NHL Teams Most in Need of a Significant Salary-Cap Hike

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistDecember 16, 2015

NHL Teams Most in Need of a Significant Salary-Cap Hike

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    Andrew Nelles/Associated Press

    On Dec. 7, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman projected the salary-cap ceiling for 2016-17 could rise by $3 million above the current level of $71.4 million. Such an increase could come as good news for several teams, like the Chicago Blackhawks (pictured above), carrying limited cap room for next season. 

    For the teams on this list, a substantial increase in the cap ceiling will have a notable effect on their respective rosters for 2016-17. It'll provide them the cap space to re-sign key players. It will also determine if they'll have enough room to bid competitively for talent in next summer's free-agent market. 

    Here's a look at the NHL teams most in need of a significant hike in next season's salary-cap ceiling. Feel free to weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section below. 

Calgary Flames

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    Derek Leung/Getty Images

    Payroll for 2016-17: The Calgary Flames currently have more than $48.1 million in salary-cap payroll invested in 14 players. 

    Key free agents: Forwards Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan (pictured above), along with Joe Colborne and Josh Jooris, are restricted free agents. Winger Jiri Hudler, defenseman Kris Russell and goaltenders Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo are unrestricted free agents.

    Analysis: The Flames re-signed defenseman Dougie Hamilton ($5.75 million annually) last summer to an expensive long-term contract coming out of his entry-level contract. They have little option but to pony up for young stars Gaudreau and Monahan. Hudler ($4 million) and Russell ($2.6 million) could seek significant raises to remain in Calgary. Replacements for Hiller and Ramo will also be costly. 

Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Rocky W. Widner/NHL/Getty Images

    Payroll for 2016-17: The Tampa Bay Lightning currently have more than $48.5 million in salary-cap payroll invested in 14 players.

    Key free agents: Center Steven Stamkos (pictured above) and defenseman Braydon Coburn are unrestricted free agents. Forwards Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn, Cedric Paquette, Vladislav Namestnikov and J.T. Brown are restricted free agents. 

    Analysis: The Lightning can afford to re-sign all but Coburn, but it could be tight. Stamkos could cost up to $11 million annually, taking up a considerable portion of their cap room. Killorn, Namestnikov and Brown have arbitration rights, which they could use as leverage for higher salaries. Considering Kucherov's linemates (Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat) earn $3.33 million annually, he'll likely seek the same. 

Los Angeles Kings

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    Payroll for 2016-17: The Los Angeles Kings' currently have more than $52.7 million in salary-cap payroll invested in 17 players. 

    Key free agents: Forwards Anze Kopitar and Milan Lucic (pictured above), defenseman Christian Ehrhoff and goaltender Jhonas Enroth are the Kings' notable unrestricted free agents. Defenseman Brayden McNabb is slated to become a restricted free agent.

    Analysis: Re-signing Kopitar ($6.8 million cap hit) and Lucic ($6 million, of which $2.75 million is retained by the Boston Bruins) could cost more than $16 million in combined cap salary. That won't leave much to re-sign or replace their other UFAs. The higher the cap rises next season, the better.

New York Rangers

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Payroll for 2016-17: The New York Rangers currently have more than $55 million of salary-cap payroll invested in 13 players. 

    Key free agents: Notable unrestricted free agents include defensemen Keith Yandle and Dan Boyle, backup goalie Antti Raanta and forward Dominic Moore. Restricted free agents include forwards Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller and blueliner Dylan McIlrath.

    Analysis: Boyle probably won't be re-signed, but retaining the rest will eat up a big chunk of their cap space. A new deal for Yandle could cost more than $6 million annually. If they part ways with him, a suitable replacement won't come cheap. Kreider ($2.475 million cap hit) and Miller ($874,000) have arbitration rights. Along with Hayes ($900,000), they'll seek significant pay increases. 

Washington Capitals

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Payroll for 2016-17: The Washington Capitals currently have more than $60.6 million in salary-cap payroll invested in 17 players. 

    Key free agents: Restricted free agents include forwards Marcus Johansson and Tom Wilson, along with defenseman Dmitry Orlov. Jason Chimera is their notable unrestricted free agents.

    Analysis: The Capitals have their core talent under contract, but re-signing Johansson, Wilson, Orlov and Chimera won't be inexpensive. Johansson ($3.75 million) and Orlov ($2 million) have arbitration rights and could seek significant pay bumps. Retaining all four won't leave much room to take on additional depth.

Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Payroll for 2016-17: The Pittsburgh Penguins currently have more than $61.7 million in salary-cap payroll invested in 14 players. 

    Key free agents: Notable unrestricted free agents include forwards David Perron and Matt Cullen, defensemen Ben Lovejoy and goaltender Jeff Zatkoff. Restricted free agents include forwards Beau Bennett and Sergei Plotnikov, along with blueliners Olli Maatta and Adam Clendening. 

    Analysis: The Penguins could also receive $3.75 million in additional cap space if necessary by placing winger Pascal Dupuis, whose career ended due to blood clots, on long-term injured reserve. Re-signing the promising (though oft-injured) Maatta is a priority. If management doesn't re-sign its UFAs, pursuing upgrades via free agency could be expensive. 

Philadelphia Flyers

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Payroll for 2016-17: The Philadelphia Flyers currently have more than $61.9 million of salary-cap payroll invested in 16 players. 

    Key free agents: Defenseman Luke Schenn and forwards Sam Gagner and Michael Raffl are unrestricted free agents. Center Brayden Schenn and blueliners Radko Gudas and Brandon Manning are slated to become restricted free agents. 

    Analysis: Of their restricted free agents, Schenn is the most expensive to re-sign. He's also got arbitration rights next summer. Sufficient cap space must be available to keep promising blueliners like Shayne Gostisbehere permanently on the roster. The Flyers could opt to replace their unrestricted free agents. Finding suitable options, however, will take up most of next season's already limited payroll. 

Chicago Blackhawks

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    Payroll for 2016-17: The Chicago Blackhawks currently have more than $65.4 million in salary-cap payroll invested in 17 players. 

    Key free agents: Restricted free agents include forwards Andrew Shaw and Marcus Kruger. Defenseman Michal Rozsival is their only notable unrestricted free agent.

    Analysis: The Blackhawks have all their core talent under contract for next season. However, Shaw ($2 million cap hit) and Kruger ($1.5 million) have arbitration rights next summer. They'll seek lucrative, long-term deals. The Blackhawks also need sufficient cap space to find a suitable replacement for the aging Rozsival. 

    Salary cap information via Cap Friendly.

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