10 NHL Teams Facing Long-Term Salary-Cap Concerns

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistMay 6, 2016

10 NHL Teams Facing Long-Term Salary-Cap Concerns

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The latest information has the 2016-17 salary cap coming in around $74 million, and that is going to be a problem for some NHL teams. Frank Seravalli of TSN quoted Bill Daly of the NHL in regard to the cap for next season, and there are teams who are in real trouble—next year, and beyond.

    Teams like the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings are facing problems due to their own ongoing success. The Pittsburgh Penguins have issues because Phil Kessel's addition makes them top heavy, and several other teams are facing tough decisions this summer.

    Projected cap space over the next two years, key free agents, roster depth, retirements and erosion due to age factored into this ranking. Here are the 10 teams with the biggest long-term cap concerns.

10. Detroit Red Wings

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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    Projected cap payrolls: The Detroit Red Wings have $56 million on the books for next season and $43 million for 2017-18. Both figures give them room to maneuver in each offseason.

    Key free agents: The Red Wings have two key restricted players this summer in defenseman Danny DeKeyser and goalie Petr Mrazek. Unrestricted free agents (UFAs) of note include Kyle Quincey and Darren Helm. In the offseason of 2017, Detroit will have to deal with UFA Brendan Smith and restricted free agent (RFA) Tomas Tatar.

    Analysis: Detroit has some major issues, beginning with Pavel Datsyuk's announced plans to head home to Russia—that story from Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press in April. His $7.5 million cap hit still counts toward the cap, and the Red Wings have to find a suitable replacement.

    Detroit may be forced to deal goalie Jimmy Howard and other prospects in order to find room for a substantial trade or free-agent addition. The Red Wings could make a play for Steven Stamkos but would have to make some other moves—like trading the Datsyuk contract—if they plan on making other improvements while signing their free agents.

9. St. Louis Blues

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Projected cap payrolls: The St. Louis Blues have over $58 million invested for 2016-17, giving them some cushion as we enter summer. The following year sees $37 million in cap, meaning St. Louis is in an enviable cap position over the next 14 months.

    Key free agents: The Blues will have plenty of decisions to make this summer. UFAs include David Backes and Troy Brouwer, while RFAs Jaden Schwartz and Magnus Paajarvi are due raises. Next summer, Kevin Shattenkirk, Alex Steen and Patrik Berglund will reach unrestricted free agency. RFAs in 2017 who will see spikes in pay include Colton Parayko and Jake Allen.

    Analysis: St. Louis has plenty of cap room but also has to make massive decisions on players like David Backes, Alex Steen and Kevin Shattenkirk over the next two summers. We could see a trade over the next two months—an example being Shattenkirk—in an effort to recoup some real value for a player the team may not retain due to the development of Parayko. This could be a big summer of upheaval in St. Louis, although winning a Stanley Cup may change plans that are currently in place.

8. Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Projected cap payrolls: The Tampa Bay Lightning's 2016-17 cap currently sits at $55 million, which suggests a lot of room this summer. For 2017-18, things look even better, with only $30 million spent at this time.

    Key free agents: The number of free agents employed by Tampa Bay is alarming. Steven Stamkos is the most famous, because he is unrestricted this summer. General manager Steve Yzerman also has a long list of restricted free agents this summer, including Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn, Vladislav Namestnikov. Next season's RFA list includes Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin.

    Analysis: The Lightning have a wonderful problem, in that their drafting and development have been outstanding over the last number of years. The problem comes in signing them all while staying under the cap. A player like Steven Stamkos should receive one of the largest contracts in the game, and long-term deals for men like Kucherov, Johnson and Drouin may cost very large sums.

    Signing all of these talents over many years would offer a great challenge, but in order to do it in two summers it is very likely Tampa Bay will have to trade some players and lose others outright to free agency.

7. New York Rangers

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    Projected cap payrolls: The New York Rangers' current cap number for 2016-17 is just over $55 million, giving the team a lot of wiggle room when it comes to adding assets and signing its own free agents. Its 2017-18 cap total is in the $53 million range, meaning New York is locked in for the next two seasons at a higher level.

    Key free agents: New York has several players heading to free agency, and it is not clear if the team will retain any of them. Keith Yandle and Eric Staal are unrestricted, while J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes and Chris Kreider will all be looking for raises. Next year, the Rangers have no major issues in free agency.

    Analysis: New York has a large group of players worth signing, including Yandle and all of the major restricted free agents. The problem comes with some of the major contracts already on the books from players who are not delivering performances comparable to their salaries. Those players are vulnerable to trade or buyout this summer. Names might include Rick Nash, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal.

6. Minnesota Wild

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    Projected cap payrolls: The Minnesota Wild have the 2016-17 cap at just over $63 million as they enter the offseason and $48 million for the season following.

    Key free agents: Matt Dumba, Darcy Kuemper and Jason Zucker are all restricted free agents this summer. Justin Fontaine is one of several role players who are unrestricted and will add to the cap crunch. In the summer of 2017, Minnesota will need to sign Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter and Erik Haula, who are all restricted and substantial parts of the club. 

