Ranking the 10 NHL Teams with the Worst Long-Term Salary Cap Issues

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistJuly 26, 2016

Ranking the 10 NHL Teams with the Worst Long-Term Salary Cap Issues

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    As the opening month of the NHL's 2016 free-agent period draws to a close, many teams have invested most of their available salary-cap space for 2016-17. Some, such as the Tampa Bay Lightning, have limited cap room for both next season and 2017-18.

    Those clubs will find it difficult to bolster their rosters over the course of 2016-17. They'll also be limited in their efforts to re-sign or replace key players next summer via trade or free agency. 

    The following slideshow ranks the 10 NHL teams with long-term salary-cap issues. We'll examine their respective cap payrolls over the next two seasons, with analysis of the factors that could affect their efforts to build or maintain a competitive roster. 

    Feel free to express your views on this topic in the comments section below. 

10. Minnesota Wild

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    Salary cap payrolls for 2016-17 and 2017-18

    For 2016-17, the Minnesota Wild have over $4.7 million in salary-cap room. They have over $57.4 million invested in 12 players for 2017-18.

    Notable free agents

    Defenseman Matt Dumba is their only unsigned free agent for next season. Forwards Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter and Erik Haula are among their restricted free agents next summer. Goaltender Darcy Kuemper is slated to become an unrestricted free agent. 

    Analysis

    How much Dumba receives on his next contract will reduce the Wild's remaining cap space for '16-'17. That could adversely affect efforts to promote players from within their system or to add depth through trades or the free-agent market.

    The Wild could also enter next summer with over $60 million invested in their cap payroll. If Granlund, Niederreiter and Haula significantly improve in 2016-17, they will seek generous pay raises. That could force the front office to make a cost-cutting move or two to free up cap space for those three. 

    On the other hand, if the Wild fail to improve next season under new head coach Bruce Boudreau, management could pare down payroll with a roster shakeup. Recently signed center Eric Staal could be left exposed in next year's expansion draft. 

9. Florida Panthers

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Salary cap payrolls for 2016-17 and 2017-18

    The Florida Panthers have over $4.3 million in cap space for the 2016-17 season. For 2017-18, they have over $60.4 million committed to 16 players. 

    Notable free agents

    Unrestricted free agents include forwards Jaromir Jagr and Shawn Thornton. Restricted free agents include left wing Jonathan Huberdeau and defensemen Mark Pysyk and Alex Petrovic

    Analysis

    The Panthers invested a considerable amount of payroll this summer in re-signing young stars such as defenseman Aaron Ekblad and forwards Reilly Smith and Vincent Trocheck. They also added veterans such as Keith Yandle, Jason Demers and James Reimer via free agency. 

    That spending spree, however, pushed up their payroll for 2017-18. Huberdeau could seek a deal comparable to linemate Aleksander Barkov ($5.9 million annually), which will bite deeply into that cap space. However, they could get some cap relief for '17-'18 if center Dave Bolland ($5.5 million) ends up on long-term injured reserve. 

    Should the Panthers' improvement of last season carry through into 2016-17, that limited cap space won't be much of an issue. Should they struggle, however, they won't have enough room to address any significant problem areas.  

    Like all the existing NHL franchises, the Panthers could turn to next summer's expansion draft as a means of shedding a contract. 

8. New York Islanders

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Salary cap payrolls for 2016-17 and 2017-18

    For 2016-17, the New York Islanders have over $3.6 million in salary-cap space. They have over $60.3 million invested in 18 players for 2017-18. 

    Notable free agents

    The Islanders still have to re-sign restricted free agent forward Ryan Strome this summer.

    Goaltender Thomas Greiss and forwards Cal Clutterbuck and Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau are eligible next summer for unrestricted free agency. Defenseman Calvin de Haan is slated to become a restricted free agent. 

    Analysis

    The Islanders have sufficient salary-cap space to re-sign Strome. However, it could leave them with perhaps around $1 million in available payroll for 2016-17.

    Of next summer's free agents, Greiss and de Haan are the likely priorities. There's enough space to retain them, though it could cost a combined $7.5 million. Factor in Strome's potential new deal, and there won't be much room next summer for other signings or to address roster weaknesses via trades or free agency.

    The Islanders could use the expansion draft to shed salary. Goaltender Jaroslav Halak ($4.5 million) could be left unprotected, provided he's not traded first. Forwards Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin could also become trade or expansion draft candidates. 

7. Los Angeles Kings

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Salary cap payrolls for 2016-17 and 2017-18

    The Los Angeles Kings have just over $1.1 million in salary-cap space for 2016-17. For 2017-18, they have over $58 million invested in 15 players.

    Notable free agents

    Wingers Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson are their top restricted free agents next summer. Forwards Dwight Kings and Teddy Purcell head the list of unrestricted free agents in 2017. 

