Ranking the 10 NHL Teams with the Best Salary-Cap Situation

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistMarch 7, 2016

Ranking the 10 NHL Teams with the Best Salary-Cap Situation

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    Alan Diaz/Associated Press

    During the upcoming playoffs, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman will make his annual announcement of the league's salary-cap structure for the 2016-17 season.

    It's unlikely we'll see much of a change from this season's cap ceiling of $71.4 million, as the weakening of the Canadian dollar during the first half of the 2015-16 season has affected revenues. At the league's board of governors' meetings in December, Bettman said next season's ceiling "will be somewhere around between where it is and another $3 million, plus or minus a little," according to Dan Rosen of NHL.com.

    A bigger increase, if it happens, may give some big-spending teams a little more flexibility to make offseason moves. But now the trade deadline has passed, we're starting to see which teams will have the best opportunities to sign players and make effective trades during the offseason.

    The focus of this article is on cap space and the flexibility it affords, which means you'll see a lot of this year's non-playoff clubs on the list. Click through for the 10 teams with the best salary-cap positions heading into the offseason.

10. Tampa Bay Lightning

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    John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

    Roster Players Under Contract for 2016-17: 6 forwards, 6 defense, 2 goaltenders

    Roster Spaces to Fill: 9

    Cap Space Committed: $51.3 million

    Notable Free Agents

    • Alex Killorn, Cedric Paquette, Nikita Kucherov, Nikita Nesterov (RFA)
    • Steven Stamkos (UFA)

    Offseason Wishlist: The Tampa Bay Lightning will dictate how the NHL's free-agent market plays out this summer once it's determined whether the team can come to terms with impending free agent and team captain Steven Stamkos.

    General manager Steve Yzerman has at least $20 million in cap space to play with, but he has a long list of young restricted free agents to bring under contract as well as his star, Stamkos. Fans are learning Yzerman has a ruthless streak as a GM, most recently demonstrated in his handling of holdout Jonathan Drouin.

    If Stamkos wants to return to his hometown of Toronto as a Maple Leaf, Yzerman probably has no way of stopping him—unless, perhaps, the Lightning go on another long playoff run and the captain plays a pivotal role in his team's success.

    Keeping Stamkos will make the summer budget tight for the Lightning. If he moves on, the team should easily be able to re-sign its younger players and possibly even make a move or two at the lower end of the free-agent market.

9. Ottawa Senators

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Roster Players Under Contract for 2016-17: 10 forwards, 5 defense, 2 goaltenders

    Roster Spaces to Fill: 6

    Cap Space Committed: $53.2 million

    Notable Free Agents

    • Mike Hoffman, Alex Chiasson, Cody Ceci, Patrick Wiercioch (RFA)
    • Chris Phillips (UFA)

    Offseason Wishlist: The Ottawa Senators took a big step toward rebuilding their porous blue line when they acquired defenseman Dion Phaneuf from the Toronto Maple Leafs in early February. Over the summer, general manager Bryan Murray's biggest task will be coming to terms with his young restricted free agents, most notably Mike Hoffman, who leads the team with 25 goals after receiving a $2 million, one-year deal in arbitration last summer.

    The Sens have the cap space to bring back Hoffman and their other RFAs but will be bound, as usual, by their own internal salary cap.

8. Winnipeg Jets

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

     Roster Players Under Contract for 2016-17: 10 forwards, 6 defense, 1 goaltender

    Roster Spaces to Fill: 6

    Cap Space Committed: $50.9 million

    Notable Free Agents

    • Jacob Trouba, Mark Scheifele (RFA)

    Offseason Wishlist: The Winnipeg Jets set the stage to try to lock down young stars Trouba and Scheifele with their trade-deadline deal that moved impending unrestricted free agent Andrew Ladd to the Chicago Blackhawks.

    The Jets have consistently operated well below the salary cap since moving to Winnipeg five seasons ago, but they'll need to open the vault if they hope to lock down Trouba and Scheifele rather than signing them to lower-value, shorter-term bridge deals and risking the possibility they'll cost even more a couple of years down the line.

    With a cap cushion that will exceed $20 million this summer, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff shouldn't be squeezed when it comes to making his deals, but he won't have much money left over to consider taking on additional salary through trades or free-agent signings.

7. New Jersey Devils

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Roster Players Under Contract for 2016-17: 5 forwards, 4 defense, 2 goaltenders

    Roster Spaces to Fill: 12

    Cap Space Committed: $38.7 million

    Notable Free Agents 

    • Kyle Palmieri, Devante Smith-Pelly (RFA)
    • Tuomo Ruutu, Patrik Elias, Jiri Tlusty (UFA)

    Offseason Wishlist: Much like last season, general manager Ray Shero will get to start with an almost clean slate when he begins his offseason shopping for the New Jersey Devils.

    Shero did well during the summer of 2015 with free-agent signing Lee Stempniak, who was flipped to the Boston Bruins at the trade deadline after picking up 41 points in 63 games with the Devils.

    This season, the Devils go into the offseason with just four playing forwards under contract—Mike Cammalleri, Travis Zajac, Adam Henrique and 21-year-old Joseph Blandisi. Five young RFA forwards will also need to be signed.

    Beyond that, Shero will once again find himself scouring the summer free-agent lists to see whether he can find more bargains who could help the Devils match the unexpected success they have achieved this season.

6. Arizona Coyotes

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

     Roster Players Under Contract for 2016-17: 7 forwards, 3 defense, 1 goaltender

    Roster Spaces to Fill: 12

    Cap Space Committed: $33.0 million

    Notable Free Agents

    • Tobias Rieder, Michael Stone, Connor Murphy, Louis Domingue (RFA)
    • Shane Doan, Boyd Gordon (UFA)

    Offseason Wishlist: With only $33 million committed for the 2016-17 season, the Arizona Coyotes will be required to spend at least $19.8 million to reach the salary-cap floor—and that number is likely to rise to some degree.

