10 NHL Teams Facing Long-Term Salary-Cap Concerns

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistJune 2, 2015

10 NHL Teams Facing Long-Term Salary-Cap Concerns

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    The Associated Press (via USA Today) reports NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman expects the salary cap for 2015-16 to settle in around $71 million, depending upon fluctuations in the Canadian dollar. That will make things difficult for NHL teams with limited cap space next season.

    If the Canadian dollar remains weak, increases in the salary cap could remain marginal. Several clubs will feel the pinch. Some have a considerable amount invested in cap payroll over the period, while others have promising young talent due for substantial raises.

    The following slideshow examines the NHL teams that are facing long-term salary-cap concerns. Projected cap space, key free agents and roster depth factored into this ranking. Feel free to voice your opinion in the comments section.

10. St. Louis Blues

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    Projected cap payrolls: The St. Louis Blues have over $56.3 million invested in 15 players for 2015-16. For 2016-17, they have over $40.4 million tied up in nine players. For 2017-18, they have over $20 million in five players. 

    Key free agents: Vladimir Tarasenko and Jake Allen are restricted free agents this summer. David Backes is slated to become an unrestricted free agent in 2016, while Jaden Schwartz will be a restricted free agent. Kevin Shattenkirk, Alexander Steen and T.J. Oshie are due for UFA status in 2017.

    Analysis: Another disappointing playoff performance next season will make it easier to part ways with Steen ($5.8 million), Shattenkirk ($4.25 million) Backes ($4.5 million) and Oshie ($4.175 million). But if this roster finally becomes a true championship contender, a slow-rising cap will hinder efforts to retain those players. Tarasenko's new contract could also bite deeply into the team's future cap space.

9. Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Projected cap payrolls: For 2015-16, the Tampa Bay Lightning have over $68.6 million invested in 19 players. For 2016-17, they have over $45.8 million tied up in 12 players. For 2017-18, they have $25.4 million in five players. 

    Key free agents: In 2016, Steven Stamkos will be an unrestricted free agent, while Nikita Kucherov and Alex Killorn will be restricted free agents. Ben Bishop and Victor Hedman are eligible for UFA status in 2017, while Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat become RFAs.

    Analysis: Marginal cap increases shouldn't affect efforts to re-sign Stamkos (who could cost $10 million annually), Kucherov and Killorn. Their re-signings, however, will take up considerable cap space. Retaining core players like Bishop ($5.9 million cap hit), Hedman ($4 million), Johnson and Palat ($3.33 million each) in 2017 could prove difficult. 

8. Boston Bruins

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    Projected cap payrolls: The Boston Bruins have over $63 million invested in 14 players for 2015-16. For 2016-17, they have over $44.9 million tied up in eight players and for 2017-18, over $29 million in five players. 

    Key free agents: Carl Soderberg and Adam McQuaid are unrestricted free agents this summer, while Dougie Hamilton is a restricted free agent. Milan Lucic and Loui Eriksson are eligible for UFA status in 2016, while Torey Krug becomes a restricted free agent. In 2017, Brad Marchand is slated for UFA status, while David Pastrnak and Reilly Smith become RFAs.

    Analysis: A slow-rising cap ceiling makes it difficult for the Bruins to re-sign key players like Lucic ($6 million cap hit), Marchand ($4.5 million) and McQuaid ($1.55 million). Management might have to consider a rebuild. The Bruins could opt to invest in their younger players while releasing experienced, expensive veterans via trade or free agency. 

7. Minnesota Wild

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    Projected cap payrolls: The Minnesota Wild have over $60 million invested in 16 players for 2015-16. For 2016-17, they have over $47.9 million tied up in nine players and for 2017-18, over $38.7 million in seven players. 

    Key free agents: Devan Dubnyk is an unrestricted free agent this summer, while Mikael Granlund is a restricted free agent. Jason Zucker, Jared Spurgeon and Mathew Dumba become RFAs in 2016. Thomas Vanek is eligible for UFA status in 2017, while Nino Niederreiter is slated for RFA status.

    Analysis: The Wild will feel the cap pinch this summer. They have sufficient room to re-sign Dubnyk ($1 million this season) and Granlund ($900,000 base salary) but can't afford to add depth without shedding salary. A slow-rising cap and the cost of retaining their best young players could complicate future efforts to bolster their roster.

6. Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Projected cap payrolls: The Pittsburgh Penguins have over $58.5 million invested in 13 players for 2015-16. For 2016-17, they have over $47 million tied up in eight players and for 2017-18, $39.2 million in five players. 

