NHL Teams Facing the Most Salary-Cap Pressure in 2014 Offseason

Carol SchramFeatured ColumnistJuly 24, 2014

NHL Teams Facing the Most Salary-Cap Pressure in 2014 Offseason

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    After NHL clubs shimmied their way under an artificially low $64.3 million salary cap to start the 2013-14 season, TSN.ca was reporting by December 2013 that the cap could rise as high as $71.1 million by 2014-15.

    Visions of big contract extensions and high-priced free agents danced before the eyes of the league's general managers. When the new cap ceiling was officially announced on June 28, the number wasn't quite so lofty. 

    The Canadian Press reported that 2014-15 salary cap limit of $69 million took general managers by surprise, leaving some of them scrambling to reset their player personnel plans for the offseason.

    Here's a look at six teams that have felt the pressure from the cap, and how they're working to deal with the challenge.

Philadelphia Flyers

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    Current Position: 22 players signed, $72.1 million committed against salary cap, $3.1 million over ceiling

    Key Players Still Unsigned: none

    Potential Cap Relief: Chris Pronger and his $4.9 million cap hit will be placed on long-term injured reserve.

    What Needs to Be Done: As Kevin Christmann of Broad Street Hockey explains in detail, the Flyers can put Pronger on LTIR on the last day of training camp or on the first day of the regular season, though the methodology would need to be different in each case. In a nutshell:

    • If the move is made on the first day of the regular season, the team would have to be cap compliant on that day, with Pronger's salary included. Based on current numbers, they'd have to cut $3.1 million, then would receive $4.9 million in relief on opening day when Pronger's cap hit is moved.
    • If the move is made on the last day of training camp, Pronger would be deemed to have been "replaced." As such, the team would only get relief to the total value of players on the roster at that time—right now, $3.1 million.

    If the Flyers spend another $1.8 million between now and the end of training camp, they can maximize the benefit of Pronger's LTIR status without having to worry about getting under the cap on opening day.

Chicago Blackhawks

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Current Position: 23 players signed, $71.2 million committed against salary cap, $2.2 million over ceiling

    Key Players Still Unsigned: none

    Potential Cap Relief: General manager Stan Bowman will almost certainly need to make a trade.

    What Needs to Be Done: The Chicago Blackhawks are well aware that success comes at a price. After winning the Stanley Cup in 2010, the 'Hawks were forced to jettison a number of key players in order to remain cap compliant.

    A year after their second championship, the situation's not quite as dire. Still, the 'Hawks are $2.2 million over the cap with no easy way to shed salary.

    Stan Bowman told Brian Hedger of NHL.com that he's optimistic that the situation can be resolved by the beginning of the season without too much pain.

    A lot of things happen once camps open, both for us and for other teams, in terms of players maybe you expect to meet expectations don't quite do it and certain teams are looking around trying to find players. I always think you're always in a good position when you have a lot of established players. I think that's better than the other way around.

    Hedger cites names like Johnny Oduya, Patrick Sharp and Brent Seabrook as a few who have been bandied about as possible trade bait. It sounds like Bowman will bide his time until he thinks he can make the best deal for the future of his team.

Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Current Position: 24 players signed, $70.9 million committed against salary cap, $1.9 million over ceiling

    Key Players Still Unsigned: none

    Potential Cap Relief: Matthias Ohlund and his $3.6 million cap hit will be placed on long-term injured reserve.

    What Needs to Be Done: The Tampa Bay Lightning are in a similar situation to the Flyers, where they'll rely on defenseman Matthias Ohlund's LTIR situation to make themselves cap compliant.

    The good news for the Lightning is that they have a number of players on their roster who are young enough that they don't have to clear waivers when being sent to the minors.

    To meet the NHL's regular-season 23-man roster limit, general manager Steve Yzerman will need to send one player down to the AHL Syracuse Crunch. A second waiver-exempt player could also be moved to the minors temporarily without any risk in order to help the team reach cap compliance on opening day, before removing Ohlund's salary from the books.

Boston Bruins

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    Current Position: 21 players signed, $69.8 million committed against salary cap, $800,000 over ceiling

    Key Players Still Unsigned: Reilly Smith, Torey Krug

    Potential Cap Relief: Marc Savard and his $4 million cap hit will be placed on long-term injured reserve.

    What Needs to Be Done: According to CapGeek.com, the Boston Bruins lost $4.78 million in cap space for 2014-15 due to bonuses paid out last season. Bonuses are allowed to exceed a team's salary cap by up to 7.5 percent in any given year, but any bonuses that fall into this "overage" category roll over and count against the cap for the following season.

    Jarome Iginla was the prime recipient of these bonus funds: He collected $3.70 million according to Fluto Shinzawa of The Boston Globe.

    Barring a trade before the beginning of the season, the Bruins can use the cushion provided by Savard's LTIR status to get Smith and Krug signed. Both have just completed their entry-level deals and had outstanding seasons in 2013-14, but general manager Peter Chiarelli is limited in what he can offer.

    More bonuses might be necessary to get these promising youngsters under contract, but Boston can't break the bank or give out too many more deferred bonuses. Seven Bruins, including star center David Krejci, are scheduled to reach unrestricted free agency in just one year's time.

Los Angeles Kings

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    Current Position: 23 players signed, $67.4 million committed against salary cap, $1.6 million in cap space remaining

    Key Players Still Unsigned: Dwight King

    Potential Cap Relief: none

    What Needs to Be Done: Not much, now. 

    After winning a second Stanley Cup in 2014, it looked like the Kings might not be able to afford to keep their close-knit group together for another run at the big prize. But Dean Lombardi showed why he was named one of the NHL's top general managers in 2013-14 when he signed rental sniper Marian Gaborik to a cap-friendly deal at less than $5 million a season.

    Lombardi did say goodbye to veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell but re-signed blueliner Matt Greene and picked up depth forward Adam Cracknell as a free agent, leaving only Dwight King unsigned.

    King had a cap hit of $750,000 per year on his last contract. He's an important role player for the Kings, but his new deal should fit nicely within the $1.6 million in cap space that the Kings still have available.

St. Louis Blues

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Current Position: 23 players signed, $66.2 million committed against salary cap, $2.8 million in cap space remaining

    Key Players Still Unsigned: Jaden Schwartz

    Potential Cap Relief: none

    What Needs to Be Done: Sign Schwartz. The 22-year-old had a breakout year, becoming a key part of the Blues' offense with 25 goals and 56 points. Coming out of his entry-level contract, he's a star-in-the-making who will be looking to get paid.

    Blues general manager Doug Armstrong essentially sacrificed Vladimir Sobotka to make sure he saved money for Schwartz, unwilling to bridge a gap of $300,000 according to Sobotka's agent Petr Svoboda (per Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch). 

    “He started at $2.4 million (for one season) and he came up to $2.7 million, so he gave me his best number,” Svoboda said. “We were at one year, $3 million. So basically it was over $300,000. There was no room for negotiation. It was one year at $2.7 (million) — take it.”

    Sobotka decided not to take it, choosing instead to sign with Avangard Omsk of the KHL. Armstrong quickly filled his spot at center with Steve Ott and will hope he's left enough money in the coffers to complete a deal with Schwartz.

     

    All stats courtesy of NHL.com. Salary and cap information is all from CapGeek.com.