If you are a hockey fan, at some point during the year you have logged on to CapFriendly to check how much salary cap room your team has, lament your least favourite player’s contract, or make enough mock trades until your fingers hurt. The website has become the go-to source for fans, media, and even some hockey teams. Its evolution over time as a labour of love from many dedicated hockey fans has produced one of the NHL’s most used knowledge bases.
Here at The Win Column, we use it daily for most of our posts and we were fortunate enough to sit down with one of the sites co-founders, Jamie Davis, to get the inside scoop on how the site started, where it’s headed, and some of our burning questions along the way.
The Win Column: We would love to know more about how CapFriendly came to be? Where did the inspiration come from?
CapFriendly: The inspiration for CapFriendly came from the website CapGeek. CapFriendly is run by me and my two brothers, Ryan and Chris. Prior to being hired by the San Jose Sharks, it was also run by Dominik Zrim. All of us were huge CapGeek fans and felt that there was a missing void in the hockey world when it was shut down due to the illness of the late Matthew Wuest.
To fill the void, I started working on a website with my brothers that would release under the name of HockeysCap. Dominik began working on his own website that would release under the name of CapFriendly. Both sites were launched in early 2015, and after a few months of operations, both parties identified that they had skills that the other was lacking. With this in mind, we merged sites and CapFriendly 2.0 was released in early 2016. It was a great symbiotic relationship and much of the success of CapFriendly is due to that decision to merge our individual sites and become partners.
TWC: How long did it take you to build up your database of cap information? What was the team size and composition then to accomplish that?
CF: The database is growing every day, whenever a player signing, trade, transaction, etc. is announced we will add the preliminary information immediately. For the initial release, the database took months to populate, and at least three years to populate back all of the information we obtained.
For the initial release, I completed the database and site design, and Ryan and Chris took care of the data entry. Nowadays for the daily management of the site, everyone helps with data entry and updates to keep the site as current as possible.
TWC: How does it feel to have started CapFriendly from its humble beginnings as HockeysCap and now watch it turn into one of the most well respected and used hockey websites?
CF: HockeysCap was begun as a hobby. I was working at a university as a research engineer and developed the site during my evenings and weekends. I never anticipated that it would grow to be as relied upon as it is now by the hockey community.
My favourite part of running the site is meeting a fan of the website and hearing them tell me how much they appreciate that the site exists, and what their favourite features are. I am honoured that the site is well respected, and I don’t take it for granted. I spend the majority of my work and free time developing and updating the website to ensure it is as accurate, easy-to-use and feature-full as possible.
TWC: At what point in time did you realize “I may be onto something here?” Was it one day in particular or a slow burn over time?
CF: When the site first launched we used a low-powered server design that wasn’t intended for major peaks in traffic. When Dion Phaneuf was traded from Toronto to Ottawa in February 2016, the traffic to the site caused significant loading issues. That was the first time that scalability became a concern, and that’s when I sat back and though “wow, the interest in the site is really taking off.” We have since greatly increased the scalability of our server.
TWC: Which feature of the site are you most proud of? Which ones do you wish people utilized more?
CF: The feature I am most proud of is actually the trade engine. It took months of planning, developing, and re-designing to include all of the filters and features that it has now. Some of the filters include:
- Event filter (did the trade occur on the trade deadline or entry-draft)
- How many players are included in the trade
- How many draft picks are included in the trade
- Filtering by team or player
- Was a specific draft pick round included in the trade (Ex. Did the trade include a 3rd round pick)
- Player search, etc.
It is also designed for multi-team trades such as three-way (and although we have never seen it, four-way) trades. When a future draft pick is included in the trade, it automatically populates which player was drafted in that slot once the draft occurs. All of these components had to be carefully considered from a design perspective, and I am very happy with the final result.
The feature I wish was used more is the interactive Trade Machine. The trade machine is separate from Armchair-GM, and only focuses on trades. It allows users to choose at what time during the season the trade is occurring, which allows for proper cap hit pro-rating. It also properly incorporates long-term injured reserve (LTIR) and validates a checklist of whether or not the trade would be accepted by the NHL Central Registry. This tool is very powerful, but only gets a small amount of use in comparison to Armchair-GM.
