Cap guy. Capologist. Salary guru. Every NHL team has one and this person is usually never more than 10 feet away from the team's GM.
Money is key to building an NHL roster. It controls the present and the future. We hear phrases such as "dead money," and "bad contracts," when GMs are discussing issues they are facing.
In Vegas, it's Andrew Lugerner's job to make sure GM George McPhee doesn't find himself hamstrung in his pursuit to build a winner. Cap management is key and the 31-year-old Maryland native is a major player as the Golden Knights prepare for the expansion draft next week and then free agency on July 1.
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"Right now, the expansion draft is where my focus is," said Lugerner, sitting in an office which features three computer monitors, a mountain of paper and a photo of Lugerner and Bruce Springsteen. "Weighing all the different options, because everything is interrelated. What you do over here will prevent you from doing this over here, so you have to weigh that and look at the bigger picture. George is constantly talking to GMs and getting different offers and it's my job to present to him all of the options and what the opportunity cost is. 'If you do this, then maybe you can't do that. '"
McPhee has an office two doors down the hall. There's been a path beaten between these doors. McPhee is a methodical man and panic isn't in his lexicon. He's calm and measured. He's got his hockey ops folks in a boardroom to the right of his office and then Lugerner to the left. Hockey ops tells McPhee why a player will or won't fit on the ice. Lugerner explains the financial implications. When he feels he's got the required info, McPhee pulls the trigger on his decisions.
"With the Expansion Draft, there's certain requirements in terms of number of forwards, number of defensemen, number of goalies, you also have the salary cap you're looking at in terms of, so if we take a big number over here, then we might not be able to take the big number over there," says Lugerner, who has a math background he used in an education career before getting his law degree and moving into hockey. "Making sure we hit all our boxes in terms of the cap floor, the cap ceiling for the expansion draft, making sure we hit the minimums on forwards, defensemen and goalies, and just basically complying with all the rules. It's my job to always keep an eye on where we're at in terms of those rules."
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Lugerner said he didn't expect the Knights to be a cap team in Year 1 but added, "you never know what's going to be thrown at us, but at this point, there's just a lot of moving pieces, so there are different options that we can go and routes we can go in terms of how high our cap number will be."
McPhee has gone on the record as saying he doesn't think he'll be in the business of taking on bad contracts from other teams.
"The only reason we're going to take on any bad contracts in the expansion draft is because someone is paying us something that's worthwhile for us to do it," said Lugerner.
So, how does a Maryland guy find himself in Las Vegas working for an NHL franchise?
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"I was always a hockey fan growing up and when I looked at all the jobs lawyers can have, working for a hockey team was the best," said Lugerner. "As a good mentor of mine likes to say, you can't win the Stanley Cup working for a corporate law firm. There's not a lawyer that has a better job in the world than I do. Over the next 10 days, there's not a lawyer with a more exciting job than mine. You get to use all different parts of your brain, your legal part, I was a math teacher before I went to law school, so that always plays in obviously with the cap. When I was in law school, I interned with the Washington Capitals when George was there and helped them with player arbitration cases over the years. It's a great privilege to work for any NHL team and I think the Vegas Golden Knights, we've been given everything we need from a resource standpoint to be successful and I am encouraged with where we are now, where we're going. "
Lugerner has studied the expansion rules for almost a year and run endless computations. The rest of the NHL will give the Golden Knights protection lists on June 18 and 72 hours later on June 21, McPhee will announce his selections.
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"Well, you know, what's interesting is we can take on 30 players. You go back to the last four teams, they had 26 picks, and when you're dealing with 30 players, teams have 22-23 guys on their roster. So that means we're going to be trading a lot of guys," said Lugerner. "The hardest thing for an expansion team to deal with is the fact that next year, the Vegas Golden Knights are the only team in the league that don't have 2012, 13, 14, 15 and 16 draft picks. That's a big thing to overcome. By getting 30 players, and being able to trade some of these guys immediately for picks and prospects, we can help fill that gap. That was the first thing that said to me 'okay, this should give us a better shot initially than some other teams have had.' "
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How will McPhee and Golden Knights evaluate the contracts of players they are considering for expansion draft selection?
"In the Expansion Draft, you want to put yourself in the position of 'if this guy was a free agent right now, would I sign this guy to this many years at this number,' and if you wouldn't, what will his team pay me to take on that deal? That's got to be your mindset."
Hockey has become a major focus in Lugerner's life. But there's more to the Golden Knights Cap Guy.
"Bruce Springsteen and hockey, those are my two favorite pastimes," he says. "It's funny, how I met my girlfriend is that I went on an online dating website and I searched 'Bruce Springsteen and NHL' in quotes, and the rest is history. We've been together for almost three years. I'll show you this, first Bruce show we ever went to together was at MSG. So we're in the pit, we get fourth and fifth in the lottery. So my girlfriend's dream in life has always been, of course, to be Courtney Cox. And, yep, she got pulled up on stage and got to dance with Bruce. I'll show you the video