How the Golden Knights' AHL-NHL shuffling illustrates one way teams can bank cap space for deadline day

When Nicolas Roy was called up Wednesday, it marked the 26th time he has been shuffled between the NHL and AHL this season. His frequent moves highlight a method teams can and have used to manage the cap in preparation for late-season transactions.
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Buried below the surface of the Vegas Golden Knights’ announcement they had acquired Alec Martinez from the Los Angeles Kings were notes of a few corresponding transactions. Defensemen Zach Whitecloud was on the move from the minors to the big club. Fellow blueliner Jimmy Schuldt, too. But maybe most notable was that Nicolas Roy had been recalled from the Chicago Wolves along with the two rearguards. And if that’s an NHL-AHL transaction that sounds somewhat familiar, it’s not without reason.

You see, it was just four days ago that Roy was sent down to the minors. The day before that, however, he had been recalled. And one week before that, he had been demoted, a move to the AHL that came only six days after he had been brought back to the big league. You’re probably starting to get the picture and this probably doesn't need much more explaining. Roy has been on the move a lot this season. In fact, to simply say he’s been on the move “a lot” hardly does it justice. Wednesday’s recall in the wake of the Martinez acquisition was the 26th time Roy has been bounced between the AHL and NHL since the beginning of October. Put another way, he’s been shuffled back and forth every five and a half days or so. That's a lot of frequent-flyer miles.

Of course, the yo-yoing of the 23-year-old hasn’t just been for kicks. In part, it’s been because Roy, who was acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes in the summer as part of the Erik Haula swap, is a still-developing player who can use the minor-league reps to round out his game. He’s played well when he’s been with the Wolves, too, scoring seven goals and 22 points, and some of his offensive output in Chicago has translated to his time in Vegas. Three goals and six points when averaging less than 10 minutes per game are decent numbers for an up-and-comer.

But as important for the Golden Knights, explained Dominik from CapFriendly (who requested his surname not be published), is what see-sawing Roy has meant for Vegas’ bottom line. In the final year of an entry-level contract that has an average annual value of $720,000, the Golden Knights have shuffled Roy around as much for his own development as they have to save a bit of valuable cap space.

“Every day that he's not on the cap is $4,000 they save that they could use on, say, another player that down the road they want to call up,” Dominik said. “Bouncing him up and down is just a way of saving that daily rate to use or to bank, if you will, down the road for another player.”

That estimated $4,000 figure isn't pulled out of thin air, either. It's the daily payment Roy would be owed, calculated by his full cap hit divided by the number of days in the campaign (186). And while that might not seem like an awful lot, and hardly enough to have any impact around the deadline, it does start to add up and create slightly more wiggle room for a Vegas outfit that’s not exactly rich in cap space with the deadline approaching.

“At the trade deadline, (the amount saved) is probably the equivalent of a league-minimum player, meaning that the bouncing that they did banked them enough cap space that on Monday, they'll have banked enough cap space to actually pick up a guy who makes league minimum just because of that,” Dominik said.

That’s exactly the case, too. Even after adding Martinez and his full salary – not a dime was retained by the Kings – the Golden Knights find themselves with roughly $750,000 in available cap space for the deadline, according to CapFriendly.

It helps, no doubt, that Roy fits the description of a player who is ripe of this kind of salary-saving scheme. He's waiver-exempt, which means Vegas doesn't need to pass him through each time he's shuffled and risk losing him to another club. He also isn't a lineup regular, which means he can be sent back to the minors for stretch if need be. And it also helps that he plays up front. There's a buffer there, with teams often carrying 14 forwards.

As we approach the deadline, Roy has been the most obvious example, the perfect poster boy, of these roster-shuffling cap measures because his promotions and demotions have happened so frequently. Rest assured, though, that Roy isn't alone and that Vegas isn’t the only team who has played a similar game with the salary cap, shuffling a player – or players – up and down on a consistent basis to squeeze every possible penny out of the spending limit.

Recently, the Winnipeg Jets moved winger Andrei Chibisov between the AHL and NHL five times in 11 days. The Arizona Coyotes have shuffled defenseman Kyle Capobianco up-and-down a dozen times, though injuries on the backend have been partially responsible. Same goes for the Boston Bruins with rearguard Jeremy Lauzon, who has had 11 transfers to the AHL or NHL since Dec. 30. That's one just about every four and a half days. Fellow Bruins defender Steven Kampfer has been moved back and forth a dozen times, as well. Again, not all of those moves are made strictly for cap reasons. These players are used. Chibisov played twice. Capobianco has skated in nine games. Lauzon and Kampfer have each played 10 games. 

“(Roy) stands out in this case because it's the same guy,” Dominik said. “It's a little less obvious maybe to some when today it's Roy, tomorrow it's Hague, the day after it's Glass. When they spread it around, maybe it's a little less evident, but (teams are) still doing it.”

So, is this the start of a trend for NHL clubs? Will we see the single-player, AHL-NHL shuffle become a standard salary-saving move? It’s difficult to say for certain, if only because this campaign was somewhat unique. Said Dominik, this season's cap being set far lower than initial projections might have something to do with the frequency of the moves.

“(Teams) started spending before they knew," he said. "And then when it came down and was going to be under what they thought, now they're kind of stuck. So, next year, if the cap goes up what they're hoping it goes up, maybe you'll see less of it, but you'll always see clubs doing this.”

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