The NHL recently released its salary-cap figures for 2014-15, in which the cap ceiling rose from $64.3 million to $69 million, while the cap floor increased to $51 million. While it’s a substantial increase in the ceiling, it’s not as high as the $71.1 million projected during midseason.
This lower-than-anticipated cap ceiling will have an effect upon several clubs this season. The Philadelphia Flyers, for example, as of this writing sit just over $236K above the cap ceiling. During the off-season, a team is allowed to exceed the cap by no more than ten percent ($6.9 million), but must be cap compliant when the 2014-15 NHL schedule begins.
The Flyers currently have over $69.2 million invested in 19 players. They have two affordable restricted free agents (Jason Akeson, Tye McGinn) and must find a backup goalie. They also need a top-two defenseman, but unless they do a dollar-for-dollar swap or dump salary elsewhere, they can’t afford to address that need. It’s rumored Vincent Lecavalier ($4.5 million annually) could be dealt.
The Chicago Blackhawks were also perched above the cap when the second day of the 2014 NHL Draft dawned, but shipping forward Brandon Bollig ($1.25 million) to Calgary for a draft pick got them under the ceiling, though only just ($770K).
There’s talk of the ‘Hawks trading for a second-line center. As with the Flyers and their rumored efforts to get a top-flight defenseman, it must be dollar-for-dollar or the other club retaining some salary to make it work. They’ve re-signed their key free agents, but have little room for any prospects or call-ups to start next season. The Blackhawks might not be done dealing this summer.
With only $1.6 million in cap space and 18 players under contract, the Boston Bruins also face shedding some salary if they hope to re-sign RFAs Reilly Smith and Torey Krug, let alone re-sign pending UFA winger Jarome Iginla. They also face a bonus overage penalty of $4.7 million, much of that tied to bonuses in Iginla’s contract for 2013-14.
While the Los Angeles Kings ($3.6 million) and Tampa Bay Lightning ($4.1 million) also have limited space, they’ve also got the bulk of the key players under contract and only a couple of rosters spots each to fill. They won’t have enough to be major players in the upcoming free agent market, but for them it’s not a necessity.
The New Jersey Devils, meanwhile, have 17 players under contract but still have a few more spots to fill with their $9.7 million in cap space. They’ll lose under-rated defenseman Mark Fayne to free agency and must find a suitable backup for Cory Schneider now that they’ve finally parted ways with Martin Brodeur. They have sufficient space to fill out the rest of their lineup, but they won’t making any big free-agent acquisitions.
Among the 16 teams carrying between $11 million and $19 million in cap space, the Carolina Hurricanes ($11.7 million, 16 players under contract) and Pittsburgh Penguins ($14.6 million, 14 players under contract) will find it difficult to re-sign or replace their key free agents.
This group also contain “budget clubs” (teams which usually don’t spend up to the cap ceiling) like the Nashville Predators (19 players under contract, $17.8 million in cap space), Arizona Coyotes (18 players under contract, $17.9 million in cap space), Columbus Blue Jackets (17 players, $18.8 million) and Winnipeg Jets (16 players, $19 million). While they have lots of cap room on paper, their respective internal caps could be lower. Same goes for several teams with $20 million-plus in cap space, like the Dallas Stars ($20.3 million, 15 players under contract) and Colorado Avalanche ($20.9 million, 18 players).
The New York Rangers have no qualms keeping pace with the cap ceiling, but the lower cap mean they have just over $23 million in available space with only 11 players under contract. Rangers GM Glen Sather is also anticipating he won’t be able to re-sign everyone on his roster. Even re-signing his key RFA players (Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, Derick Brassard) will probably eat up a significant chunk – possibly even half – of that available space. The Rangers roster for next season could look significantly different from the one which marched to the Cup Final this spring.
Conversely, there are several teams – Buffalo Sabres ($30.4 million payroll), Florida Panthers ($36.7 million), Calgary Flames ($40.3 million) and the New York Islanders ($43.3 million) who must spend to get above the $51 million cap floor.
Of these, expect the Sabres and Panthers to be big spenders in the upcoming UFA market. The Sabres have only 14 players under contract and their notable RFAs include Tyler Ennis, Cory Conacher, Marcus Foligno and Jamie McBain. The Panthers have 13 under contract and their notable RFAs include Erik Gudbranson, Dmitry Kulikov, Dylan Olsen, Jimmy Hayes and Brandon Pirri. Unless they intend to grossly overpay those players, they’ll have to open their wallets to bolster their rosters.