While all NHL GMs wrestle with the league-wide salary cap, Jim Rutherford of the Pittsburgh Penguins is the only one whose team is currently over the league's cap ceiling.
When do NHL GMs get to use vacation time?
After the seemingly interminable season ends and the Stanley Cup parade is done, the annual entry draft seems to follow right after – with free-agent frenzy close on its heels. While the highest-profile UFAs sign gaudy contracts in the first week of July, don’t think for a moment that GMs get to relax after that.
Besides inking deals with RFAs, letting some slip away and preparing for arbitration with others, most NHL GMs are still populating their rosters with less-prominent UFAs, all the while looking for bargains to help them shimmy under the ol’ salary cap limbo bar. Other GMs, usually operating under an unofficial, owner-imposed salary limit, have to scramble for a while to get up to the cap floor.
Using figures from General Fanager, here’s a quick-hit look at each team’s cap situation and whom they might acquire/dump.
With $9,270,834 in cap space, GM Bob Murray would be in good shape if he had more than 19 signed players for the active roster, tied for the fewest in the league at the moment. After sacking coach Bruce Boudreau as expected and unexpectedly replacing him with abrasive former Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle, Murray made way for undisputed No. 1 goalie John Gibson by trading Frederik Andersen to Toronto. Anaheim is deep on defense with too many talented youngsters for the available icetime. Murray would be advised to deal at least one of his blueliners to augment a forward corps that is thin and aging (Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler are all 31).
Arizona’s cap landscape includes Pavel Datsyuk’s $7.5-million cap hit while he finishes his career in the KHL and one more season of Chris Pronger’s contract with a cap hit of almost $5 million. Boy wonder GM John Chayka has 22 roster players signed with $12,842,162 in cap space that he is unlikely to spend completely. LW Jamie McGinn and D Alex Goligoski are prominent newcomers, although they might well be joined on the opening-day roster by some combination of hotshot kids Dylan Strome, Christian Dvorak, Brendan Perlini and Anthony Deangelo to join Max Domi and Anthony Duclair, who have already started to make their mark on the NHL.
After GM Don Sweeney added C David Backes and his $6M cap hit, Boston has $6,731,667 cap space left and a relatively small total of 21 roster players signed. The Bruins are desperate for another puck-moving D-Man to join Torey Krug. Rumors have linked them to Kevin Shattenkirk, but he’ll expect a big raise in a year from his current $4.25M cap hit with the Blues. Rumblings out of Boston indicate Sweeney might be considering divesting himself of C David Krejci’s contract and its $7.25M cap hit for each of the next five years. Coveted free-agent LW Jimmy Vesey is rumored to want to sign with Boston.
GM Tim Murray, who was visibly upset about losing out on Connor McDavid last year (although C Jack Eichel is a heck of a consolation prize) continues to build a roster that is on the verge of evolving from reconstructing to competing. The signing of UFA RW Kyle Okposo has reduced Buffalo‘s cap space to a still-healthy $9,687,978, albeit with just 20 roster players signed. Murray might have lost his third-round-pick gamble to acquire Vesey’s negotiating rights, as the Harvard alumnus seems determined to test free agency Aug. 15. Although Vesey is friends with fellow Massachusetts native Eichel, he might indeed want to sign with the Bruins. Meanwhile, Murray likely wants to move on from the remaining two years of LW Evander Kane’s ($5.25M) contract. His unsavory off-ice exploits and on-ice underachieving makes him increasingly undesirable. Unfortunately for Murray, that applies to would-be trade partners, too.
Buffalo GM Tim Murray hopes free-agent addition Kyle Okposo can help the Sabres continue to grow into a contender.
At $14,969,601, the Flames have the second-most cap space available, although they have just 20 roster players signed. Job One is getting cornerstone RFAs Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan re-signed (to substantial raises above their entry-level deals). Trading D Dennis Wideman (one more season at $5.25M) would help GM Brad Treliving to ink his two young stars.
GM Ron Francis already has 23 roster players signed with an NHL high of $16,554,169 available cap space in spite of almost $6M committed to bought-out players James Wisniewski and Alex Semin. G Cam Ward, 32, is back at a team-friendly $3.3M cap hit. Francis cunningly took advantage of Chicago’s cap jam by plucking talented Finnish 21-year-old C Teuvo Teravainen and his $894,166 cap hit for one more year.
The ‘Hawks have their rings and fond memories but their constant pursuit of hockey’s Holy Grail constantly leaves them in salary cap hell. GM Stan Bowman has just $2,440,706 to work with and a relatively low number of 22 roster players signed. Backup goalie Scott Darling’s $587,500 cap hit helps to offset Corey Crawford’s $6M number, but veteran RW Marian Hossa’s annual cap hit of $5.275M for the next five years is becoming increasingly untenable as the 37-year-old’s production inevitably declines. Brian Campbell is back in the fold at a team-friendly hit of $1.5M but how much can the 37-year-old contribute? Pressure to hold the blueline fort keeps mounting on Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson.
