Analyzing this summer's moves to clear cap space

Vegas Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon explains why he decided to trade forward Max Pacioretty and defenceman Dylan Coghlan to the Carolina Hurricanes, saying it was a move designed to free up cap space. Courtesy: Golden Knights

Having to dump salary off in imbalanced trades comes with the territory of a cap world. Not every contract ages well, so sometimes the later years can be sent to less competitive squads wanting to reach the cap floor with some sweeteners. Or, teams can change their priorities and want to move money out to afford another splashy contract elsewhere.

The flat cap of the last few seasons only emphasized the need for NHL teams to move salary out — though some deals were short-sighted because of how imbalanced they were, like the New York Islanders needing to shed salary and making Devon Toews a cap casualty. Or the Vegas Golden Knights trading Marc-Andre Fleury for … essentially nothing.

While the cap did go up very slightly, teams still have had to move out salary to balance the books this summer. And others who haven’t yet may not be far behind with some free agents still on the market, like Nazem Kadri, who may require some movement to allow a lucrative signing to happen.

So let’s break down some of the deals made so far this summer to move salary out, and what teams gained (and lost) from these trades.

Evgeni Dadonov to Montreal

We can’t talk about cap casualties without talking about the Golden Knights. It’s not the first time they attempted to move Dadonov out specifically to cut salary, after trying to move him to Anaheim at the deadline. This time, Vegas actually made a trade happen in exchange for Shea Weber’s contract.

While the Golden Knights got some cap relief that they craved, they lost a good winger in the process. That’s what Montreal gains, at the very least, until the deadline; the retooling team could flip him (maybe with salary retention to increase the return) to a contender in need of a boost on the wing.

Dadonov’s strengths are his offensive creation; he can help get the puck into the offensive zone and contribute some rush-based offence, whether with his shot or his set-ups. He just shouldn’t be relied on to be as strong back in his own zone.

Max Pacioretty and Dylan Coghlan to Carolina

The Golden Knights weren’t done with just Dadonov. No, the Jack Eichel trade (and every splashy move they had to make before that these last few years) has forced Vegas to shuffle its lineup around a bit.

The Golden Knights the prime example of how not to manage assets in the league. While their willingness to go for it and make a bold move is commendable, the question really has become ‘at what cost?’

This summer, those costs include two very productive wingers.

Pacioretty did deal with injuries that impact his value, and his play may start trending in the wrong direction as he gets into his mid-30s. Still, he’s a very good player to have in the lineup. While the veteran can help get the puck into the zone with possession, he hasn’t had to be the puck carrier alongside Mark Stone or speedy skater Chandler Stephenson.

Instead, the focus for Pacioretty has been on one of his best assets: his shot. The winger can generate a high volume of shots, and often takes them from the quality areas of the ice. This past season, he led Vegas with a rate of 8.09 slot shots per 60, including chances both in transition and off the cycle. And he has the finishing talent to match, which is exactly what the Hurricanes need from him.

While the Golden Knights play a very different style from Carolina, his new club should still be able to maximize his value in the top-six.

Patrik Nemeth to Arizona

The New York Rangers and Golden Knights both needed cap space this summer and had to make trades to regain some. The difference is New York moved a weaker player. It should be a lot easier for the Rangers to replace the production of a depth defender versus two top-nine wingers.

Nemeth, a conditional third-rounder, and 2025 second-round pick were sent to Arizona in exchange for Ty Emberson. This allowed New York to get out from a contract that was questionable at the time of the signing and only aged worse through the course of 2021-22. The Coyotes, on the other hand, got closer to the cap floor with this move.

The veteran is a defensive defender who can be physical with his body checks to remove opponents from the puck, or his shot blocking. The drawback to the stay-at-home defenceman is that he has a tendency to take penalties, which is pretty counterproductive for a player who is counted on to kill penalties as well.

Ryan McDonagh to Nashville

It’s tricky to keep rosters intact as teams contend, especially in a flat cap world. And championships can be costly as players’ values rise with those wins. Ahead of extending some key restricted free agents, including Mikhail Sergachev, who earned a promotion to the second pair along with a raise that kicks in next summer, the Tampa Bay Lightning had to move on from McDonagh.

While he’s still effective — he can absorb minutes against top competition, close passing lanes, retrieve loose pucks, and regain possession with his stick or by knocking opponents off the puck — it did make sense for Tampa Bay to move on from him this summer.

Aging curves show that players tend to decline in their 30s, and McDonagh’s willingness to sacrifice his body to make the play may exacerbate that. So the Lightning got ahead of that by moving him; they gained a defenceman back in Philippe Myers for a depth role and have Sergachev ready to slot up on the left.

The Predators get an effective defender back as they try to maximize on the core they have right now, before their best start trending down as well.

John Marino to New Jersey

The Pittsburgh Penguins looked to clear some contracts on the back end this summer. Mike Matheson and Marino were both flipped, with Jeff Petry and Ty Smith coming back.

Focusing in on Marino, the defender carries a $4.4-million cap hit and the Penguins may have felt that his play plateaued. He hasn’t shown the same offensive upside since his rookie year, but still is a very capable player.

Back in his own zone, he can recover pucks and block passes, even while under pressure. Marino also can be trusted to bring the puck over the blue line with control and can set up his teammates. He fits well with the Devils since he can absorb tougher minutes.

Smith, on the other hand, has offensive potential but is a bit raw.

There’s more risk with Smith compared to Marino, but the advantage Pittsburgh gained was cap space.

Oliver Bjorkstrand to Seattle

Columbus had a more impactful offseason than most expected and between the Johnny Gaudreau signing, Erik Gudbranson’s overpriced contract, and Patrik Laine’s extension, there had to be cuts. Unfortunately for the Blue Jackets — and fortunately for Seattle — it came at the cost of Bjorkstrand in exchange for two draft picks.

The forward is a strong generator of offence. He can drive possession, create a high volume of shots (and quality chances), and has the finishing talent to match. That’s exactly what the Kraken need.

Their shot production lacked in their inaugural season, but with additions like Bjorkstrand, Andre Burakovsky, and full seasons from healthy forwards like Yanni Gourde and Brandon Tanev, plus an infusion of youth from Matty Beniers and possibly Shane Wright, that should change.

(Data via Sportlogiq)

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