Making sense of the Pronger-to-Coyotes trade

The NHL Draft was more than just about the building blocks of a team's future but also saw a bit of a poor man's trade deadline go on, with goalies playing a game of musical chairs.

SUNRISE, Fla. — Don Maloney nearly slipped out of the building unnoticed. The sly fox had already completed a mind-bending trade that was as much about salary cap gymnastics as hockey, but he played coy when I approached him just off the draft floor.

“I made a deal,” Maloney said. “A small one.”

While that characterization was technically true, the ramifications for the Arizona Coyotes and Philadelphia Flyers were rather large: Sam Gagner and a conditional draft pick to the Flyers for defenceman Nicklas Grossmann and Chris Pronger’s contract.

It could see the perpetually capped-out Flyers realize a cap savings of more than $6.5-million next season — assuming they buy out Gagner, which isn’t guaranteed — while allowing Arizona to move about $4.6-million closer to the cap floor, add a defenceman and only take on somewhere in the neighbourhood of $100,000 in actual salary commitments.

Working through the components of the trade, which included the Flyers retaining $500,000 of Grossmann’s salary while dealing a future Hall of Famer who hasn’t played since 2011, requires some heavy duty math.

What it ultimately added up to is a creative bookkeeping maneuver for both teams.

“It’s a benefit to Philly to lose that cap charge and of course we have plenty of room, so that’s why it made sense,” Maloney told the Coyotes website on Saturday.

The Arizona GM still plans to be active once free agency opens on July 1, but took a big step towards making good on his word that the $52.8-million salary floor would be no trouble to reach next season.

In Grossmann, he added a veteran blue-liner who previously played for coach Dave Tippett in Dallas. A big goal for the Coyotes is making life easier on goalie Mike Smith next season and shoring up the defensive corps is an obvious place to start.

“We feel we added an important defenceman to our team and continued trying to work at building a roster,” said Maloney. “This is the first step of starting to retool our defence.”

The Flyers are now free of Pronger’s $4.914-million cap hit — it’s forced them into long-term injury relief since his career ended — and have a decision to make on Gagner in the days ahead.

The centre can be bought out at a reduced cost of $633,333 this season and $833,333 in 2016-17, but Flyers GM Ron Hextall informed Gagner on Saturday that he may keep him, according to a source.

Gagner’s cap hit comes in at approximately $3.3-million next season because Tampa retained nearly a third of his salary when it traded him to the Coyotes last summer.

The draft pick in the deal will be at Arizona’s discretion. If it can acquire a fourth-round pick for the 2016 draft it will be flipped to the Flyers; if not, it converts to a third-rounder in 2017.

When factoring in all of the pieces and cap ramifications involved, this should go down as one of the most unique trades in NHL history. It’s vaguely reminiscent of the Nathan Horton-for-David Clarkson trade Toronto and Columbus pulled off earlier this season, but that one was nowhere near as complex.

To top everything off, Pronger — who now works for the NHL in player safety — had to waive a no-trade clause to facilitate the move. The final trade of his career was made two days before he’s expected to be elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The 40-year-old has dealt with serious concussion symptoms and certainly won’t be playing any games for the Coyotes.

“Unfortunately not — in any way, shape or form,” said Maloney. “We’re trying to see if he’ll wear a Coyotes uniform when he goes into the Hall of Fame.”

That’s not likely. His time with Arizona will be nothing more than a footnote.

(Note: An earlier version of this story included incorrect numbers)

By The Numbers

Arizona Adds:
Nicklas Grossmann ($3-million in actual salary, $3-million cap hit)
Chris Pronger ($575,000 in actual salary, $4,941,400 cap hit)

Arizona Subtracts:
Sam Gagner (Approx $3.5-million actual salary; Approx $3.3-million cap hit)

Net actual salary: Approx +$75,000
Net cap charge: Approx +$4.6 million

Philadelphia Adds:
Sam Gagner (Approx $3.5-million actual salary; Approx $3.3-million cap hit)
Nicklas Grossmann ($500,000 retained actual salary; $500,000 retained cap hit)

Philadelphia Subtracts:
Chris Pronger ($575,000 in actual salary, $4,941,400 cap hit)
Nicklas Grossmann ($3-million in actual salary, $3-million cap hit)

Net actual salary, assuming no Gagner buyout: Approx +$425,000
Net actual cap hit, assuming no Gagner buyout: Approx -$4,140,000

Net actual salary, assuming Gagner buyout: Approx -$2,240,000
Net actual cap hit, assuming Gagner buyout: Approx -$6,600,000

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