Cap Considerations: Where NHL teams are at after big July moves

Elliotte Friedman gives his take on how Drew Doughty re-signing with the Kings impacts the Senators ability to retain Erik Karlsson.

With July 1 behind us, the busiest days of NHL roster movement are likely behind us for the summer. That’s not to say there won’t be any trades from here on out, what with Erik Karlsson still in Ottawa, but there were no summer trades in 2017 after July 4. In 2016, there were just two trades after July 8.

For now anyway, salary cap situations around the league are generally settled. The exception to this is that there are a number of RFAs still without contracts, some of whom could go through or at least approach arbitration.

With all that in mind, let’s take a look at which teams have the most room or need to get to the floor, those who have the least room, some notable teams that could still be active with the space they have, and bad contracts the big spenders could still look to shed via trade.

TEAMS STILL UNDER THE SALARY FLOOR

With a $79.5 million salary cap, the floor comes in at $58.8 million and according to CapFriendly.com. Five teams are still under that threshold.

TEAM CAP HIT AMOUNT TO SALARY FLOOR
Winnipeg Jets $51.95 million $6.85 million
NY Islanders $54.99 million $3.81 million
NY Rangers $55.77 million $3.03 million
New Jersey $56.4 million $2.4 million
Carolina $58.32 million $480,000

It’s important to note here that while the Jets currently have the most cap space, that will change once they sign their RFAs. Between Josh Morrissey, Jacob Trouba and Connor Hellebuyck alone the Jets could be adding between $12-$15 million in salary, so before long they’ll be far closer to the middle of the pack. And with new contracts for Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor and Blake Wheeler looming a year from now, Winnipeg shouldn’t be considered a cap floor team by any means.

None of the other four teams under the floor currently have contracts that big to hand out, but each of them should get to the $58.8 million mark by the time all their RFAs are signed. The Rangers owe Kevin Hayes and Ryan Spooner raises from the mid-$2 million cap hits they had last season and 24-year-old Brady Skjei will see a nice bump in his first post-entry level contract deal.

Of this group, the Islanders, Hurricanes and Devils stand as the teams in the best position to take on another team’s bad contract in order to add another future asset or two.

Narrowing the field further, Carolina doesn’t seem likely to become a dumping ground. While they are rebuilding, they are well past the point when hoarding draft picks of any kind is a priority — Carolina owner Tom Dundon is trying to make the Canes relevant, which would seem to mean adding players of note to make the team better.

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“At this moment, I think we’re anonymous, whether it’s in our town or across the league, and we do have good players and it’s not fair to them that people don’t know about them,” Dundon told Hockey Central at Noon last week. “If you can win and bring a little more attention to the franchise and to some of these players, I think those are all good things.”

The Arizona Coyotes also fall into this category. Currently listed with a $63.4 million cap hit, that total will fall by $5.5 million (and below the floor) when Dave Bolland hits LTIR.

That means the Coyotes, Islanders and Devils, could all be in the market for overpaid players and draft picks.

TEAMS WITH THE LEAST CAP SPACE

Before we dive into this table, we’ll point out a difference between our list and the one at CapFriendly.com. The Chicago Blackhawks are currently listed with the highest projected cap hit, but we’re excluding them because presumably Marian Hossa will be put on LTIR by the start of next season (if his contract isn’t traded out first), so that would add an extra $5.275 million in space.

TEAM CAP HIT CAP SPACE
Los Angeles $77.3 million $2.2 million
Pittsburgh $76.6 million $2.8 million
Boston $75.3 milion $4.2 million
Florida $74.6 million $4.9 million
Tampa Bay $74.2 million $5.3 million

Out of these teams, the Kings’ situation has to be the most alarming. Ilya Kovalchuk at three years and a $6.25 million cap hit per season was their big free agent splash, but he’s already 35-years old, meaning if the Kings were to buy out his contract, they won’t get any cap relief from it. What’s truly scary however, is how the team’s cap is set up for the next number of years.

If the Islanders, Coyotes and Devils are targets to take on a bad contract, the Kings will be looking to shed one or two some time within the next year.

The Penguins are no surprise here and have become well-versed in navigating these waters. The key is to supplement the expensive, high-end talent with cheaper youngsters. And where Dominik Simon, Conor Sheary and Jake Guentzel have stepped in before, 21-year-old second-round pick Daniel Sprong will spring into action next season.

Had Tampa Bay signed John Tavares they would have had to make some moves, with $5 million man Tyler Johnson the most likely trade candidate. A year from now Nikita Kucherov will be an RFA and in line for a hefty raise from his current team-friendly $4.76 million cap hit. Brayden Point, who just scored 32 goals, will also be an RFA a year from now.

Florida is the most surprising team on this list just because they usually don’t come in this high. But they’re here largely because they’ve locked in to a core for the long term. The Panthers have three defencemen (Aaron Ekblad, Keith Yandle, Michael Matheson) signed for at least another five years and three forwards (Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck, Jonathan Huberdeau) locked in for the next four years. Add big trade acquisition Mike Hoffman and you have a roster that management has bet on through its prime years.

