Could Clowe be a cap casualty?

Could Clowe be a cap casualty?
December 30, 2012, 12:45 pm
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Unless the leadership of the NHL and NHLPA has lost every remaining ounce of common sense, the endgame to the current lockout is already underway. A 48-game shortened season beginning on Jan. 19 is a distinct possibility, if not likely.

According to several reports, the two sides have conducted several informational conference calls since the league made its latest CBA proposal on Friday. Whether or not they will get together for face-to-face meetings late Sunday or on Monday is unclear.

There are a number of issues remaining, though, the biggest of which may be the league’s proposal of a $60 million salary cap for 2013-14. Players could be subjected to a large escrow payment, and those set to become unrestricted free agents in 2013 may not have many options.

Certain organizations could be adversely affected, too, including the San Jose Sharks.

A quick glance at the always resourceful CapGeek.com says that the Sharks already have almost $54 million committed in salary next season to just 14 players. That would leave them a little more than $6 million to fill out the remaining nine spots on the roster, if they decided to carry the full 23.

The majority of the core players are signed through 2013-14. Among the forwards, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Tommy Wingels, Marty Havlat, and Adam Burish are signed through at least 2013-14. On defense, Dan Boyle, Justin Braun, Brent Burns, Brad Stuart and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are all under contract, as is goaltender Antti Niemi.

But a few notables will be looking for their next contract.

That includes Ryane Clowe, who was set to make $4 million this season headed into unrestricted free agency. The Sharks would like to re-sign the 30-year-old Clowe, probably before he hits the open market, but a reduced cap next season may make that difficult. It’s hard to predict what kind of salary Clowe would command as he’s coming off of a down season in 2011-12 that included a concussion, but the club would surely like to keep one of its heart-and-soul players and fan favorites.

If Clowe, who has been practicing and coaching with the San Francisco Bulls, is able to rebound and have an effective shortened season, keeping him without shedding a significant salary elsewhere might be impossible.

Defenseman Jason Demers is another, as his contract will expire and he’ll be a restricted free agent. The 24-year-old took a step backwards in 2011-12, but is having a good season in Finland and can still develop into a solid, every day blueliner. If he’s able to show that last season was just a bump in the road, the Sharks will likely want to keep Demers around, too. Demers would have made $1.25 million in a complete 2012-13 season.

In goal, a backup to Antti Niemi will also be necessary, and the team will probably choose between Thomas Greiss and Alex Stalock. Neither of those two players should command a seven-figure deal (both are scheduled to become restricted free agents).

Quick math says that if the Sharks re-sign Clowe and Demers at salaries comparable to what they would have made this year, as well as ink a backup goaltender, they’ll already be at the proposed cap number for 2013-14 with six spots still to fill.

It’s why another aspect of the NHL’s latest proposal could be something the Sharks take a long, hard look at – the buyout option.

In a concession to the players’ association, the league would allow one buyout per club this summer. The money would not count against a team’s cap number, but would count towards the players’ 50-percent share of hockey-related revenue.

It’s a bit too early to predict just whom the Sharks might consider buying out, since anything can happen in a shortened season that may start in less than three weeks. But, if Marleau has another underwhelming four months, as he did in the second half of 2011-12, the team may want to remove his $6.9 salary for 2013-14 from the books. Havlat could be another candidate, as the oft-injured winger is set to make $5 million a year through 2014-15.

It’s not unreasonable to think that the Sharks may have to decide between keeping Marleau or Havlat, or re-signing Clowe. Either way, some interesting and difficult decisions are ahead for general manager Doug Wilson if a $60 million cap becomes a reality.