Generally speaking, you should always target proven commodities instead of putting your eggs in the basket of prospects that may or may not achieve stardom. Simply put, a large portion of the skill set required to produce at the highest level in the NHL cannot be taught. Therefore, a player who has shown an ability to put up points over multiple years is more likely to continue being productive.
When finances are involved, it is not as simple as stacking your team with the most talented players available. The star players are usually paid top dollar so there has to be some give and take as you fit the pieces together on your team. At what point is it a good idea to side with the riskier option?
The Proven Commodity
Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos are proven commodities who are heavy-hitters on the stat sheet in any format. Their salary is going to be more elevated as a result of their elite level of production, but they are worth the money regardless due to their contributions from a single roster spot on your team.
One challenge in running a cap league team is when your players have contract renewals. With the NHL’s salary cap constantly inflating, most players will receive a raise when their contract is due for renewal. With contracts being publicized, it is possible to predict in advance what your player’s new contract will look like and give you an indication of how much cap space should be cleared before it is too late.
There are special situations where your player could be in for a pay raise to a level beyond his value. When players hit the open market in unrestricted free agency, supply and demand will play a large role in determining each player’s new cost. When there is high demand along with few available talents, the final result is teams bidding more than they should to solve their problem. In recent years, there have been plenty of examples: Scott Gomez ($7,357,143), Chris Drury ($7,050,000), Daniel Briere ($6,500,000), Brian Campbell ($7,142,875) and Wade Redden ($6,500,000) among others.
Like everything else related to managing your fantasy team, it is a good idea to put some time into understanding the upcoming crops of NHL unrestricted free agents and forecasting some potential payroll problems that may arise down the road. It is much easier to make a trade to get out of cap trouble before your hand is forced. Let someone else deal with the headache.
The primary benefit of taking chances with some unproven or uncertain players is salary cap relief. Consider the example of Patrick Kane (6,300,000) versus Blake Wheeler (2,550,000). Kane is a very proven commodity as he has always produced between 66 and 88 points while missing just 11 games during his five-year career. Wheeler posted a career-high of 64 points last year, and has an upside for much more. His prior best season was a mediocre 45 points. Because of the lack of track record, Wheeler does present some uncertainty. He could take the next step and become a constant 70-80-point player or he could hover around (or below) the 60-point mark. Despite the risk, it is possible that the difference in points between the two moving forward is insignificant compared to the payroll reduction. It really depends on the financial situation of your team.
So at what point should you consider going cheap to make it all work? Let’s take a look at the cap hit distribution according to Dobber’s point projections for 2012-13.
Obviously you want to own the guys at the top of the food chain. But in the 50-70 point range on the forwards chart, you begin to see a lot of variation in the cap hits of players. Similar bargain players start to show on the defenseman chart in the 35-45-point range. Depending on your cap commitments to higher-caliber players, you can consider rolling the dice in this point range. If you are in a deep league, then cap bargains will be readily available to fill your roster and the risk of mixing them in will be even less significant. Just make sure you keep an eye on your waiver wire in case a move has to be made to get help during the year.
Even though it is highly beneficial to use every cap dollar to make your team better, there are benefits to leaving yourself with a bit of space under the ceiling. Clearly you will need enough flexibility to accommodate re-signings throughout your roster. In the NHL, player salaries increase according to how many cap dollars are available. But your fantasy team consists of guys from multiple NHL teams so it is possible that your team payroll increases at a higher rate than you can handle. This is more of a long-term problem to address though.
More importantly, you want to be in the mix when one of your rival GMs puts a star player on the trade block. The teams with a payroll close to the limit are often unable to offer anything when someone like Alexander Ovechkin and his $9,538,462 cap hit are up for trade. On the flip side, if you have enough financial freedom and the trade pieces to make a deal happen, you may be one of the few teams in the bidding. If the GM in question has his mind made up about moving the player, you may be able to acquire an upgrade for less than market value.
Additionally, having cap space allows you to more easily integrate the contracts of elite prospects that arrive onto your roster. Last week we looked at some typical examples of high draft choices and top College free agents – those costs are not always easy to promote to your main roster.
Evidently, it is impossible to simply stack your team with top talent in a cap league. Part of the skill set required to win this kind of league is an ability to manage your money allocation. You will have to find some cheaper, sometimes unproven, talent to fill the gaps.
There are plenty of examples in the real NHL – let’s use the Chicago Blackhawks. Following their Stanley Cup victory in 2010, the team faced an unprecedented amount of cap trouble. After dealing away a ton of good talent, they were forced to call upon some cheap labor, some of them being unknown depth players from within the system while others were veterans on the decline hoping to recreate some magic. Bryan Bickell, who had 37 points and a $541,667 cap hit in 2010-11, is an example of an unproven player who was brought in and provided good scoring support at a near-minimum salary. Players like Bickell made it possible for the Hawks to retain their best players. In the end, the league’s most competitive teams will have a healthy balance of proven and hit-or-miss talent with potential.
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