Anaheim Ducks GM Bob Murray has been a busy man this season, orchestrating four of the past seven trades in the NHL and nine deals overall since the regular season began. Yet, as his team continues to dwell on the fringes of the Western Conference playoff picture, Murray is left to ponder other moves to either improve his roster or sell off what few valuable rental pieces he has. Outside of recent additions Michael Del Zotto and Derek Grant, who are unlikely to be flipped, the Ducks have only three other notable impending unrestricted free agents: forwards Jakob Silfverberg and Brian Gibbons and currently injured goaltender Ryan Miller. Many have speculated that Silfverberg could be the next player shipped out of town, but Murray was quick to state recently that he will continue to work toward an extension with the top-six winger instead.
However, when it comes to either re-signing Silfverberg or adding another piece before the trade deadline, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman cautions that it may be easier said than done due to an obscure salary cap rule. “Tagging” is a rule in the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement that limits teams from surpassing the current season’s salary cap in terms of future salaries. The wording of the CBA is as follows:
Until such time as the Club has or makes Payroll Room in the current year in excess of such Tagged Payroll Room, the Club may not engage in any Player transactions requiring Payroll Room, including but not limited to, acquiring an SPC or “extending” or entering into a new SPC.
In layman’s terms, this simply means that teams are not permitted to acquire players with non-expiring contracts or agree to new contracts with current players that would put a future season’s payroll above the existing salary cap. Although the current salary cap ceiling of $79.5MM is almost guaranteed to increase next season, perhaps even substantially, and even though cap hits toll as the season progresses, allowing teams to acquire players they otherwise could not have afforded earlier in the year, they still may not surpass the current cap limit when it comes to the future.
For the Ducks, this rule is especially topical. Anaheim has 16 non-waiver exempt players under contract next season at a total of $70.4MM, the most committed salary of any team in the league. Projecting their 23-man roster payroll for next season easily exceeds $74MM. Even after cutting future salary in the Andrew Cogliano–Drew Shore swap, the Ducks have little room to maneuver while avoiding a “tagging” problem. Without moving out another long-term player, Anaheim would likely struggle to extend Silfverberg in the current league year to a salary exceeding $5-6MM. Given that Silfverberg is currently underpaid at just a $3.75MM AAV, the proven two-way forward is very likely to land in that range. Similarly, the Ducks would be hard-pressed to add a player with term remaining at a cap hit in or above that range. Even if they did find a way to make one of those moves or the other, it would severely limit their roster flexibility the rest of the way this season.
The question thus becomes, if extending Silfverberg in the current season is not a viable option, should the team consider moving him? Even if they have an oral agreement with Silfverberg to sign a new contract this off-season, they cannot truly know that he is committed to staying in Anaheim until pen meets paper. The Ducks could easily fall out of the playoff race following the trade deadline and Silfverberg could decide he would rather test the market. Meanwhile, the team should be able to recoup some nice trade capital if they did decide to trade Silfverberg and could always re-sign him this summer. Even though Murray seems intent on keeping Silfverberg around, the looming shadow of the “tagging” rule makes it a much tougher situation.