NHL Teams That Could Shed Salary This Offseason

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistJune 7, 2016

NHL Teams That Could Shed Salary This Offseason

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    During the NHL general managers meetings last March, NHL.com's Dan Rosen reported the salary cap could rise from its current ceiling of $71.4 million to $74 million for 2016-17.

    Rosen noted that increase will depend upon the NHL Players Association voting to approve its 5 percent growth-factor clause. On June 4, Sportsnet's Joe Pack cited Elliotte Friedman reporting the possibility the salary cap could decline to below $70 million if the PA vote against that clause. 

    For teams with limited salary-cap space for next season, such as the Chicago Blackhawks (pictured above), even a marginal raise in the cap ceiling could force them to shed salary. 

    Here's a look at several NHL teams that could shed salary this offseason. Cap payroll for 2016-17, projected cap space under a flat cap, notable free agents and roster needs factored into this compilation. 

    Feel free to weigh in on this topic in the comments section below. 

Toronto Maple Leafs

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    The Toronto Maple Leafs have a salary-cap payroll of $64.2 million for 2016-17. 

    Unrestricted free agents include forwards Michael Grabner, Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau and Brad Boyes. They aren't expected to return next season. Restricted free agents include center Peter Holland, defensemen Frank Corrado and Martin Marincin, and goaltender Garret Sparks. 

    While the Leafs are rebuilding through the draft and their farm system, there's speculation they could pursue Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos via unrestricted free agency. 

    On May 9, Sportsnet's Luke Fox cited hockey analyst Ron MacLean saying he "definitely" believed the Leafs could chase Stamkos, a native of Markham, Ontario. He felt the Lightning superstar has the temperament to thrive in Toronto's demanding hockey market. 

    As one of the NHL's top stars, Stamkos could command over $10 million annually on a seven-year deal. If the Leafs are keen to sign him, they must free up the necessary salary-cap room.

    Right wing Nathan Horton (back injury) could remain sidelined for 2016-17. If so, the Leafs could free up his $5.3 million cap hit by placing him on long-term injured reserve at the start of next season.

    However, if the salary cap declines or remains around $71.4 million, they'll still need wiggle room to fill out the rest of their roster.

    Right wing Joffrey Lupul ($5.25 million cap hit) could be a trade candidate. However, he's frequently sidelined by injury and carries a modified no-movement clause.

    Center Tyler Bozak ($4.2 million cap hit, modified no-trade) could be a better option. Little-used defenseman Jared Cowen could be traded or bought out

Minnesota Wild

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    For 2016-17, the Minnesota Wild hold over $63.8 million in salary-cap payroll. 

    Notable restricted free agents include left wing Jason Zucker, defenseman Matt Dumba and goaltender Darcy Kuemper. All could be affordable re-signings, but they will use up most of their current cap space. One of them could be also traded this summer. 

    Forwards Jarret Stoll and David Jones are among the unrestricted free agents and aren't expected to return. 

    Offense was an issue for the Wild in 2015-16. Veteran forwards Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville (both 33) and 32-year-old left wing Thomas Vanek are in decline. Left wing Zach Parise was hampered last season by a back injury. 

    Boosting the Wild offense could require moving out some salary. 

    With one season remaining on his contract, Vanek could become a trade candidate. However, his $6.5 million cap hit, declining production and no-movement clause are stumbling blocks. A contract buyout before the end of June could be an option.

    The Wild have depth on defense to draw upon as trade bait. Jonas Brodin ($4.166 million annually through 2020-21) or Marco Scandella ($4 million per season through 2019-20) could be peddled in exchange for a scoring forward. 

New York Rangers

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    The New York Rangers aren't as strapped for salary-cap space as some on this list. They have over $56 million invested in their 2016-17 cap payroll. 

    Notable unrestricted free agents include forwards Eric Staal and Dominic Moore, as well as defensemen Dan Boyle and Keith Yandle. Forwards Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes are their key restricted free agents. 

