NHL Free Agent Rumors: 1 Contract Each Team Will Be Looking to Shed
We're now less than three weeks away from training camps all over the NHL opening up. New faces will be in new places, and some players will be unexpectedly putting on a new sweater.
After a summer in which big contracts like Brian Campbell, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Dany Heatley were moved, the NHL is also headed towards one of the deepest free agent classes in recent memory in the summer of 2012.
Many teams are up against or, in some cases, over the salary cap with less than a month left until camp opens. Conversations between general managers will continue until hours before opening night. Some players need to move, others won't. Some organizations (Buffalo) need to move salary off their books, while others might want the flexibility that moving a big deal affords; look at how Chicago was able to fill their roster with veterans after moving Campbell.
In alphabetical order, we'll look through the entire NHL at the player whose contract each franchise would like to unload as the season draws near.
All salaries mentioned in this piece are cited off Capgeek.com.
The Ducks actually don't need to cut salary, sitting comfortably at $11M under the cap. Saying they would want/need to dump a player because of cost isn't reality.
But if the Ducks were going to move someone because of cost, it might be Sheldon Brookbank. He'll turn 31 less than a week before opening night and has a $750k cap number to be a seventh defenseman. He had zero points in 40 NHL games last year.
While they spend the summer celebrating their Stanley Cup victory, the Bruins have one luxury the Blackhawks didn't 12 months prior: cap flexibility.
The Bruins will bring back almost an entire roster from their Cup-winning team, and still have roughly $7M to bring back Brad Marchand. The fact is, they're in great shape financially and just won the ultimate prize.
If they had to move a contract off their books, though, the unfortunate victim would probably be Marc Savard. This is in no way a commentary on his productivity as a player or contributions to the organization; Savard is an outstanding player and is a crucial figure for Boston when he's on the ice.
But that's why he would be the top contract for Boston to cut. Health is a major concern.
Savard has six more seasons on his deal with a cap number over $4M. With his concussion problems continuing to be a question mark, the length and cap number on Savard's deal make him the most likely candidate on this championship roster.
Unlike the Ducks and Bruins, the Buffalo Sabres are actively looking to dump salary before the regular season begins; they're roughly $3.6M over the cap right now.
Because of their cap situation, a number of players have been floated on the rumor wire. Paul Gaustad, Ales Kotalik, Jordan Leopold and Brad Boyes have all been mentioned as a player that might get a one-way ticket out of Buffalo in the next four weeks.
But if there's one player on the Sabres' roster they might want to move in a salary dump, it's Shaone Morrison. With just one year left and a cap number over $2M, five points in 62 games last year was a huge disappointment from the 28-year-old defenseman.
In the wake of the Sabres adding Robyn Regehr and Christian Ehrhoff to an already expensive blue line, Morrison is the odd man out.
There are a number of glaring weaknesses on the Calgary roster—like a center to play next to Jarome Iginla (again)—but there is one man on the roster that everyone following hockey knows they would unload if possible.
With three more years at a $6.68M cap hit, the Flames need more than 24 points from him. This might be one of the worst, and least movable, contracts in the NHL.
The too-easy answer to this debate in Carolina is "wait a couple months and check in with Tomas Kaberle." But the problem with Kaberle was more his cap number than what he brought to the ice; he was effective in Boston's run to the Cup.
If the 'Canes are going to move someone to unload salary, we're picking Tuomo Ruutu. He's still a valuable part of their roster and has played well since being acquired in a trade for Andrew Ladd, but now might be the time for the 'Canes to sell.
He has only one more season left on his deal with a cap hit of $3.8M. Carolina has a little over $14.5M in cap space, though, so unloading someone because they can't afford him isn't the primary concern. Moving Ruutu would be a strategic trade to get assets for a player not likely coming back next summer.
In June, the answer to this question in Chicago was pretty simple. Brian Campbell was sitting on a deal with one of the highest cap numbers among all NHL defensemen, and while he was playing arguably the best defense of his career, it's hard to justify over $7M on a blue line as deep as Chicago's.
But Hawks GM Stan Bowman waved his magic wand (read: called Dale Tallon) and moved Campbell to Florida during the draft in a deal that, if nothing else, proves that the salary floor makes any contract acceptable in the right situation.
Coming back to Chicago in the Campbell deal was underwhelming Rostislav Olesz, who may have been bought out by the Blackhawks if his knee was healthy enough. He has three more years at $3.125M on his deal, but figures to be fighting for a spot in the NHL this season on a deep Chicago roster.
While Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz might have answered this question with Cristobal Huet (so he didn't have to pay him), the fact that Huet's cap number is buried in Europe makes him easier to handle from a competitive standpoint than Olesz...for now.
