10 NHL Teams Most in Need of a Summer Free-Agency Spending Spree
The NHL's unrestricted free-agency period begins July 1 at noon ET.
NESN.com's Nicholas Goss recently interviewed league commissioner Gary Bettman, who offered an estimate for next season's cap ceiling. He acknowledged that the original projection of $71.1 million could be slightly lower due to the recent decline of the Canadian dollar.
"With the Canadian dollar down, maybe it could be 69 or 70, in that range," said Bettman, adding that those numbers were "just rough estimates."
With those figures, next season's salary cap would increase from the current $64.3 million to $69-$70 million, providing teams with nearly an additional $6 million of cap space to work with this summer. The increase in the cap ceiling also means an increase in the minimum.
TSN.ca reported in December that it could reach $52 million.
This means that several teams currently below the anticipated cap minimum must spend up to become cap-compliant. The rise in the cap ceiling could benefit big-market teams hoping to bolster their rosters.
The 10 teams on this list have the cap space to address their significant roster issues via free agency—provided they're willing to make the necessary investments.
Cap space, roster needs and free-agent rumors factored into these rankings.
All payroll and salary cap figures via CapGeek.com.
10. Calgary Flames
Cap payroll for 2014-15: $39 million invested in 14 players.
Projected available cap space: $32 million.
Areas to address: If Mike Cammalleri departs via free agency, the Flames will need a first-line left wing. They also lack experienced goaltending depth. If they stick with Karri Ramo as their starter, they must get him a reliable backup. They could also use experienced checkers and a shutdown defenseman.
Analysis: Calgary has plenty of cap space and in recent years kept pace with the rising cap ceiling. However, they could continue to rebuild with young, inexpensive talent. They might seek some affordable, experienced free agents to mentor their promising young players.
Potential free agent targets: The Boston Globe's Fluto Shinzawa believes the Flames could "kick the tires" of goaltender Ryan Miller. The Edmonton Journal's Jim Matheson can see the Flames signing Dallas Stars center Vernon Fiddler.
9. Montreal Canadiens
Cap payroll for 2014-15: $44.6 million invested in 16 players.
Projected available cap space: $26.4 million.
Areas to address: The Canadiens need experienced depth on their defense, especially if Andrei Markov departs via free agency. If they fail to re-sign team captain Brian Gionta, they could be in the market for a second-line right wing.
Analysis: Nearly half their cap space will be used to re-sign restricted free agents P.K. Subban, Lars Eller and Dale Weise—more if they retain Markov and Gionta. If the latter two depart, the Canadiens will have space for replacements. They could also seek experienced depth for their third defensive pairing and their checking lines.
Potential free agent targets: The Boston Globe's Fluto Shinzawa believes the Canadiens must find defensemen to lighten the workloads of Subban, Markov (if he returns) and Josh Gorges. Pittsburgh's Brooks Orpik, the New York Rangers' Anton Stralman and former Hab Ron Hainsey could be targets. Options at right wing include Ales Hemsky, Ryan Callahan, Jarome Iginla and Radim Vrbata.
8. Nashville Predators
Cap payroll for 2014-15: $49.7 million invested in 19 players.
Projected available cap space: $21.3 million.
Areas to address: The Predators have a shortage of top-line scoring. Their highest-scoring forward—Patric Hornqvist—had 53 points, while winger Craig Smith led them in goals with 24.
Analysis: While deep on defense and in gritty forwards, the lack of proven scoring forwards hampered the Predators' playoff hopes this season. They were 19th in goals per game (2.61) and 23rd in shots per game (29.0). New head coach Peter Laviolette favors an up-tempo offensive style, which could force management into the trade and free-agent markets for help.
Potential free agent targets: The Tennessean's Josh Cooper believes the Predators should look into Paul Stastny, Thomas Vanek, Matt Moulson, Mikhail Grabovski and Derek Roy. CBC.ca's Elliotte Friedman also thinks they could take a run at signing Vanek.
7. Colorado Avalanche
Cap payroll for 2014-15: $45.1 million invested in 17 players.
Projected available cap space: $25.9 million.
Areas to address: The Avalanche lack experienced blue-line depth, which became their undoing in this year's playoffs. Their only true top-two defenseman is Erik Johnson. Tyson Barrie shows promise, and they've got decent second-tier depth, but if there's a veteran puck-moving or stay-at-home defender available, they should explore that option.
Analysis: Re-signing Ryan O'Reilly—and possibly Paul Stastny—could take up to half of Colorado's available space. Still, if ownership is willing to spend toward the cap, there's enough to pursue some blue-line depth. And if they don't re-sign Stastny, they'll have even more room to land a more talented defenseman.
Potential free agent targets: The Denver Post's Adrian Dater reports that the Avalanche could be interested in Dan Boyle, who won't be returning to the San Jose Sharks. Despite Boyle's advancing age at 37, he could be a worthwhile short-term investment, bringing experience and leadership to their defensive corps. Dater's colleague Mike Chambers believes Pittsburgh's Matt Niskanen would be a better long-term fit. Brooks Orpik, Andrei Markov and Matt Greene could be other options.
6. Minnesota Wild
Cap payroll for 2014-15: $48.3 million invested in 18 players.
Projected available cap space: $22.7 million.
Areas to address: The Wild could use another skilled veteran blueliner as well as another experienced scoring winger. And, given the health issues of Josh Harding (multiple sclerosis) and Niklas Backstrom (abdominal surgeries), they could be in need of a veteran goalie.