    The Rangers have the cap space to re-sign Kreider ($2.475 million cap hit in 2015-16), Miller ($874,000) and Hayes ($900,000). However, it could cost over $8 million to retain them.

    Re-signing those three could complicate efforts to re-sign or replace Yandle. The 29-year-old is their best puck-moving blueliner. He's completing a five-year deal worth an annual cap hit of $5.25 million. He could seek a long-term deal worth over $6.5 million per season.

    With the Blueshirts' Stanley Cup window closed, general manager Jeff Gorton could shake things up this summer. That means shipping out one or more of their high-salaried veterans to free up cap space and to add younger, affordable talent.

    On May 21, Sportsnet's Rory Boylen cited insider Elliotte Friedman claiming the Rangers could be willing to trade top-line left wing Rick Nash "under the right circumstances." Nash carries a $7.8 million annual cap hit through 2017-18 with a modified no-trade list. 

    On June 4, TSN insider Bob McKenzie (via The Score's Jason Cuthbert) claimed most of the Rangers' expensive stars, including Nash and centers Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard, could be available. Only goalie Henrik Lundqvist and perhaps captain Ryan McDonagh are believed to be untouchable. 

Philadelphia Flyers

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    The Philadelphia Flyers go into this offseason with over $63.8 million invested in their cap payroll for 2016-17. They're currently retaining $2.25 million of former Flyers forward Vincent Lecavalier's salary.

    On April 24, NHL.com's Abbey Mastracco reported Lecavalier intends to retire. That should clear his retained salary from the Flyers' books.

    Unrestricted free agents include forwards Sam Gagner and Ryan White, who could be affordable re-signings. Center Brayden Schenn and defenseman Radko Gudas head their list of restricted free agents. 

    With 26 goals and 59 points in 2015-16, the 24-year-old Schenn is in line for a substantial raise over his current $2.5 million annual cap hit. The Flyers must also make room for promising young defensemen Ivan Provorov and Samuel Morin. 

    Buying out aging winger R.J. Umberger ($4.6 million cap hit) is one option. Another could be shopping veteran defenseman Mark Streit.

    The 38-year-old Streit has one season left on his contact at a cap hit of $5.25 million. He also carries a modified no-trade clause. Despite his age, however, Streit could have value among clubs lacking blue-line depth that also need to reach the salary-cap floor.  

    Right wing Matt Read ($3.625 million cap hit) is another trade possibility. His numbers have eroded in recent seasons. He's under contract through 2017-18 and lacks a no-trade clause. 

Los Angeles Kings

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Kings have over $67.6 million in projected salary-cap payroll for 2016-17. On April 24, NHL.com's Abbey Mastracco reported center Vincent Lecavalier intends to retire. That will provide the Kings with an additional $2.25 million for next season. 

    Of their unrestricted free agents, the notables include forwards Milan Lucic, Kris Versteeg and Trevor Lewis, along with defenseman Luke Schenn and backup goalie Jhonas Enroth.  

    On May 6, Elliott Teaford of the Daily Breeze (via the Los Angeles Daily Newsreported Kings general manager Dean Lombardi claimed to be further along in contract talks with Lucic. A month later, however, agent Gerry Johansson told Vancouver radio station News 1130 he'd had no recent talks with the Kings. 

    Lucic is among the league's best power forwards. He's completing a three-year, $18 million contract. Re-signing him means freeing up some salary to absorb his new cap hit. 

    A trade possibility is left wing Dustin Brown. On May 27, TSN's Frank Seravalli reported the Kings informed the 31-year-old he was no longer the team captain. On June 2, Seravalli included Brown on his list of this summer's potential trade candidates. 

    In recent years, Brown's offensive production steadily declined. Shedding his $5.875 million annual cap hit would provide the Kings with much-needed cap room. But with six years left on his contract and a modified no-trade clause, finding suitors could be difficult. 