On such a young roster that sits over $18M under the cap, the cost-cutting victim becomes the most disappointing player.
In Denver, Cody McLeod is the player with the most to prove this season.
A simple look at the balance sheet of the Avs reveals a serious decision-making year ahead for management. Only six of the 24 players on their NHL roster are signed past this season, and two of those six are goalies. McLeod was a PIM-accumulating machine last year, and that isn't something the young Avs need in the future. He'll need to do more helping and less watching from the box to stick around Denver.
Columbus Blue Jackets
For a team that spent so much money this summer—Jeff Carter, James Wisniewski—making a player leave for cap reasons doesn't make a lot of sense.
But based on his performance since winning the Calder, I'm sure some folks in Columbus would love to see Steve Mason swapped out for a more consistent performer. He has two more years on his deal with a $2.9M cap number—neither awful—but it's hard for a franchise to commit to winning with a question mark between the pipes.
Who, honestly, would the Dallas Stars move before the season?
In Mike Ribiero and Loui Eriksson, the Stars have two pretty good values by superstar standards ($5M and $4.25M, respectively). Looking at their roster, it appears they really haven't overpaid anyone; Stephane Robidas might have doubled his $3.3M cap number on the open market this summer.
So, if the Stars were going to make something disappear before the season starts, we'll nominate the RFA next to Jamie Benn's name next summer. He's on the verge of becoming one of the game's elite, and the Stars should spend some money to keep him around for a long time.
Detroit Red Wings
On an aging roster filled with so many elite players, it's hard to pick out someone the Wings would move to clear salary. Certainly Jonathan Ericsson has the most to prove with a new three-year deal, but there just aren't any long-term deals in place that are grossly overpaying veterans.
With that in mind, if Detroit had to move someone, it might be Todd Bertuzzi. His prime is clearly well in the rear view mirror, and the Wings could probably find someone else to fill his grinder role for cheaper than his nearly-$2M cap number.
Nikolai Khabibulin spent more time behind bars than he did between the pipes this summer. With two more years at a $3.75M cap number, the Oilers would love to unload him any way they could.
If this exercise is looking for players a team wants to unload for cap-related purposes before the 2011-12 season starts, there isn't one player on the Florida roster that GM Dale Tallon would, or could, move between now and October.
Indeed, with a payroll sitting under $50M after one of the biggest free-for-all summer spending displays in recent memory, the Panthers are more likely to be the opposite side of this argument, answering the question: "But who would take that contract?"
Los Angeles Kings
The Kings really need to spend money between now and opening night...on Drew Doughty.
But the contract that might carry the biggest question marks on the Kings' roster is actually a new one. LA begins a four-year, $14.6M deal with Justin Williams this season. For what he brings to the table, the dollar amount isn't awful. But the concern is his health; Williams has played in more than 50 games just once in the last four years.
The Wild's summer makeover was about as dramatic as it gets. Brent Burns and Martin Havlat are gone, and in their place are half of the San Jose Sharks. Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley bring a lot of talent and playoff experience to the Wild.
One of the other players leaving Minneapolis would have been the easy answer to this debate. Cam Barker was a complete bust after being acquired in a trade with Chicago. But the Wild bought him out, and he'll fight for a roster spot in Edmonton this season.
If the Wild had to move one player for financial reasons, it would probably be Heatley. He still has value on the market, and happens to have the highest salary cap number on the roster.
The Nashville Predators are taking their fans' emotions into a hard season.
At the end of the 2011-12 season, Shea Weber, Pekka Rinne and Ryan Suter all need a new contract.
Meanwhile, the Preds are losing money.
It's one thing to move players to get under the cap, it's another if you can't afford to pay the players you have on the roster. If the Preds want to keep at least two of those three core players, they'll probably have to move another significant piece.
The player that might fit that profile is Mike Fisher, who has two more seasons with a $4.2M cap number left on his deal.
As much as it would hurt to have his wife, the not-Princess-Leia Carrie Fisher (fmr Underwood), in a suite every night, getting his contract off the books might be the difference between Suter/Rinne being in Nashville next year.
New Jersey Devils
This would would be necessitated by the 2012-13 season more than the financial state of the 2011-12 Devils.
Zach Parise is a superstar who will be playing through a one-year deal before likely expecting a raise from the $6M he'll make this season. And he certainly intends to test unrestricted free agency.
It might not happen before the season, but Parise's name will be the headline-grabber as the trade rumors begin swirling during the 2011-12 campaign.
New York Islanders
Like the Florida Panthers, the Islanders aren't in a position to move salary off their books; they're still well under the floor right now.
