Tom Poraszka was already toying around with a simulator for the expansion draft when an NHL team official sent word that he consider doing just that.
"I was like ‘Oh, I already am,’ " said Poraszka, the founder of General Fanager, a website devoted to all things NHL salary cap. "And then it just blew up.
"In the first two days I think we had 50,000 people go to it."
Everything that happens today in the NHL fits under the umbrella of the salary cap, making sites like General Fanager an imperative resource for fans, media, players, agents and even teams themselves. The site offers almost everything one could want, from the salary commitments and cap space of all 30 clubs to buyout calculators, a salary arbitration tracker and contract histories for every player.
A result of the 2004-05 lockout, the salary cap forces clubs to carefully (sometimes not!) divvy up dollars each season, a delicate dance that makes even the most minor decisions important. Sites like General Fanager, a successor to the influential CapGeek, offer a peek "behind the curtain" of such decision-making as Poraszka explains it.
"If you’re really into the sport having a site like this, with the type of information it has, it allows you to understand and justify why certain things are or aren’t happening," said Poraszka, who lives in Toronto.
He cites the Colorado Avalanche foisting player upon player on waivers at one point last season, a result, he quickly learned, of the club’s tightrope against the 50-contract limit.
CapGeek was the pioneer for General Fanager, becoming the go-to source for salary cap information before the site’s founder, Matthew Wuest, passed away last March due to colon cancer. Poraszka and others (CapFriendly and NHLNumbers are two other similar, though less expansive sites) have picked up on Wuest’s work and will only presumably grow in importance.
The cap is only a decade old in the NHL and as teams become increasingly adept at manipulating it, resources that help explain it all will only become more beneficial to those interested in the game.
General Fanager merely fills a void the NHL has opted not to occupy. Commissioner Gary Bettman mused last year there wasn’t interest to merit the league running its’ own comprehensive site, though traffic for General Fanager (which has over 47,000 Twitter followers) would suggest the contrary. The site topped one million visitors July 1 and usually draws in the tens of thousands daily, according to Poraszka.
Poraszka says he has strong relationships with about 20 teams, keeping in close contact with them as well as members of the media to ensure information presented is as accurate as possible. Details, such as the terms and conditions of Jakob Chychrun’s first deal with the Arizona Coyotes, are offered almost immediately after news breaks, though sometimes Poraszka has to chase down specifics.
NHL clubs are increasingly becoming more transparent with that information though. The Toronto Maple Leafs, long secretive in that realm, opted to disclose contract terms for the first time last week when Martin Marincin was signed to a two-year deal worth $2.5 million US.
Other clubs like the New York Rangers opt against presenting even the length of a new contract.
Given the importance of the salary cap, there’s certainly merit to the league creating an official channel. The NHL, though, has been slow to such ventures in the past, only delving into advanced statistics on their website last year.
Poraszka says he’d love to partner with the NHL on such a project — "there’s no more reliable source than the league itself," he says — and from conversations with the league believes there’s interest to do something eventually, just not yet.
The NHL didn’t respond to interview requests.
Poraszka spends about 40 hours a week running the site (he gets help on the busiest days) and is continually pursuing more elements, including an armchair GM tool and mobile app. The newly added expansion draft tool allows users to go through every step of that eventual process, to the point of drafting players for the new Las Vegas franchise.
A project manager in marketing by day, Poraszka leapt into the site only when CapGeek shut down last spring, a hardcore fan who craved the information.
He hopes the site can one day be profitable.
"What’s critical to me is that people have a source that’s really good and really reliable," he said.