The previous two NHL offseasons were rather quiet affairs, either clouded by the anticipation of a lockout or the fallout from it. This summer, however, could be busier than usual, thanks to several factors which could ensure considerable player movement.
The first, of course, is the rising salary cap. Originally projected to hit $71.1 million, it’s now expected to come in at around $70 million, though The Globe & Mail’s James Mirtle recently reported there’s talk it could go higher if the NHL and NHLPA agree to include revenue from the new Canadian TV contract into the mix.
A significant jump of the cap ceiling by $5-to-$7 million will entice a number of teams (particularly the big-market ones) to spend more. And with the cap going up, the cap floor will rise to $52 million, meaning several teams must spend more to become cap compliant, include teams which traditionally keep payroll close to the cap minimum.
This month is also the second, and final, time teams can avail themselves of compliance buyouts to shed unwanted contracts without incurring a cap penalty. Already several players (Brad Richards, Ville Leino, David Booth and Jordin Tootoo among them) have received compliance buyouts. With the buyout period ending at 5 pm ET on June 30, it’s possible they could be joined by several others.
Another factor is the unusually high number of teams which changed management since January. Buffalo, Calgary, Carolina, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Vancouver and Washington all have new general managers, who have yet to put their initial stamp on their respective rosters. Some, or all of them, could be tempted to make significant moves this summer.
There’s also a high number of talented players rumored to be available in the trade mill. Some (Jason Spezza, Ryan Kesler) are certain to be traded. Others (Dustin Byfuglien, Evander Kane, Patrick Marleau, James Neal, Dion Phaneuf, Joe Thornton) are frequently mentioned as possible trade candidates.
What could also generate more trades of notable players is the stipulation under this CBA which allows a team to retain up to half of a player’s salary in order to facilitate a trade. This factor certainly came into play during last March’s NHL trade deadline, where a higher number of name players changed teams.
The Florida Panthers willingness to trade this year’s first-overall pick has also generated a stir leading up to the opening round of the NHL Draft on June 27. It’s possible a rival club could take a gamble by giving up a significant return to land that pick.
This year’s free-agent market lacks a significant number of superstars, a trend which carries over from the final years of the last CBA, as more teams re-sign their best young players to long-term deals, rather than risk losing them for nothing to free agency. Still, sufficient talent remains which could result in the usual frenzy of signings when the free agency period begins on July 1.
It’s also possible this year’s salary arbitration period could get interesting. In recent years players headed to arbitration (whether they file themselves or are taken to arbitration by their teams) rarely went before an arbiter. This year, however, the Colorado Avalanche decided to take rising two-way forward Ryan O’Reilly to arbitration.
While it’s possible he, too, could reach an agreement on a new deal with his club, comments from his agent suggest that might not be the case. If his case does go to arbitration, and the arbiter rules in his favor, rival clubs will anxiously await the Avs’ decision to accept or decline the decision. If they decline, O’Reilly becomes an unrestricted free agent, which could spark a frenzy of bidding for his services.
All in all, it’s shaping up to be a busy offseason.