But if they were going to move one contract out the door, it would certainly be the king's ransom they're paying Rick DiPietro. In years past, moving him was mostly conjecture because they would need to go looking for a new goalie; you can't dump what you can't replace. But with Al Montoya emerging as a legitimate NHL goalie, DiPietro is now an expensive player the Isles don't necessarily need.
New York Rangers
The time has come that Sean Avery just isn't worth the off-ice noise that he creates. He has one year left on a contract bearing a cap number just under $2M, a figure as ugly as Avery's summer track record with TMZ.
The Sens have plenty of cap space, so moving someone just to unload salary isn't in the cards in Ottawa. But they happen to have a 28-year-old coming off consecutive 57-point seasons that a lot of teams would like to have.
Jason Spezza has already spent the better part of the last two seasons amidst trade rumors, and as long as his $7M cap number fits for teams needing a top-line scorer, he'll have a new home waiting for him somewhere outside Ottawa.
After dumping Jeff Carter and Mike Richards already this summer, it's hard to send someone else to the trade block in Philly.
Indeed, looking around their roster, there aren't many huge dollar amounts, and the team features a number of young players looking for a new deal in the next 12-24 months.
If there was one deal the team might like to move, it might be the final two years of aging Kimmo Timonen's deal. But he is still too effective for the Flyers to unload him at this point, and they'll need all of the veteran leadership they can get in the wake of this summer's moves.
Before the Coyotes figure out who they can—and can't—afford, they need someone to pay the bills.
So, out of respect to the roster of the Coyotes (which happens to be well under the cap), we nominate the City of Glendale as the one "person" that needs to be unloaded. For the sake of the organization and the taxpayers in Arizona, this team needs an owner.
The future of the Penguins is hanging in the locker of No. 87 right now.
But if they needed to move one player before the season began, it might be veteran defenseman Paul Martin. This has as much to do with what remains on his contract—four years at a $5M cap number—as it does with the evolving dynamics on the Pittsburgh roster. Their best defenseman is clearly Kris Letang, and he's one of the many players on the roster that will need a new deal before Martin's runs out.
San Jose Sharks
After turning over a number of players that were considered part of the core of the organization, it's hard to tell who else the Sharks would move at this point.
One player that would probably like out of San Jose would be Antero Niittymaki. He signed to a two-year deal thinking he would get a shot to replace Evgeni Nabokov last summer, but it wasn't until late in the summer that the Sharks grabbed Antti Niemi (after the Blackhawks walked away from arbitration and allowed him to become a free agent).
Niemi took over the top spot on the depth chart, and got a handsome extension after the season ended. With a $2M cap number, and with Thomas Greiss still in the system, Niittymaki might be a luxury the Sharks don't have to afford.
St. Louis Blues
Looking up and down the Blues' roster, there is probably one person that will make the biggest impact on their playoff chances: the team doctor.
After unloading underwhelming former No. 1 overall pick Erik Johnson in what could become a franchise-defining deal, the Blues have a young team without a lot of ridiculous paper on the books. In fact, the only two veterans that might be considered trade-bait are new to the organization; Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott are "rentals" in St. Louis, playing on one-year deals.
If the Blues can keep their roster healthy, they'll be fine. And, with over $11M in cap space, they don't need to dump salary.
Tampa Bay Lightning
It feels like Vincent Lecavalier broke into the NHL before Steven Stamkos was born, and yet he has twice as many years on his contract as Stamkos does at a higher cap number. As long as he's making almost $8M per, and has nine more years left on his deal, the paper they'll want/need to move out of Tampa is their captain.
Toronto Maple Leafs
He isn't making as much as Scott Gomez, but it's as easy to put a...wait for it...Finger on who should be traded out of Toronto as it was in Montreal.
Jeff Finger has one more year with a $3.5M cap number, and is essentially worthless to the Leafs organization.
The Canucks haven't been pleased with the return they've received on the deal they gave Keith Ballard, and the ultimate expense of his six-year, $25.2M deal may have become Christian Ehrhoff.
With four more years at a $4.2M cap number, the Canucks will be looking for Ballard to be better this year. If he isn't, they'll continue regretting this deal.
Think back to what we said about Zach Parise of the New Jersey Devils.
Alex Semin has one year left on his deal and will almost certainly test the free agent market next summer. In five NHL seasons, he has played in more than 70 games only twice, and yet he'll hit the market as a 28-year-old forward who has averaged roughly one point per game in his career.
The Caps might not want to deal him, but they're currently over the cap, and the chances of him staying in Washington after this season are slim.
The artist-formerly-known-as the Atlanta Thrashers is impossible to break down at this point. It's a completely new organization everywhere but the ice, and the coaches will formally meet the players when camp opens.
The Jets are one of the teams that's more likely to be on the receiving end of a salary dump than in the unloading category, but they still need to see what kind of profit they'll make in a (somewhat) new market.