The new NHL season has many new wrinkles and adjustments for Joe Hockey Fan to ingest.
You have rule changes, roster upheaval, a general shift in the power rankings from big markets to well built young rosters – heck even the ice looks different with lines that are new and old lines that are fat.
With the final cuts for NHL rosters due today, another new addition to the hockey landscape is the slim and trim NHL roster.
In past seasons it was a given that each NHL team would carry 23 bodies with their parent club and dispatch the rest to an affiliate. The composition of the 23 man roster varied by team, but would either shake out to 7 defenceman, 14 forwards and two stoppers, or 8 defencemen, 13 forwards and the same two goaltenders.
This year many a team are going with one, two or even three less bodies.
The days of popcorn row are a thing of the past with the bubble players now plying their trade in the American Hockey League jammed into Grey Hound buses.
On first blush the assumed reason for the drop in body count comes down to teams that just don't have the cap space to keep that many players around. That would be true in many cities, some of which could include New Jersey, Toronto and perhaps Vancouver.
Why, however, would a team like the Calgary Flames not carry some extra bodies when they currently sit $3.5 million bucks below the $39 million dollar cap?
It's true that general manager Darryl Sutter has one ace up his sleeve in finding a new American Hockey League market closer to all of the teams in the Western Conference – he can easily get emergency help from Omaha, Nebraska with very little notice compared to the days of housing players in Saint John or Lowell, Mass.
But the logic likely runs a little deeper than that.
My money is on Mr. Sutter looking to give his Stanley Cup favoured Flames a little wiggle room when the moved up trade deadline comes to pass.
Salary cap is measured in terms of dollars spent, not recorded salaries on paper. So by not filling his entire roster for the first 63 games of the season (the point where the Flames will come up to the deadline date), the Flames could give themselves some flexibility to add players for the final 19 games and playoffs.
With the 22 guys still with the team playing an entire season (including injured Robyn Regehr right now) the Flames would have a finishing payroll of $35.7 million. Assuming Regehr comes back in three weeks that would include 2 extra bodies instead of three for the bulk of the season.
That would mean the Flames would be $3.3 million under the cap, gaining a weighted flexibility of $2.5 million by game #63. With no other changes the Flames could add $14.2 million dollars in payroll for the final 19 games and land on a total payroll of $39 million (not including performance bonuses). The Flames would churn up 27.4 million through 63 games, and then 11.6 over the final 19 to end the season at exactly $39.0.
Adding a Ritchie Regehr as an extra defenceman would cost the Flames $5,500 a game that he's eating popcorn towards that $14.2 flexibility at the end of the season. A player like Eric Nystrom would be twice that impact as he's making $900 thousand a season.
So a younger Regehr for 10 games and an Eric Nystrom for a full season would eat up three quarters of a million dollars in flexibility by the time the trade deadline comes to pass.
A big number compared to $14.2 million? Probably not. For teams closer to the cap however, it would mean the difference between adding to their playoff chances or being forced to stand pat.
Every team has exposure when it comes to injuries however, meaning the more space they accrue for the trade deadline the better chance they have of filling impact injuries through the season. A difference of $750,000 doesn't seem like much on the surface, but by Christmas it could mean the difference between replacing an injured impact player or just letting the season go down the drain.
The new NHL kicks off tomorrow night with a whole host of changes for each hockey fan to wrap their heads around. The play on the ice might be more fluid, but the decisions in the backrooms have never been more tight.