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Tagging: What is it, and is it a Problem?

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After the Anaheim exit interviews, assistant GM David McNab said the Ducks have a tagging issue. This post will explore that issue more deeply.

I'm awesome...just ask me
I'm awesome...just ask me
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Anaheim fans aren't used to money issues. Since the salary cap began to drastically growing a few seasons ago, Anaheim fans haven't even glanced at a cap limit team.  The Ducks are always well below the cap, because they are a small market team, no matter what people think. So when GM Bob Murray and Assistant GM David McNab started talking about the Ducks having to worry about the tagging rules, I'm sure more than a few Anaheim fans shook their heads in disbelief.

That brings us to the issue at hand: What is tagging? The easiest way to understand the tagging rule is to say that teams are not allowed to spend over THIS year's cap for the next season.  This means that if the cap limit for the '15-'16 season is 71 million, the Ducks are not allowed to allocate more than 71 million on contracts for the '16-'17 season.  For example, because his contract extends beyond the '15-'16 season he counts against next season's cap and the season after that. Does it make sense yet? If not, just think of it as not being able to go over the cap in both the season you are playing and the season after.

We now arrive at the more pressing question: Is this a problem for the Ducks? Well, it depends on what you mean by problem...  It also depends on what the Ducks do for contracts for the upcoming season.

GeneralFanager is supplying the numbers for this post and they say the Ducks have 17 million in cap space for next season with 19 players signed, and they have 37.491 million tied up in nine players for the '16-'17 season. First, that 17 million will be about 19 million when July first hits and the new cap takes over.  For the sake of this post, I'm going to assume that the cap reaches the highest range I've seen projected, which is 71 million.

Ok, but here is where it gets complicated. There are a few ways to look at this situation. I suppose the default is that the Ducks never really spend to the cap, so there's nothing to worry about. The second way to look at this is that even if the Ducks do spend to the cap, they have plenty of space for this year, and there will be time to solve all the other problems later.  The third way is that if Murray isn't careful he's going to make it difficult to do one of two things. It could be harder to acquire good talent later on in the upcoming year, or two it could be difficult to sign our RFAs to contract extensions which might expose them to poaching.

So how do the two latter problems play out?  Let's explore the hypotheticals. First, imagine that Bob decides his most important task as GM is to keep his young defense together, as well as his 2C Ryan Kesler, so he focuses on signing key players to contract extensions early in the season. He signs Hampus Lindhom and Sami Vatanen to identical $4 million cap hits. Although, I think Lindholm might get more than four. Kesler gets 6.5M, which wouldn't be that surprising. That's 51.991 for 12 players for 2016 season.

Next, let's say that Murray keeps Francois Beauchemin on a multi-season deal at $3 million per season, and he keeps Matt Beleskey, or some equivalent, for a few seasons at $4 million.  Now we are up to 58.991 for 14 players for the '16 season, and we haven't talked about extending Emerson Etem, Chris Wagner and most expensively, Jakob Silfverberg and Frederik Andersen.  Say Silf and Andersen split another $7 million. that would leave the Ducks with 5.009 in tagging dollars for the '16-'17 season, and 16 players on the 23 man roster.

Here's where it gets tricky. Based on those projections, the Ducks would have $9 million in cap space for the '15-'16 season, but only 5.009 in tagging dollars for the following season. That means Murray has to either acquire expiring contracts, which he doesn't necessarily like to do, or move money to make sure that the player(s) he acquires can fit under the next year's cap.  He could very well find himself in a position where he can't make an acquisition for a player he wants because he can't fit the contract under the cap for the '16-'17 season. Personally, I think this is the bigger threat.

The second way this can go south is the inverse: Murray could be too enthusiastic about this club, overpay for the talent that is available and block his path to re-signing his RFAs. For example, imagine Murray decides that the RFA talent out there is too good for him to simply keep to the code. Carl Hagelin, Brandon Saad, Dougie Hamilton, Mikkel Boedker, and many, many others serve as tempting targets. Arguably, the smartest player to chase is Hamilton. To pry him away form Boston would probably cost $6.5 to 7 million  a season.  I'm going to use seven, because trying to win an RFA is pricey.  That puts the Ducks at 44.491 for 10 players in '16-'17. Beacuh obviously doesn't come back from that signing. Silf still gets the same 3.5, Beleskey/Replacement get the same 4. That's 51.991 for 11 players.  But that doesn't include Etem, Wagner, and whoever else might be brought in to fill out the forward corps.

That leaves you about 19 million dollars to Vatanen, Andersen, Gibson, Rakell, Palmieri, Sekac, and Simon Despres. You could very easily spend 15+ of that on Andersen, Vats, Lindholm and Despres. That means the Ducks would have to expose Rakell, Palms, and Gibson to poachers on July 1st.  Basically, if the Ducks have one big acquisition of $5 million or more this offseason that extends beyond the upcoming season, they  might have trouble signing an RFA or two before free agency shows up.

These are pretty extreme examples, and they only look at the roster as it is currently constructed and filling out the roster spots.  It shows that if Murray isn't careful, he could paint himself into a corner. It also shows that James Wisniewski of the $5.5 cap and zero playoff appearances is the gift that keeps on giving.  Dumping Wiz and Marc Fistric could go a long way to making this problem go away entirely. I can see why management is concerned, but I can also see that this wouldn't be such a threat if management was making better decisions.