Monday, March 3, 2008

Ryan Miller in 09-10?

(Another long post, another concise summary at the end! Scroll down to skip the argumentation.)

Didn't see the game, but it's of course good to get winning again - a look at the stat sheet is enough to tell you how desperate the Wings were to score - goals from Drake and Maltby? Damn. Also, Kronwall, 2A and first star? Yeah, he's ready for the playoffs. I'm pumped guys.

What I will talk about, however, is the rampant rumors about Ryan Miller, who will be a FA in 2009, bolting Buffalo for Detroit. I would like to take a moment to address how ridiculous this is. Don't get me wrong, I love absurd trade/signing dream scenarios, as evidenced by my posts leading up to the deadline - Forsberg, Selanne, Markov; Sundin, Blake, Antropov, I was all about the Wings signing or trading for everyone and his mother. Except, you will recall, Olli Jokinen, because of his cap number. And the cap is precisely why Ryan Miller is extremely unlikely to sign with the Wings. If there's one kind of ridiculous acquisition scenario I dislike, it's the mathematically impossible kind.

Numbers are scary, I know, but let's look at the Wings cap situation from now until the 09-10 season when Miller's hypothetical contract would start, in easy-to-read spreadsheet format (all real contract values from

You'll notice that I'm projecting Zetterberg gets 8M, something he could easily demand, Cleary and Filppula get news deals, and that the Wings will have 6.65M in room in 09-10. Now, a lot of this is very nebulous, so it's hard to see how Miller would fit in - the 09-10 cap figure isn't known, nor is the value of nearly half the contracts the Wings would have at that point. So let's imagine a few scenarios in which the Wings sign Miller prior to 09-10. In the "L. Bound" scenario, I imagine the cheapest possible deals for all the Wings who will need new contracts between now and then - 7M for Zetterberg (he has suggested he'll take a hometown discount, after all), just 2.5M for Cleary (their current offer, which he hasn't accepted - Patrick Sharp has comparable stats and got 3.9M), just 2M for Filppula, 1.5M for Franzen. I also imagine neither Lilja nor Stuart is re-signed past 08-09, and that Ericsson is on the team on a cheap contract. Finally, let's imagine Miller gets 6M, which is significantly below his market value.

In this situation, as you can see, the Wings have 2.85M in cap room, but only if they spend the bare minimum on the last five forward spots, and don't carry an extra forward. Hudler, Sammuelsson, Kopecky, none of them will go for deals that cheap. This all also assumes the cap rises 6M from now until then. The cap, currently 50.3M, has been rumored to be heading to 53M, a raise of 3M, next season. So assuming it does the same the season after, we have a 56M cap. However, it's far from assured the cap will rise that much. Much of the NHL's salary inflation is due to the comparative strengths of the Canadian and American dollars. I'm no economist, but if the USD gains any ground on loony, the cap's growth will be stunted.

To summarize, yes the Wings can afford Miller in 09-10 if: The cap, Zetterberg, Cleary, Filppula, Franzen, and Miller himself all cooperate, and the Wings roll three lines because they have a bunch of scrubs rounding out their roster. Look back up at the chart and take a gander at the "U. Bound" scenario, in which I give each player the maximum value I think they could sign for. Zetterberg for 8.5 (he could get even more on the open market), Cleary for 3.9, Fil for 2.6, Mule for 2, and Miller for 8, which, again, I think he would get on the open market. That last value is maybe a little high (Luongo didn't even break 7), but the point is clear: in this scenario the Wings would be 3.15M over the cap. And still with a 4th line of 4th-graders.

I'm not saying Miller won't ever come here. I am saying it will require the Wings to trade some cap space to do so. I can envision a scenario ("Trade" column in the chart above) in which the Wings falter down the stretch next year, with Howard not yet ready to lead the team in the playoffs, and Osgood hurt or ineffective. Maybe Kronwall continues to develop, stays healthy, and shows himself to be a legit #1 defender (he pretty much already is), and Ericsson has a Calder-type season and earns a spot in the top 4. In this scenario I could see the Wings, at the '09 deadline, dealing Rafalski and Howard for Miller and maybe some picks. If Miller agreed to a hometown-type extension at around 6.5M, and Zetterberg gets ~7.8M, Cleary goes a little low for 3.2M, the Wings would be able to fit under the cap and actually ice a real 4th line. Suppose Kopecky rounds out the 3rd line for about 1M, and Helm and Abdelkader each debut at .85M, with the other two forward spots going to Drake/Downey-type veterans. The Wings would be a pretty green team, but with a stalwart in goal, in the big characters still around (ZDH, Cleary Mule Fil, Lids Cheli Kronner, Drapes). They would be a more defense-oriented team without Rafalski and with only one top flight scoring line and one middling one, but reasonably could do damage in the playoffs.

All this having been said, it's not going to happen, unless a goaltending catastrophe of the type described above strikes. And even if it did, even that might not encourage Holland to give up on Howard and slash salary to fit Miller in the cap. It wouldn't be a bad move because goaltending is the most important position and I don't mind spending big bucks there and re-arranging your roster to do so. But the Wings are ideally situated in net already - Howard showed during Hasek's injury that he's ready to be an NHL goalie next year, and Osgood is the perfect mentor. I see Osgood as starting the majority of the regular season and in the playoffs next year, a battle the year after, and the Howard Supremacy starting 2010-11. And with Howard in his RFA years, and Osgood on a discount/veteran deal, the Wings will continue to get great value at the goaltending position, which will allow them to spend so much on skaters (~28M for the top four skaters depending on Zetterberg). So why mess with a good thing?

-a lot of people seem to think the Wings should go after Ryan Miller in 09-10
-that's fucking ridiculous
-because of Zetterberg's looming extension in '09, and extensions for Cleary, Filppula, and Franzen on the horizon, the Wings would need to shed considerable salary to fit Miller, who will command 6M at the very, very least
-the only reasonable move would be to trade Rafalski, which might happen only if the Wings are very happy with Ericsson and the other young D's development, and very unhappy with Osgood/Howard
-but if Osgood stays steady and Howard develops well, why would you even entertain the notion?
-boldface allows you to highlight key ideas and is fun to use!
-avs suck