    Another option could be right wing Marian Gaborik. His $4.875 million cap hit is a little cheaper than Brown's, and he lacks a no-trade clause. However, the 34-year-old has five years remaining on his contract. He also has a lengthy injury history. 

Columbus Blue Jackets

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    The Columbus Blue Jackets enter the offseason with over $66.5 million invested in salary-cap payroll for 2016-17. Fortunately, they don't have a lot of free agents to re-sign. However, it could still prove costly to retain those key players. 

    Defenseman Seth Jones and center William Karlsson are their only notable restricted free agents. Unrestricted free agent left wing Rene Bourque isn't expected to be re-signed. 

    Jones, acquired from the Nashville Predators in a midseason trade, is their priority signing. The 21-year-old blueliner quickly became a key part of the Blue Jackets lineup, blossoming into a top-pairing defender.  He's completing a three-year entry-level contract. 

    The Jackets could prefer re-signing Jones to a lengthy extension. Doing so, however, could cost upward of $6 million per season. To comfortably absorb that type of cap hit, they'll have to dump some salary. 

    On May 8, Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch reported the Blue Jackets attempted to trade left wing Scott Hartnell and defenseman Fedor Tyutin this season and could try again this summer. 

    Hartnell, 34, has three seasons left on his contract worth an annual cap hit of $4.75 million. Tyutin, 32, has two years left at $4.5 million. Both carry no-movement clauses, making them difficult (but not impossible) to trade. 

Chicago Blackhawks

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    The Chicago Blackhawks have over $66.9 million in projected cap payroll invested for 2016-17. 

    Restricted free agents include forwards Andrew Shaw and Richard Panik. Unrestricted free agents include forwards Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann, along with defensemen Michal Rozsival and Christian Ehrhoff. 

    Of these free agents, re-signing Shaw is the priority. A pesky and aggressive two-way forward, the 24-year-old center was an important part of the Hawks' Stanley Cup championships in 2013 and 2015. 

    Coming off a two-year, $4 million contract, Shaw has arbitration rights this summer. He could seek a more lucrative offer from the Blackhawks, perhaps over $3 million per season, on a long-term deal.

    On May 15, CSN Chicago's Charlie Roumeliotis cited a report from Scott Powers of the Athletic in which general manager Stan Bowman expressed confidence in re-signing Panik. The 25-year-old is completing a one-year, $975,000 deal and should be affordable to retain. 

    Re-signing Shaw and Panik, however, leaves no room to retain their unrestricted free agents. The most notable is forward Andrew Ladd, acquired in February from the Winnipeg Jets. 

    Given their limited cap resources, the Blackhawks could attempt to trade little-used left wing Bryan Bickell and his $4 million salary-cap hit. Failing that, Bickell could be bought out before the end of June.

Pittsburgh Penguins

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    The Pittsburgh Penguins have over $73.9 million invested in cap payroll for 2016-17. If the cap fails to increase to $74 million, they'll have no choice but to shed salary. Even if the ceiling rises, they lack sufficient room to work with for next season. 

    Notable restricted free agents include right wing Beau Bennett and defenseman Justin Schultz. Unrestricted free agents include center Matt Cullen and blueliner Ben Lovejoy. 

    NHL teams are allowed to exceed the cap ceiling during the offseason by up to 10 percent. They must be cap compliant when the season opens in October. 

    They'll receive $3.75 million of cap relief by placing all-but-retired winger Pascal Dupuis on long-term injured reserve next season. However, they'll have to free up additional space to re-sign or replace their free agents. 

    Rookie goaltender Matt Murray has taken over the starter's job from veteran Marc-Andre Fleury. The Penguins could free up cap space by trading the 31-year-old netminder and his $5.75 million annual average salary.

    Fleury's no-movement clause only covers waivers and demotions. He has a partial no-trade clause listing 18 preferred trade destinations. 

    Potential league expansion could also make Fleury a trade candidate this summer. Under expansion draft rules, teams can only protect one goaltender. 

    Player stats via NHL.com. Salary info via Cap Friendly