Analysis: While the Wild possess plenty of promising young talent, they need a second-line scorer at left wing. The addition of a veteran puck-moving defenseman could also take some of the burden off Ryan Suter. Harding and Backstrom are under contract for next season, but if they're unable to play, Minnesota will need another goalie. The Pioneer Press' Chad Graff reports on TwinCities.com that GM Chuck Fletcher says there's a realistic chance he could carry three goalies (Harding, Backstrom and Darcy Kuemper) next season.
Potential free agent targets: The Pioneer Press' Charley Walters believes that Wild owner Craig Leipold could push management to pursue Thomas Vanek in this summer's free-agent market. If they don't, perhaps they'll consider Penguins' defenseman (and Minnesota native) Matt Niskanen. NBC Sports' Jason Brough suggests the Wild as a possible destination for goaltender Ryan Miller.
5. New York Islanders
Cap payroll for 2014-15: $43.3 million invested in 18 players.
Projected available cap space: $27.7 million.
Areas to address: The Islanders need both an experienced, puck-moving blueliner and a veteran shutdown defenseman. They also lack experienced scoring wingers and depth on their checking lines.
Analysis: Islanders' owner Charles Wang regularly keeps the team payroll close to the cap minimum. With the club moving to Brooklyn's Barclays Center for 2014-15, perhaps he'll loosen the purse strings a bit to improve the club's playoff chances.
Potential free agent targets: ESPN.com's Craig Custance suggests that Islanders management should attempt to mend fences with former winger Matt Moulson. If New York Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman tests the free-agent market, Custance thinks he'd be a good fit with the Islanders.
4. Dallas Stars
Cap payroll for 2014-15: $50.1 million invested in 16 players.
Projected available cap space: $20.9 million.
Areas to address: The Stars possess several promising young scorers, but their offense was largely carried last season by Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. They could use another top-six scoring winger and a second-line center. The Dallas Morning News' Tim Cowlishaw believes they must add an experienced shutdown defenseman. They'll also need a good backup goalie.
Analysis: The Stars must replace the departing Ray Whitney and Vernon Fiddler. If ownership is willing to keep pace with a rising cap, they could have the room to make two or three key free-agent signings. Having made the playoffs for the first time since 2009, management could face pressure to follow up on this season's success.
Potential free agent targets: The Dallas Morning News' Mike Heika named Colorado's Paul Stastny as an option to address their need for a second-line center. Heika also suggests that the Stars should pursue a younger backup for Kari Lehtonen, suggesting Chad Johnson and Devan Dubnyk as free-agent options. They could look at Pittsburgh's Brooks Orpik to address their need for an experienced stay-at-home blueliner.
3. Edmonton Oilers
Cap payroll for 2014-15: $44.6 million invested in 16 players.
Projected available cap space: $26.4 million.
Areas to address: Defense remains the Oilers' biggest weakness. They lack experienced skill on the blue line and on their checking lines. They also need a big, physical top-six winger.
Analysis: The Oilers have the bulk of their key players under long-term contracts, so there's sufficient cap room to address their needs. Having missed the playoffs for eight straight years, Oilers fans may be growing impatient with this team's seemingly endless rebuild. It could be time to spend big to address their weaknesses.
Potential free agent targets: Veteran defensemen like Montreal's Andrei Markov or Pittsburgh's Brooks Orpik could be on their list. A puck-moving blueliner like Pittsburgh's Matt Niskanen could take some pressure off young Justin Schultz. The Edmonton Journal's Jim Matheson believes the Oilers could try to bring back Matt Greene, who was dealt to the Los Angeles Kings in 2008.
2. Buffalo Sabres
Cap payroll for 2014-15: $38.9 million invested in 16 players.
Projected available cap space: $32.1 million.
Areas to address: The Sabres lack reliable scoring wingers and skilled defensive depth across the board.
Analysis: Sabres owner Terry Pegula has in the past shown a willingness to spend. By buying out underperforming forward Ville Leino and trading defensemen Christian Ehrhoff, Buffalo could free up more cap space useful for free-agent additions. New GM Tim Murray seems keen to rebuild with youth but could target skilled players with leadership abilities via free agency.
Potential free agent targets: The Buffalo News' Mike Harrington speculates the Sabres could bring back former captain Steve Ott, who was dealt to St. Louis in the Ryan Miller trade. If Tampa Bay Lightning winger Ryan Callahan hits the free-agent market, ESPN.com's Craig Custance speculates the Sabres could pursue him.
1. Florida Panthers
Cap payroll for 2014-15: $40.8 million invested in 14 players.
Projected available cap space: $30.2 million.
Areas to address: Center Nick Bjugstad led the Panthers in scoring in 2013-14 with a mere 38 points, illustrating their desperate need for scoring depth. Their defensive corps could use more experienced blueliners.
Analysis: Sun-Sentinel.com's Dave Hyde reports that GM Dale Tallon has been given permission by Panthers ownership to spend to the cap ceiling if necessary this offseason. During the 2011 free-agent period, Tallon made several significant signings to boost his roster. He could go that route again this summer.
Potential free agent targets: CBC.ca's Elliotte Friedman believes the Panthers could have some interest in Toronto Maple Leafs free-agent center Dave Bolland—Tallon was the Blackhawks' GM when Bolland began his NHL career in Chicago. They could also get into the bidding for Colorado's Paul Stastny, Montreal's Thomas Vanek and Pittsburgh's Matt Niskanen.
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