With 22 roster players signed and $6,459,407 in uncommitted cap space, GM Joe Sakic is in relatively good shape. His biggest task is to come to terms with offensive D Tyson Barrie, who’s totaled 140 points in 222 games during the past three seasons. Barrie’s arbitration hearing is set for July 29 and the memory of the Avalanche’s bitter 2013 arbitration showdown with C Ryan O’Reilly still lingers in the Rockies.
Columbus Blue Jackets
GM Jarmo Kekalainen is dealing with a cap crunch that involves just 19 roster players signed and a mere $4,467,859 available. David Clarkson’s bloated contract with Toronto is now equally tough for the Jackets to swap and Sergei Bobrovsky will have to play heroically in net to come close to making his $7.425 cap hit worthwhile. The names of LWs Nick Foligno and Scott Hartnell have been bandied about in trade rumors because Kekalainen must lower his salary somehow.
GM Jim Nill is in relatively fine shape with 23 roster players signed and $6,584,167 under the ceiling. The mediocre play of Finnish Gs Kari Lehtonen and Anti Niemi is no way worth their combined cap hit of $10.4M for the next two years and there’s no way for second-line C Jason Spezza to justify $7.5M for each of the next three years. Considering his production, C Tyler Seguin is a bargain at $5.75M for three years. Ditto LW Jamie Benn at $5.25M, but that jumps to $9.5M in a year. Nill is grateful that his blueline, topped by John Klingberg’s $4.25M, is affordably priced.
Detroit Red Wings
Veteran GM Ken Holland has 24 roster players under contract but just $3,269,625 in cap space with RFAs Danny DeKeyser and Petr Mrazek still to sign. DeKeyser is important to Detroit’s blueline while Mrazek is clearly the Wings’ goalie of the present and the future. Mrazek’s arbitration hearing is July 27 and DeKeyser’s is a day later. Holland would love to dump G Jimmy Howard, who’s no longer worth his $5,291,666 cap hit for the next three years. If Holland can make that contract vanish, he’ll be upgraded from svengali to full-fledged GM wizard. Bet on him exposing Howard in the expansion draft.
GM Peter Chiarelli has begun to remake a chronically disappointing roster by trading LW Taylor Hall to the Devils for D Adam Larsson and signing UFA LW Milan Lucic. He’d love to trade Nail Yakupov, a poster child for an underachieving team, but his value has shrunk. Trade rumors persist about Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, meaning no vacay for the GM, who has $8,313,835 in cap space and a healthy total of 24 players on the active roster.
Replacing Dale Tallon, who was kicked upstairs, new GM Tom Rowe is a bit snug re cap space – Florida has 25 roster players under contract with $3,716,668 to spare. Young stars such as Jonathan Huberdeau, Aaron Ekblad, Jayce Hawryluk and Lawson Crouse will earn much more over the next three years. Ekblad’s cap hit balloons next year from $925,000 to $7.5M and Huberdeau will be in line for a large raise. Puck-moving D Keith Yandle is an excellent replacement for Brian Campbell but an annual cap hit of $6.35M complicates Rowe’s life. James Reimer’s cap hit of $3.4M for five years is far too rich for a backup G. Roberto Luongo is 37, his cap hit is more than $4.5M, and he is becoming a good buyout candidate.
Los Angeles Kings
Ever hoping to again hoist the Cup, the Kings have 25 roster players signed with the grand total of $29,773 in cap space left to go on a shopping spree. C Anze Kopitar ($10M), D Drew Doughty ($7M) and G Jonathan Quick ($5.8M) are the team’s backbone, and are locked up for a minimum of three years. Contracts stretching into the distant future for declining RWs Dustin Brown ($5.875M) and Marian Gaborik ($4.875M) are albatrosses hung around GM Dean Lombardi’s neck.
Wild fans are undoubtedly thinking about hanging something else around the neck of GM Chuck Fletcher, who has failed to build a legitimate contender. He has but 20 roster players in tow with just $4,718,913 in wriggle room. Top C Mikko Koivu consistently fails to justify his $6.75M hit and there’s now concern about the health of skillful No. 1 LW Zach Parise ($7,538,461 until 2025). Contract negotiations with D Matt Dumba are understandably tense, as Fletcher doesn’t have much left in his wallet. Furthermore, Cs Mikael Granlund, Eric Haula and Jordan Schroeder, RW Nino Niederreitter and D Christian Folin will all be RFAs in a year and presumably expecting raises.