    With 12 roster spots to fill, though, that's an average of less than $2 million per player, which should certainly be achievable.

    Eleven existing members of the club will be restricted free agents this summer. All will be in line for raises of at least 10 percent if their services are retained—and some will deserve even more.

    General manager Don Maloney should also take a serious look at bringing back captain Shane Doan for at least one more year. At 39, Doan has spent his entire career with the franchise, dating all the way back to the 1995-96 Winnipeg Jets, but his value is about more than nostalgia.

    This season, Doan leads his team and is tied for 19th in the league with 24 goals.

5. Vancouver Canucks

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Roster Players Under Contract for 2016-17: 10 forwards, 5 defense, 2 goaltenders

    Roster Spaces to Fill: 6

    Cap Space Committed: $56.2 million

    Notable Free Agents

    • Sven Baertschi, Linden Vey (RFA)
    • Dan Hamhuis, Radim Vrbata (UFA)

    Offseason Wishlist: After a rough transition year that sees them flirting with a top-five position in the draft lottery instead of a playoff berth, the Vancouver Canucks' management team is squarely focused on continuing to draft and develop the team's young players and making a splash in free agency.

    The Canucks' biggest need is on defense, but the names that keep coming up as potential UFA targets are Milan Lucic, a Vancouver native who played under now-Canucks general manager Jim Benning when both men were with the Boston Bruins, and the high-priced Steven Stamkos.

    They'll have the cap space by summer, but it'll take a heck of a sales job for the Canucks to convince any top-level free agent to join their rudderless team. They may have better luck focusing on unearthing hidden talent such as defenseman Ben Hutton, a fifth-round draft pick from 2012 who quickly became a blue-line mainstay this season after three years of college.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

    Roster Players Under Contract for 2016-17: 13 forwards, 3 defense, 1 goaltender

    Roster Spaces to Fill: 6

    Cap Space Committed: $54.2 million

    Notable Free Agents

    • Nazem Kadri, Morgan Rielly (RFA)
    • Michael Grabner, P.A. Parenteau (UFA)

    Offseason Wishlist: Year 1 of the Toronto Maple Leafs' rebuild under Mike Babcock is winding to a close, and the team is in excellent position to make a splash at the draft lottery in April.

    Unless they are traded during the offseason, the Leafs should have injured forwards Tyler Bozak, Joffrey Lupul and James van Riemsdyk back in the lineup next year. The team's big gaps are on the blue line, where Jake Gardiner and Matt Hunwick are the only regulars signed for 2016-17.

    Morgan Rielly is the only RFA defenseman who should be in line for a raise beyond the league minimum. There's room for Lou Lamoriello to use some of his available cap space to get stronger on the back end—and perhaps throw that Hail Mary pass for Stamkos—before the new season begins.

3. Edmonton Oilers

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    Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

    Roster Players Under Contract for 2016-17: 12 forwards, 6 defense, 2 goaltenders

    Roster Spaces to Fill: 3

    Cap Space Committed: $58.7 million

    Notable Free Agents

    • Zack Kassian (RFA)
    • Nikita Nikitin (UFA)

    Offseason Wishlist: The Edmonton Oilers have good depth in their star-studded top six but continue to seek out quality blueliners and depth forwards to help turn the team around. 

    With well over $20 million in available cap space and all their key players locked up, the Oilers are in position to make some high-voltage offseason deals before moving into their brand-new arena, Rogers Place, in October. Nail Yakupov, chosen first overall in 2012, remains one of the most likely players to be moved.

2. Florida Panthers

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Roster Players Under Contract for 2016-17: 10 forwards, 5 defense, 2 goaltenders

    Roster Spaces to Fill: 6

    Cap Space Committed: $47.9 million

    Notable Free Agents

    • Erik Gudbranson, Vincent Trocheck (RFA)
    • Jaromir Jagr, Brian Campbell, Willie Mitchell (UFA)

    Offseason Wishlist: The Florida Panthers' playoff achievements this campaign will determine how the club spends its money in the offseason. Some funds will need to be allocated for impressive young players such as Gudbranson and Trocheck, while the veterans could be set free if there's an early ouster—or brought back if the team goes on a successful postseason run.

    Whatever happens, the Panthers will have more than $20 million to spend on just six roster spots if they choose to do so—plenty of coin to give the fast-rising team another upgrade heading into 2016-17.

1. Carolina Hurricanes

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    John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

    Roster Players Under Contract for 2016-17: 7 forwards, 6 defense, 1 goaltender

    Roster Spaces to Fill: 9

    Cap Space Committed: $39.1 million

    Notable Free Agents

    • Victor Rask, Joakim Nordstrom (RFA)
    • Cam Ward (UFA)

    Offseason Wishlist: The Carolina Hurricanes will gain more than $14 million in salary-cap flexibility in the offseason without the contracts of goaltender Cam Ward ($6.3 million cap hit) and traded former captain Eric Staal ($8.25 million cap hit), but the team will also lose its last remaining ties to the group that brought the Stanley Cup to the Tar Heel State back in 2006.

    With only 14 players under contract for next season, the Hurricanes have been selling off assets for a couple of years. With more than $30 million in available cap space, they have a massive opportunity to reinvent themselves—especially if they're willing to go after a marquee free agent or take on a big contract.

    First off, they'll need to secure a starting goaltender. After that, the Canes are in position to be impact players during the offseason if they choose to go that route.

    All roster and salary-cap information courtesy of General Fanager. Stats courtesy of NHL.com, current through games Sunday, Mar. 6.


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