“We had so much instability a few years ago,” Florida GM Dale Tallon told the Sun-Sentinel. “New faces, new players, new coaches. Now, we want to make sure that we let our young guys develop in the proper way that we have a strong core. Coaches are more comfortable with the players and players will be more comfortable with them as well. I look for everyone to get off to a good start, a much better start than we did last year.”

TEAMS TO WATCH

San Jose Sharks, $8.2 million in cap room
They missed out on Tavares, but the Sharks are a motivated unit with a Stanley Cup window still open. Though they are still looking for a No. 1 (or even 2) centre to replace Joe Thornton in the long-term, but Jumbo Joe will return for the 2018-19 season.

The Sharks won’t be in on any big-name RFAs via offer sheet since they don’t possess their own first-round pick, which would be needed as compensation for any deal worth $4,059,322 or above. Once they re-signed Evander Kane, the Sharks had to give up their 2019 first-rounder to Buffalo to complete the trade.

But with a desire to still add another top-six forward and cap space left over after missing out on Tavares, Wilson can still go all-in. The team was linked to Max Pacioretty at the draft, which means they would also likely look long and hard at Jeff Skinner and Artemi Panarin.

Either way, Wilson has spent most of his summer clearing cap space so it’s hard to believe he’ll leave it that way in October.

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Dallas Stars, $10.67 million in cap room
Another team that was in on the Tavares sweepstakes, Dallas and GM Jim Nill are in a win-now position. Looking at the talent at the top of their roster you wonder how they missed the playoffs the past two seasons. And with Tyler Seguin a year away from unrestricted free agency, will they have to prove to him the Stars are a team he can win with going forward?

This seems like a team that, if they chose to, could go head-first into offer sheet territory. They have all their own draft picks in 2019 and since Jason Spezza’s $7.5 million cap hit will come off the books next summer, most of that room would go towards Seguin’s extension, so the cap space remains relatively even. Could this be the team that breaks the code and takes the plunge by throwing money at William Nylander or Mark Stone? The top area of need right now for Dallas is scoring on the wing, though that was offset somewhat by the return of Valeri Nichushkin.

Given that offer sheets are so rare, the trade route could be the more likely road to improvement. Nill has made a number of deals in his time, none bigger than bringing in Seguin. So if he swung for the fences again, Panarin or Pacioretty would be home runs. Granted, both are in the final years of their deals, so the price could be too high for a team that isn’t even a surefire post-season squad.

But what about being more practical and targeting a team like the Minnesota Wild and try for either Nino Niederreiter (four years, $5.25 million cap hit) or Jason Zucker (RFA) to get top-six scoring on the wing? Dallas has a good-looking young core of defencemen coming up, but would they consider going after Karlsson from Ottawa?

Vegas Golden Knights, 18.75 million in cap room
Paul Stastny was their big UFA signing, but when your highest-paid player is making $6.5 million against the cap, you’re going to have room to maneuver. Shea Theodore, the potential future No. 1 defenceman, is an RFA, as is William Karlsson, who may be the most interesting individual case to monitor.

Vegas still has a load of cap room and interest in riding the wave from their successful inaugural season. They were big players for Erik Karlsson at the trade deadline and you have to believe are still weighing their options on that front. They too could knock on Minnesota’s door as the losses of David Perron and James Neal leave Vegas with more need for scoring wingers than before.

The problem when coming up with potential trade ideas for Vegas is that since they are still trying to build out a prospect pool from scratch, it would be hard for them to part with the likes of Cody Glass, or future first-round picks.

BIG, BAD CONTRACTS THAT COULD BE DUMPED

For any team open to acquiring an overpaid, underproducing player if it means picking up another draft pick or two, these are some players to target.

Troy Brouwer, Calgary, $4.5 million
If you’re a rebuilding team looking to fill out your roster and want to add “grit” why not turn to the Calgary Flames, who would also give you a draft pick or two to take Brouwer, rather than overpay a UFA for a contract that goes beyond two years?

After bringing in James Neal, the Flames have $12.8 million in cap space with Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin as two big looming RFAs in need of new deals. A little further down the depth chart, Mark Jankowski also needs a new deal. Their salary number also doesn’t include a backup goalie, so Calgary could be against the upper limit before long. Trading Brouwer should be a priority.

Ryan Callahan, Tampa Bay, $5.8 million
The Lightning will be more up against it a year from now, but if they want to still add between now and October and shave money off the books, trading Callahan would provide the most relief at minimal cost to the roster. He was 11th in overall ice time among Tampa forwards last season, but fourth among forwards on the PK. If Callahan had just one season left on his deal the Lightning could live with it, but the fact this contract runs through 2019-20 makes it movable.

According to CapFriendly, Callahan has a modified no-trade list in which he submits a list of 16 teams he’d approve a move to.

Bobby Ryan, Ottawa, $7.25 million
The big question on this potential move is if it’s tied to Karlsson or not. Ryan’s deal still has four years left on it, which means it runs long enough to go through the next CBA negotiation — after which a new compliance buyout window could open. Of course, there’s no guarantee that’ll be the case. Ryan has had injury problems in recent seasons and hasn’t scored 14 goals in either of the past two seasons.

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