    Key free agents: Paul Martin and Christian Ehrhoff are unrestricted free agents this summer. David Perron and Brandon Sutter are eligible for UFA status in 2016, while Olli Maatta will become a restricted free agent. Chris Kunitz is eligible for UFA status in 2017.

    Analysis: The Penguins have too much money invested in a handful of stars, leaving little to significantly improve the supporting cast. They could lose Martin ($5 million per season) or Ehrhoff ($4 million) to free agency. The slower the cap rises, the less money the Penguins will have to re-sign or replace key players or to boost their roster depth.

5. Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Projected cap payrolls: The Columbus Blue Jackets have over $63.6 million invested in 24 players for 2015-16. For 2016-17, they have over $49.4 million tied up in 13 players and for 2017-18, over $41 million invested in eight players.

    Key free agents: Artem Anisimov will be an unrestricted free agent in 2016, while Boone Jenner and David Savard will be restricted free agents. Ryan Johansen will be a restricted free agent in 2017.

    Analysis: The Blue Jackets usually don't spend to the cap ceiling, but they might have to in order to retain their best players and add depth to their roster. A slow-rising cap could make it difficult. Key players like Johansen ($4 million annual cap hit), Anisimov ($3.28 million), Savard ($1.3 million) and Jenner (over $778,000) will prove expensive to re-sign.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Projected cap payrolls: For 2015-16, the Toronto Maple Leafs have over $53 million invested in 13 players. For 2016-17, they have over $45.3 million tied up in eight players and for 2017-18, $42.3 million in seven players. 

    Key free agents: Nazem Kadri and Jonathan Bernier are restricted free agents this summer. In 2016, Morgan Rielly will be a restricted free agent and James Reimer an unrestricted free agent.

    Analysis: The rebuilding Leafs have spent too much cap space on a handful of players. That could complicate attempts to bolster their lineup. Potentially shedding high-salaried stars like Phil Kessel ($8 million annual cap hit) and Dion Phaneuf ($7 million) will alleviate their cap concerns, provided they invest in affordable young talent. 

3. New York Rangers

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    Projected cap payrolls: The New York Rangers have over $59.5 million invested in 15 players for 2015-16. For 2016-17, they have over $46 million tied up in nine players and for 2017-18, $44.6 million in eight players. 

    Key free agents: Martin St. Louis is an unrestricted free agent this summer, while Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin are restricted free agents. Cam Talbot, Keith Yandle and Dan Boyle are eligible for UFA status in 2016, while Chris Kreider becomes a restricted free agent.

    Analysis: Over the next two years, the Rangers have a lot of money invested in a small number of players. Re-signing Stepan ($3.075 million) and Hagelin ($2.25 million) will likely make St. Louis a cap casualty. A stagnant cap over the next two years could adversely affect the team's efforts to maintain a championship-contending roster. 

2. Chicago Blackhawks

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    Projected cap payrolls: The Chicago Blackhawks have over $64 million invested in 14 players for 2015-16. For 2016-17, they have over $53 million tied up in 10 players and for 2017-18, over $41.9 million in six players. 

    Key free agents: Brandon Saad and Marcus Kruger are restricted free agents this summer. Brent Seabrook and Kris Versteeg are eligible for unrestricted free agency in 2016, while Andrew Shaw is eligible for RFA status. Patrick Sharp and Bryan Bickell are eligible for UFA status in 2017.

    Analysis: The Blackhawks must shed salary to re-sign Saad and Kruger while adding affordable replacements for departed free agents. Sharp and Bickell could be cap casualties this summer. A sluggish salary cap for 2016-17 could force the team to choose between re-signing Seabrook ($5.8 million cap hit) to a big raise or losing him to free agency. It will also impede efforts to bolster the roster depth.

1. Los Angeles Kings

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    Projected cap payrolls: The Los Angeles Kings have over $64 million invested in cap payroll for 2015-16. For 2016-17, they have over $55 million tied up in 13 players and for 2017-18, over $51.7 million in 11 players.

    Key free agents: Tyler Toffoli is a restricted free agent this summer, while Justin Williams and Andrej Sekera are unrestricted free agents. Anze Kopitar is eligible for UFA status in 2016, and Tanner Pearson becomes a restricted free agent in 2017.

    Analysis: A sluggish salary cap will significantly hamper the Kings. Kopitar ($6.8 million cap hit) could cost upwards of $9 million to re-sign. They should ink Toffoli this summer to a two-year bridge deal as he's coming off an entry-level contract. He and Pearson will need substantial raises in 2017. The Kings might not have enough cap room down the road to bolster their depth.

    Salary-cap information via Hockey's Cap.