    Analysis: The Wild lack cap room and may be forced to buy out winger Thomas Vanek this summer. Along with teams like the Chicago Blackhawks and the Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota has a lot of cap space tied up in just a few players. Combining the cap hits for Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Devan Dubnyk, Mikko Koivu, Jason Pominville, Jared Spurgeon and Vanek totals over $43 million. That leaves 16 players to share just over $30 million. Minnesota has some real issues, and buying out Vanek may be necessary this summer. 

5. Los Angeles Kings

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    John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

    Projected cap payrolls: The Los Angeles Kings have over $63 million in cap money spent for 2016-17. That number goes down to $56 million in 2017-18 and a little less than $50 million in the following year. 

    Key free agents: Milan Lucic is a free agent this summer, and the Kings are a perfect fit for his style. Trevor Lewis, Jhonas Enroth and Kris Versteeg are also in-house free agents of interest. In the summer of 2017, restricted free agents Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson will be looking for contracts.

    Analysis: The Kings are similar to the Chicago Blackhawks in terms of being top-heavy with their cap. Anze Kopitar's new contract—featuring a $10 million cap hit—takes effect this summer, and there are other expensive contracts on the roster. A player like Dustin Brown is no longer delivering at a level commensurate with his salary, but the modified no-trade portion of his deal makes a trade more difficult. Expect the Kings to flush at least one established veteran this summer.

4. Edmonton Oilers

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    Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

    Projected cap payrolls: The Edmonton Oilers are looking at $68 million on their cap for 2016-17 as summer arrives. That number falls to $46 million for the following season. 

    Key free agents: Edmonton has no big free-agent issues this summer but next year will see some major hurdles come into view. Leon Draisaitl and Griffin Reinhart will be eligible for their second contracts in the summer of 2017, and the team can negotiate with franchise cornerstone Connor McDavid at the same time. That contract is the biggest item on general manager Peter Chiarelli's calendar. 

    Analysis: The Oilers have a bunch of well-paid forwards and an extreme need for defense, but there isn't a lot of cap room. As much as fans would like Chiarelli to sign more free agents to help, the big contract negotiations for McDavid and Draisaitl will eat up much of the future cap. A trade seems obvious, and one of the expensive forwards could be heading out of Edmonton as early as this summer.

3. Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    Projected cap payrolls: The Columbus Blue Jackets are at over $67 million for 25 players for the 2016-17 season. There isn't much relief the following year, as Columbus is on the hook for over $60 million in 2017-18.

    Key free agents: Seth Jones is a key free agent—he is restricted—for this summer, and the team is likely to sign William Karlsson to a reasonable deal. There should be no pressing issues the following season, as Columbus has much of its roster signed long term.

    Analysis: The Blue Jackets are spending an enormous amount on players who are not productive. David Clarkson has a cap hit of $5.25 million and was not close to delivering on it. Jack Johnson has a cap hit over $4 million, but his offense fell off badly and Columbus is overpaying for performance at this point. Of all the teams in the NHL, the Blue Jackets may have the highest number of unproductive players making substantial money. Getting out of that situation will be difficult for management.

2. Chicago Blackhawks

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Projected cap payrolls: The Chicago Blackhawks are currently over $68 million in cap spending for next season, and over $56 million for the two seasons following. Most of Chicago's cap has been spent through the summer of 2019.

    Key free agents: Chicago enters the summer with a long list of free agents. The main unrestricted player of interest is Andrew Ladd, although RFA Andrew Shaw is likely the No. 1 signing target this summer. The big name for the summer of 2017 is Artemi Panarin, who will be looking for a major payday.

    Analysis: The obvious reaction to the Blackhawks' cap troubles is to assume the team is in trouble, but general manager Stan Bowman is a very innovative cap handler. It is likely we will see one of the expensive veterans heading out in a trade, although no-trade and no-movement clauses may make that difficult. Marian Hossa and Brent Seabrook are two candidates among several possible assets who could be moved. The twin $10.5 million contracts for Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane will begin to dominate these conversations about Chicago for years to come. 

1. Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

    Projected cap payrolls: The Pittsburgh Penguins have over $71 million on the books for 2016-17, albeit with 25 players—roster limits are 23. There are even more problems after that, as the 2017-18 cap is over $56 million with a substantial number of players needing contracts by the summer of 2017.

    Key free agents: Pittsburgh has no major issues this summer in free agency. RFA Beau Bennett should return at a reasonable number, and players like Ben Lovejoy and Jeff Zatkoff should also be inexpensive deals. In the summer of 2017, Chris Kunitz, Nick Bonino and Trevor Daley will need new deals. 

    Analysis: The Penguins have so many players taking huge chunks of cap the team is top heavy and reaching a point where offseason improvement may be impossible. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury represent over $38 million in cap space—leaving about $36 million for the remaining 18 players. Pittsburgh has concentrated so much of its cap on the top end there is very little room for mid-level, complementary players. A trade of one of the major stars is likely in the next 18 months.

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