactly be ‘waiting in line’ to let New Jersey get off the hook from their cap problems. If the Devils are forced into making a trade to get under the cap, you can almost guarantee that they’ll be shipping out more than just Brian Rolston. Expect teams to demand a prospect or two to leave town with him, a price the Devils aren’t willing to pay. All New Jersey needs to escape this mess, is one GM to think it’s worth taking a risk on the veteran Rolston through waivers.

If they don’t get lucky with waivers, expect things to get really interesting. The walls are closing in as the season draws nearer, and it could be desperation time yet again as the Devils try to sneak under the cap.

Greg Balloch


George Prax's picture

The only person Lou and the Devils have to blame for this is themselves. Who the hell signs a 35 year old Brian Rolston to that kind of contract? How Lou gets himself out of these situations surprises me each and every time.