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Hamilton trade a cautionary tale in bad salary cap management

Ken Campbell
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Dougie Hamilton (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images) Author: The Hockey News

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Hamilton trade a cautionary tale in bad salary cap management

Ken Campbell
By:

The Bruins traded Dougie Hamilton to the Calgary Flames for three draft picks. Hamilton turned 22 earlier this month and is on the cusp of stardom and the Bruins look as though they're starting over.

SUNRISE, Fla. - Well here we are still hours before the NHL draft and already THN senior editor Brian Costello has already won Twitter today. After the Calgary Flames-Boston Bruins blockbuster, Costello took to social media to point out that according to our Draft Preview, the Bruins had traded Dougie Hamilton in exchange for Nick Merkley, Dennis Yan and Graham Knott.

Those are the three players we have ranked No. 15, 54 and 53 respectively. It almost certainly won’t turn out that way, but you get the idea. Now get this idea. Over the course of 24 hours, the Bruins traded a 50-point scorer and an elite defenseman in exchange for a package that could amount to nothing.

And if this turn of events does not provide all other 29 teams with a cautionary tale on the perils of bad cap management, then they’re all frittering away a very valuable lesson here. You can’t even argue that by trading Carl Soderberg and Hamilton was a salary dump by the Bruins to open cap space. Because both of them were free agents and that cap space didn’t actually exist.

There is no way of sugar coating this. The Bruins messed their cap situation up really badly. Even when you set aside Marc Savard’s $4 million salary on the long-term injury list, that leaves the Bruins with about $11.3 million in cap space. And all they have to do with that is find four NHL defensemen and a backup goalie and replace their fourth line.

As a result, the Bruins will still be a fairly competitive team, in part because they have the advantage of playing in the Eastern Conference, but the team that won the Stanley Cup four years ago and advanced to the Stanley Cup final just two years ago is a shell of its former self. They have elite players in Patrice Bergeron and Tuukka Rask locked in on long-term deals, but they won’t be able to take advantage of their value because they’ll be too busy rebuilding their roster.

And why did this happen? Because they didn’t manage the cap properly. Last summer when they had to say goodbye to Jarome Iginla was just the start of their downward spiral. They clearly overvalued David Krejci and Milan Lucic,who now appears bound for the Los Angeles Kings. And Zdeno Chara at $6.9 million for the next three years is looking pretty grim as well. Krejci, in particular, is painful. His cap hit of $7.25 million for each of the next six seasons represents a higher cap hit than Drew Doughty.

New GM Don Sweeney has been left to clean up the mess and will now have wear the scarlet letter for trading Hamilton if the 22-year-old turns out to be a future Norris Trophy winner. If you subscribe to the theory that it takes defensemen a little longer to round into form, the Flames may be getting Hamilton at a time when he’s ready to really bust out and emerge as one of the league’s top defensemen. And with the supporting cast he’ll have on the blueline in Calgary, he’ll be in a terrific situation.

Yes, Sweeney will go down as the man who traded Dougie Hamilton for draft picks, but he was placed in that situation by the previous regime and really didn’t have much of a choice. Chances are, Sweeney had some pretty good intel that Hamilton was going to receive an offer sheet this summer. With the Bruins cap situation, they were ripe for being targeted. Had Hamilton received an offer sheet for, say, $7 million, the Bruins would have received a first-, second- and third-round pick in next year’s draft as compensation. Sweeney had the opportunity to get a first and two seconds in a stronger draft, swallowed hard, and made the deal. Had Hamilton received an offer sheet of more than $7.3 million a year, the compensation would have been two first-rounders, a second-rounder and a third-rounder.

Another interesting facet of this is this is the second time a team with Brian Burke at the helm has made this kind of deal with the Bruins to avoid an offer sheet. Six years ago it was Phil Kessel when Burke was GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Now, as president of the Flames, Burke seems to be getting around his moral aversion to offer sheets quite nicely. It’s ironic that one of the picks the Leafs gave up for Kessel netted the Bruins Hamilton in the first place.

What seemed like such a promising package for Kessel has turned out to be very, very ordinary for Boston. They parlayed Tyler Seguin into a package of useful players, but have watched as Seguin has become an elite forward in Dallas. And now Hamilton is on the cusp of doing the same thing in Calgary.

And that, kids, is what happens when you don’t manage the salary cap properly in today’s NHL.

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Hamilton trade a cautionary tale in bad salary cap management