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From the Pressbox: Salary Cap, RFAs, Comparables

Paul Bruno

Paul Bruno is co-host of the RotoWire fantasy hockey podcast, The Great Ones. He has been an accredited member of the Toronto sports media for more than 20 years. Paul also helps with RW's DFS podcast and is a contributing writer for RW NFL, MLB and CFL content. Follow him on twitter: @statsman22.

Salary Cap, RFAs, Comparables - How might one scenario impact others?

The signing of Adam Henrique, to a six-year deal with a $4 M annual salary cap hit, by the New Jersey Devils may have implications around the NHL. Consider the Toronto Maple Leafs current scenario, relating to Nazem Kadri, as a comparable.

Henrique is a 23-year-old center who tallied 16 goals and 35 assists in his rookie season, which was good enough to garner the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie player. In the playoffs he even added 13 points in 24 more games. He followed that up by slumping to only 11 goals and five assists in his sophomore campaign last season. Even with that backward step, he heads into this training camp as no worse than the team's number two center, likely battling Travis Zajac for power play time as well.

Taking all of that into consideration, the Devils and Henrique's agent saw fit to reward him with this long deal because both sides agreed to his importance to the team in the long term.

Over in Toronto, Nazem Kadri this summer with that same restricted free agent status. Kadri's career has unfolded on a different trajectory as he only registered eight goals and 11 assists in his first 51 NHL games before exploding with 44 points in 48 games in his first full season of play during last year's abbreviated campaign. He too, looks like he will slide into no worse than a second line center role behind Tyler Bozak. They will also compete for those precious power play minutes.

Kadri and the Leafs find themselves at an impasse though. Why? The constraint of the salary cap in Toronto is the answer. The Leafs have only $4.9 M available to sign Kadri and Cody Franson, a defenseman who had his own breakthrough campaign, finishing in the league's top 10 among blueline scorers. Both Leaf RFAs have a strong case to ask for big bucks and that's where the Toronto situation diverges from New Jersey.

The Devils still have almost $4 M available under the cap after the Henrique signing, so had ample latitude to get their final contract done. The Leafs don't have that same luxury.

Toronto's management will be pointing to last year, when both Montreal's P.K. Subban and Colorado's Matt Duchene were in similar circumstances and yet they agreed to take "bridge" deals where they sacrificed some salary in the short term in order to get those players under the cap. Both Subban and Duchene have since been rewarded with rich long-term deals.

Fantasy pool players need to tread carefully around these scenarios because you can't afford to carry a player if he winds up being a holdout, or worse, that player could potentially come to camp with a bad attitude and struggle as long as the uncertainty about these contract situations continues. That's why in this current hockey climate, you need to familiarize yourself with these situations and be prepared to look elsewhere and find players who are comparable to those RFAs who don't get signed by your fantasy draft date.

Boom, Bust or Sleeper Fantasy Draft Picks

Players who fall into one of these categories will either make or break your fantasy squads. A "boom" pick is aimed at a highly rated player who has yet to achieve the potential that many observers may have for him.

John Tavares is a good example of a boom performer. He came into the NHL as the league's top draft pick in the 2009 Draft so big things were expected of him. Yet in his first two full seasons, he tallied 121 points in 161 games - decent totals, yes, but much more was expected. In his last two seasons, he has become that point per game player and one of the games top on-ice leaders. In fact, he is expected to climb even higher in the points race, possibly threatening the 100-point plateau. If you picked him prior to that third year, you experienced the "boom" phenomenon.

Jordan Eberle, of the Edmonton, is a candidate for the boom category as we head into the 2013-2014 campaign. He is entering his fourth season with Edmonton and he appears poised to crack that point per game scoring range on a team that is maturing right along with him.

A "bust" player is a player who has performed at consistent to high level for much of his career, but for one reason or another is projected to slide from those relatively lofty level into a poor campaign. Picking a couple of those players all but kills your fantasy team.

The afore-mentioned Travis Zajac surprisingly found his way into this category last season because he was projected to be the consistent scorer that he had been earlier in his career. The mitigating circumstance in his case was that he was coming off a serious injury and that may have also factored into last year when only produced 20 points, even though he played in all 48 regular season games.

This season I think Jaromir Jagr could be in line for a bust campaign. The big forward has signed on with New Jersey after producing 35 points in 45 games, split between Boston and Dallas last year. Those were fairly good totals, but well off his career pace. He is 41 years old as he heads into this training camp and I expect that the slide, which began last year, may be steeper this year.

A "sleeper" pick is a player who has performed at modest levels for his career and somehow produces scoring totals far I excess of his career track record to date. If you pick one or two players who fit into that category, that is a huge bonus that will vault you to the top of your fantasy pools.

Jakub Voracek was a great sleeper pick if you selected him prior to last season. He had toiled in relative obscurity when he began his career with Columbus and even when he joined the Flyers two years ago. Through those four seasons, he never once reached the 20-goal nark, nor was he ever projected to be a point per game player. In fact, he was probably reaching the potential expected of him when he totaled 50 points in 81 games during his sophomore campaign in the 2009-10 season. He emerged as a great sleeper pick last season when he managed 22 goals and 24 assists in 46 games played, solidifying himself as a top-six forward on the Flyers depth chart heading into this season.

Heading into this season, in your search for sleepers, you want to find this players who are in the competition for open spots in a team's top two scoring lines or top defenseman slots with a chance for power play time. One player who fits into that possibility is Derek Brassard of the New York Rangers. He's a six-year veteran who has never scored more than 47 points in a full NHL season and yet he is in a battle for a role on the top two forward units with the Rangers. His totals could rise dramatically if he winds up playing alongside the signature player on the Broadway Blueshirts, Rick Nash.

These are just a few tidbits that are designed to give you some direction as you start preparing for the upcoming fantasy draft season. There will be much more to help you if you promise to stop back here in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

Paul Bruno has been writing about the fantasy sports scene for several years and is an accredited member of the sports media in Toronto for over 20 years. You are invited to send your feedback and you can follow him on Twitter (statsman22).