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Mats Sundin in "Summer Rental"

Welcome, Mats Sundin, to Vancouver.  I will enjoy the six months you spend in our fair city, but I won’t expect to see you for much long afterward.  In the meantime, I hope that too many deckchairs aren’t reordered to make room for you, because all of that will be torn down at the end of the season.  Many people are giddy to see you coming here, but I’m not so sure.  Why?

I have become, of late, a student of the NHL’s Salary Cap.  While new Canucks GM Mike Gillis will be painted a hero for the feat of luring Sundin here in a desperate bid to bring The Cup back to the West Coast, there is a reason he was only able to sign Mats for a year, and similarly a reason why Sundin is a hero for sitting half the season out.

The announcement today that this past summer’s $10M bid for Sundin’s services is pro-rated gives Gillis a break on the Cap Rule.  The Canucks couldn’t have afforded Sundin without moving some players at the $10M offer made in July. But if Sundin joins the Canucks after Christmas they’ll be just under halfway through the season, meaning that of the $10M offer he actually stands to collect $5.5M – $6M on the season.  As this table shows the Canucks could find themselves with about $2.5M of breathing room below the cap.

Sounds great, right?

Sure.  But here’s why Mats Sundin might just well be the NHL’s highest-paid Summer Rental ever.

Next July, Alexander Edler’s salary will be bumped from a paltry $550,000 to a princely $3,250,000.  As if that weren’t enough the Sedins, each earning $3,575,000 will become Unrestricted Free Agents which means that their salaries will be largely determined by the marketplace.  That’s bad news.  Guys with their stats will likely be fielding offers of $4.5M to $5M next summer.  Adding insult to injury our senior remaining Swede Mattias Ohlund will be holding his palm out, sacred cow that he has become, and asking for something a little better than his current $3.5M contract as another UFA.  There will also be some significant inflation in Alexandre Burrows rolling off his rookie minimum of $483,333.. let’s target him conservatively at $1.5M.

Doing the math, there are probably at least an extra $6.25M in costs just to keep the current roster active next summer — not including Sundin.  That leaves about $2.5M of room.  So it’s clear that unless the ‘nucks shed some weight over the summer, or unless Sundin sits out next season until, say, March — he’s just another example of a new owner desperate to make an early play for a cup and grabbing what’s available in the short-term.  Not that that’s a bad thing, mind you… it worked for Colorado.

Just about the only thing that could keep Sundin in Vancouver for another year next season would be a substantial increase in the salary cap.  Last year the cap increased by $6.4M, or greater than 12%.  But these are tough economic times and many teams are struggling financially, particularly US expansion franchises.  There is likely to be limited appetite for increases in the cost of doing business for the next couple of seasons.

The Sedins and Ohlund being the untouchables that they are, these obstacles to a Second Season of Sundin are pretty immovable.  Still, it’s worth a shot!  Move a player like Pyatt before the deadline in exchange for someone with a little more promise, and you might have something.  Even with $2.5M of cap room, you could pick up a second summer rental whose annual contract is about $6M with the salary cap’s pro-rating system.

So fans, don’t be too hasty running down to the store to buy your “SUNDIN” Canucks jersey.  The New Era that many bloggers are hailing is likely to be fairly short-lived.

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