TWC: What is the absolute worst Armchair GM trade that you have seen proposed?
CF: None specifically come to mind, but when a first line player is traded for a handful of replacement level players that always leaves you scratching your head.
TWC: What has been the craziest day in CapFriendly history?
CF: The craziest day is not a fond memory; when Toronto signed John Tavares in free agency 2018, the level of traffic we received was a new record for our site, and our server couldn’t handle the traffic. The site was down for over 5 hours and we were frantically trying to resolve the issue. We have since greatly improved the site’s scalability as mentioned previously, and we lose a lot less sleep worrying about the website being down.
TWC: Which part of the season is the most fun/rewarding? Trade deadline or free agent frenzy or other? Which part of the season is actually a big headache?
CF: The entry-draft is the most fun as the CapFriendly team travels to, and attends the draft in person. However, the most rewarding is free agency. The lead up to free agency and anticipation of traffic is nerve-racking, but it’s really seeing the level of fan interest and the traffic generated firsthand that makes running the site so enjoyable.
TWC: In your opinion, how can a team create the most successful salary cap situation?
CF: I think we could spend days discussing salary cap tactics, but a simple rule in my opinion is to avoid dead cap at all costs (buyouts, termination fees, retained salary) because dead cap cannot be traded and remains counting against the team until it expires. An exception being retained salary on the final year of a contract, as the dead cap will expire before free agency.
TWC: What is one salary cap trick/tip that you wish more fans, or even teams, were more aware of and utilized on a more frequent basis?
CF: Three-way trades that include a retained salary broker are certainly a clever way to greatly reduce a player’s cap hit. When a contract is traded, a team can retain salary and continue to pay a portion of their contract, reducing the cap hit charged against the receiving team. Over the duration of a contract, this is permitted only twice, and the maximum allowed retained salary is 50% per trade. So theoretically, the final cap hit on a contract after two trades can be 25% of its original value.
A three-way trade with a third team brought in to retain additional salary has happened only a handful of times. An example is when Robin Lehner was traded from Chicago to Vegas. The way the trade occurred was: Chicago traded Lehner to Toronto and retained 50%, then Toronto traded Lehner to Vegas and retained 44%. Lehner’s initial cap hit was $5M, but his final cap hit was only $1.4M. Why would Toronto agree to this? They had unused cap space that would have otherwise gone to waste, and they received a fifth-round pick for their involvement.
TWC: Which team, in your opinion, manages their cap the best? Who could manage it better?
CF: No comment. That’s a controversial question!
TWC: This past summer—and be honest—how long did it take you to figure out the conditions on the Sean Monahan/Montreal Canadiens trade?
CF: The time it took from when the trade was announced until the description of the conditions was added to the site, was two hours and thirty minutes. I precisely recall the duration because the trade happened a few days after my sister-in-law’s wedding, and we were at a post-wedding family gathering that I had to step away from to analyze the conditions and add the trade to the site.
That is the most complex series of trade conditions I have seen since our inception; I had to draw a map of the conditions to present a clear picture of the possible outcomes.
TWC: Outside of that, what was the hardest trade, signing, or transaction to nail down and track on the website?
CF: Anything that occurred before the 2015–16 season (CapFriendly’s inaugural season) can be a challenge to get the full details of since it is in the past. We’ve done our best to past populate as much data as possible.
TWC: Looking forward into the future, where do you see CapFriendly going? Do you think the model would apply to other leagues outside of the NHL?
CF: The model of tracking contracts, players, and teams can certainly be applied to other leagues; however, doing it properly requires a deep understanding of each league’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the players and the league. Without a deep understanding, the features and data we have on the site would not be accurate. It has taken us years to develop our current understanding of the NHL salary cap, and we are still learning. The model could certainly be applied to other leagues but finding the time to properly learn the other leagues CBA would be a challenge!
Thanks to Jamie from CapFriendly for taking the time to chat with us! If you aren’t already, make sure to follow CapFriendly on their socials: