How salary retention alters trade options

Columbus needed to retain salary in order to get the return it wanted for Marian Gaborik. Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- When the Columbus Blue Jackets got serious about trading Marian Gaborik and the trade deadline was closing in, there were about six teams that GM Jarmo Kekalainen considered legitimate suitors.

With those six teams came a range of offers and salary-cap scenarios. Some of the teams had flexibility to work with Gaborik’s $7.5 million salary or a player who could be sent back to Columbus to make it work. Others, like the Los Angeles Kings, had little to no flexibility. This was a deal that was going to require the full 50 percent retention of Gaborik’s salary to work between Kekalainen and Kings GM Dean Lombardi.

Calculations were made.

Was it financially advantageous for the Blue Jackets to pay half the freight for Gaborik to play elsewhere if it meant a better return?

“[There was] only 20 percent left of his salary and 50 percent of that, so it’s not an unreasonable amount of money,” Kekalainen said when we chatted Monday afternoon after the first session of GM meetings in Florida.

According to my math, that’s $750,000. Not unreasonable, but not insignificant for a team that isn’t necessarily rolling in profits.

The Blue Jackets aren’t a team that leaves these decisions to chance and guesses. Kekalainen mentioned the work of Josh Flynn, a Blue Jackets front-office numbers cruncher who not only is a salary-cap expert but also works behind the scenes to assign values to draft picks.

In this case, the Blue Jackets could figure out just how economically feasible it was to retain salary in order to maximize return. Was it worth it for an additional fifth-rounder? Probably not. But when the offer came in for Matt Frattin, a second-round pick and a conditional third-rounder, the math worked.

“We were looking for the best possible trade as far as getting assets back and then weighing that with how much money [was retained],” Kekalainen said. “You have to think of what a first-round pick would be worth or a second-round pick. If he becomes a good player in the NHL, it’s worth millions, right? I don’t think it’s an exact calculation or science. You can do all the calculations you want, but if you get a second-round pick who never comes close to playing, it’s a second-round pick.”

But if you get Shea Weber ...

“That’s pretty good,” Kekalainen said.

This trade deadline was certainly the breakout year for Brian Burke’s long campaigned-for and finally implemented ability for teams to keep salary in order to facilitate trades. It came with the new collective bargaining agreement and had been used before, but with contending teams so tight against a dropped salary cap this season, it was absolutely crucial in order to get deals completed. GMs at the meetings in Florida don’t anticipate the rule being any less influential this summer.