Of all 30 NHL teams the lone one to have a maximum 50 players under NHL contracts, the Habs have 24 roster players signed but less than $1.5M left in cap space. Wayward Russian RW Alex Radulov and gritty C Andrew Shaw upped Montreal’s cap total and made embattled GM Marc Bergevin’s life more difficult, although he saved more than $1M in cap space when he controversially dealt P.K. Subban for veteran blueliner Shea Weber. Andrei Markov’s $5.75 hit comes off the books in a year, when C Alex Galchenyuk will be an RFA expecting a raise.
GM David Poile has just 21 roster players signed, although $8,114,169 in cap space should allow him to re-sign RFAs Calle Jarnkrok and D Petter Granberg and shop for some bargains. Poile locked up sensational young forward Filip Forsberg to a long-term deal with an annual cap hit of $6M. In a year, C Ryan Johansen will be an RFA and due a raise from his $4M cap hit. Subban, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis are among the best top-four blueliners in the league and are paid like it, except Ellis, who’s got a Predator-friendly $2.5M cap hit for three more years. Poile must be concerned that G Pekka Rinne, 33, might not be able to justify his $7M cap hit for the next three years.
New Jersey Devils
Freed from the greenback-pinching machinations of Machiavellian GM Lou Lamoriello, the low-scoring Devils appear determined to increase their skill level, which will inevitably inflate their salary structure. The recent addition of LW Taylor Hall and his $6M cap hit illustrates this. Although the Devils are far from potent offensively, signing RW Kyle Palmieri for five years adds to Travis Zajac, Mike Cammalleri and Adam Henrique up front until talented youngsters such as Pavel Zacha, Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian can really begin contributing. GM Ray Shero has only 20 roster players but a goodly sum of $13,253,693 with which to flesh out his lineup. He needs to focus on defense, which is missing the minutes Adam Larsson took with him to Edmonton.
New York Islanders
With new owners on record saying they want to spend near the cap ceiling and make the Island a preferred UFA destination, GM Garth Snow has 25 roster players and $3,083,525 of cap space remaining. UFAs Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin departed and were replaced by character LWs Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera as well as bargain-basement RW P-A Parenteau in his second time around with the team. Snow has constructed a solid and deep roster that nonetheless lacks the sizzle of a team trying to parlay back-to-back 100-point seasons into going deeper in the playoffs. While capable of scoring 20 goals back on John Tavares’ right side, Parenteau is not the elite companion the Isles’ captain deserves. Maybe Snow is agitating behind the scenes trying to help the Lightning with its cap crunch by offering to take RW Nikita Kucherov off GM Steve Yzerman’s hands. The Islanders’ D is solid, but the crease is packed with Thomas Greiss and J-F Berube crowding unreliable starter Jaroslav Halak.
New York Rangers
GM Jeff Gorton re-signed RFA forwards Chris Kreider ($4.625M) and Kevin Hayes ($2.6M) to relatively affordable deals after getting some one-year cap relief by dealing Derek Brassard for fellow C Mika Zibanejad. That leaves the Blueshirts, with just $3.425M in cap space and 23 roster players inked, searching for a puck-moving replacement for D Keith Yandle. Rumors indicate an interest in Kevin Shattenkirk and Tyson Barrie.
GM Pierre Dorion has $14,048,334 in cap space to play with but only 21 roster players signed. You know your salary structure is out of whack when your highest-paid forward is RW Bobby Ryan ($7.25M cap hit for five more years) and your priciest D-Man is Dion Phaneuf ($7M, also for five years). Dorion increased his payroll when he traded Mika Zibanejad for Derek Brassard and a cap hit almost twice as high as Zibanejad’s. The GM’s to-do list is topped by the need to re-sign LW Mike Hoffman and fellow RFA Cody Ceci on defense. In a year, no fewer than seven roster forwards will become UFAs or RFAs.
Digging the Flyers out from under the cap hell left by predecessor Paul Holmgren, GM Ron Hextall has 22 roster players and $6,513,334 in cap space to sign several more. Signing RFA C Brayden Schenn is the top priority. One way or another, 38-year-old D Mark Streit’s $5.25M cap hit will be off the books next year. Disappointing D Andrew MacDonald and his $5M hit for four more years will undoubtedly be exposed in the expansion draft. Hextall will be bitterly disappointed if Las Vegas leaves him unclaimed. The GM will be a busy man in a year when Gs Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth and three forwards headed by C Boyd Gordon will be UFAs. At the same time, D Shayne Gostisbehere and three forwards led by C Scott Laughton will become RFAs.
GM of the Year Jim Rutherford reportedly would like to bring back ancient yet effective center Matt Cullen. Only one problem – Pittsburgh sits $2.3M over the cap with only 22 roster players signed. Although Matt Murray’s NHL sample size in net is small, it is spectacular. Marc-Andre Fleury ($5.75M) will be dealt if Murray continues to play well, and Rutherford says he plans to start the season with both. Aside from saving $3.75M by placing LW Pascal Dupuis on long-term IR and trading Evgeni Malkin ($9.5M), Rutherford has no other obvious quick hits to lessen the heavy cap burden he bears.
St. Louis Blues
In a snug cap situation with 23 roster players and just $3,320,418 in cap room, GM Doug Armstrong was rumored ready to trade Shattenkirk during the entry draft weekend for “high draft picks and/or top young forwards.” Asking a heavy price in return and failing to find a dance partner, Armstrong kept Shattenkirk, whose contract runs one more year. Armstrong has been a busy man since mid-June, signing forwards Jaden Schwartz, David Perron, Dimitrij Jaskin, Kyle Brodziak and Magnus Paajarvi, and Gs Jake Allen and Carter Hutton as well as trading Gs Brian Elliott and Anders Nilsson. Vladimir Tarasenko is as likely to keep making his $7.5M cap hit worth it as Paul Statsny is not to do with his $7M number.
San Jose Sharks
With a roster they rode all the way to the Cup final, the Sharks are left with 22 roster players and just $995,836, the third-lowest cap room in the league. Top-end forwards Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture drive the team payroll up, although Thornton, 37, and Marleau, 36, are UFAs in a year. It might be time to part company then because six young forwards including Tommy Wingels, Melker Karlsson, Joonas Donskoi and Matt Nieto as well as D Mirco Mueller will be free agents by then. GM Doug Wilson’s $3M gamble on G Martin Jones is paying off splendidly, but Wilson needs to ink another netminder.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Re-signing UFA superstar Steven Stamkos was a coup for Yzerman, who must live with the fallout from that $8.5M annual cap hit. Tampa has a mere $8,529,167 of cap space, and just 19 roster players signed. Yzerman’s blinding migraine includes wanting to re-sign RFAs Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov and Nikita Nesterov. Stevie Y most wants to keep Kucherov except signing the sensational Russian RW would devour most of the remaining cap space. Something has to give, which could mean dealing all or some combination of G Ben Bishop ($5.95M), C Valtteri Filppula ($5M) or LW Ryan Callahan ($5.8M).
Toronto Maple Leafs
Lamoriello, now practising his dark arts in Cabbagetown, has divested more than $23M in cap space, largely by dealing contracts that were considered untradable, including Dion Phaneuf and David Clarkson. Is oft-injured winger Joffrey Lupul next? The 32-year-old is signed through 2017-18 at an annual cap hit of $5.25M with a modified no-trade clause. The pressure is still on Lou because, incredibly, the reconstructing Leafs have the sixth-least cap space of $2,630,916 with just 20 roster players under contract. As a consequence of trading Clarkson, Toronto remains responsible for another four years of Nathan Horton’s contract at an annual cap hit of $5.3M, which is the highest on the team, although new No. 1 netminder Frederik Andersen is close at $5M. Nazem Kadri, Brooks Laich, James Van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Milan Michalek – not exactly the 1980s Oilers – each carry an annual cap hit of at least $4M. Laich and Michalek will be UFAs in a year and they won’t still be with the Leafs.
GM Jim Benning and president Trevor Linden have easily the least fan confidence among the fans of all NHL teams, reveals a Hockey News poll, although pundits increasingly muse about owner interference behind some head-scratching decisions to trade prospects for short-term gain. The low-scoring Canucks, who reportedly considered UFA forward Jiri Hudler, have a puny $3,478,752 in cap space with 23 roster players signed, including new RW Loui Eriksson and his $6-miilion hit. Free agency is not a real option unless Benning can somehow unload RW Alex Burrows ($4.5M) and/or G Ryan Miller ($6M) without taking cap back.
With just 21 roster players signed and a mere $3,454,874 left, GM Brian MacLellan has a problem, although nothing compared to the one that will confront him in a year. Re-signing D Dmitry Orlov is the top short-term priority. After the coming season, forwards T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams and Daniel Winnik as well as D Karl Alzner will become UFAs. Four forwards, topped by Evgeni Kuznetzov and Andre Burakovsky, will be RFAs.
GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has an enviable stockpile of hot young players led by C Mark Scheifele with a group of good-looking prospects topped by can’t-miss RW Patrik Laine. He’s pretty much done his shopping with 26 roster players under contract and $7,569,209 of cap room left. Re-signing RFA D Jacob Trouba is the one cloud in Cheveldayoff’s otherwise-blue sky – until the promising hotshots he’s assembled start lining up for raises in several years.