    Analysis

    Given their limited salary-cap space for next season, the Kings won't take on additional salary this summer. Any trades could be dollar-for-dollar or shedding an expensive contract. 

    The Kings have sufficient cap room in '17-'18 to re-sign Toffoli and Pearson, but it could cost a combined $8 million. Should the salary cap only marginally rise over the current $73 million, they won't have much room to re-sign or replace other players. It could hamper efforts to boost their lineup via trades or free agency. 

    Next summer's expansion draft could help the Kings free up some cap room. They could leave an expensive forward such as Dustin Brown or Marian Gaborik unprotected, but there's no guarantee one of them is selected by the new Las Vegas franchise. 

6. New York Rangers

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Salary cap payrolls for 2016-17 and 2017-18

    For 2016-17, the New York Rangers have over $4.3 million in salary-cap room. They have over $60 million committed to 14 players for 2017-18. 

    Notable free agents

    Recently acquired center Mika Zibanejad is due to become a restricted free agent next summer. Forward Jesper Fast and defenseman Dylan McIlrath are also slated to become RFAs.

    Analysis

    Re-signing their restricted free agents shouldn't be a problem next summer for the Rangers. Even if those players exceed expectations, there's sufficient room to retain them. It could cost a combined $8 million to accomplish this. 

    The price of doing so, however, will use up a good chunk of their cap space for 2017-18. Another minimal increase in the league's cap ceiling could give the Rangers perhaps $8 million to re-sign or replace other players. It also won't leave them much to be active in next summer's free-agent market.

    Should the Rangers fail to improve in 2016-17, roster changes could be in store. The biggest could involve left wing Rick Nash, who'll be in the final year of his contract with a cap hit of $7.8 million. The Blueshirts could attempt to trade him or leave him exposed in next summer's expansion draft. 

5. Chicago Blackhawks

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Salary cap payrolls for 2016-17 and 2017-18

    The Chicago Blackhawks have over $2.3 million in salary-cap space for 2016-17. They also have nearly $58 million invested in 11 players for 2017-18. 

    Notable free agents

    Left wing and 2016 Calder Memorial Trophy winner Artemi Panarin is their top restricted free agent next summer. Backup goaltender Scott Darling, defenseman Brian Campbell and left wing Andrew Desjardins are their unrestricted free agents of note in 2017.

    Analysis

    The Blackhawks' primary signing will be Panarin. If the 24-year-old follows up last season's 77-point performance with a strong sophomore campaign, he'll be in line for a substantial raise on a long-term deal. 

    Factoring in Panarin's base salary and bonuses, his current annual average value is $3.5 million. Another 70-plus point season could push his asking price to well over $6 million annually.  Should there be another modest increase in the NHL cap ceiling, the Blackhawks could have around $10 million in cap space after re-signing Panarin.

    That won't leave much room to re-sign their other notable free agents or to strengthen their roster via trades or free agency. Many of their high-salaried players have no-movement clauses, preventing them from being exposed in the expansion draft. 

4. Washington Capitals

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Salary cap payrolls for 2016-17 and 2017-18

    For 2016-17, the Washington Capitals have over $3.4 million in salary-cap room. They have over $50 million committed to 11 players for 2017-18. 

    Notable free agents

    Unrestricted free agents include defenseman Karl Alzner and forwards T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams. Among their restricted free agents are backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer and forwards Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky. 

    Analysis

    If the Capitals are going to stage a serious run for the Stanley Cup with their current roster, next season is the time to do it. At the current salary-cap ceiling, the Capitals have around $22 million in cap space to re-sign their key free agents next summer. They can't afford to keep them all. 

    Kuznetsov, Oshie and Alzner could be re-signed, however, they'll seek expensive raises that could take up most of that cap space. If so, the Capitals won't have much room to retain other free agents or to bring in replacements. 

    They will lose one player to next summer's expansion draft. It could cost them a quality depth player, such as rugged winger Tom Wilson or defenseman Dmitry Orlov. 

3. Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Salary cap payrolls for 2016-17 and 2017-18

    For 2016-17, the Columbus Blue Jackets have over $4.4 million in salary-cap space. They have over over $65.3 million tied up in 15 players for 2017-18. 

    Notable free agents

    Center Gregory Campbell and backup goalie Curtis McElhinney are among their three unrestricted free agents. Center Alexander Wenneberg is their sole restricted free agent. 

    Analysis

    The good news for the Blue Jackets is they don't have a lot of key players to re-sign next summer. There's sufficient space to re-sign the promising Wenneberg and to retain or replace Campbell and McElhinney. 

    On the other hand, the Jackets haven't left themselves much room next summer to address any significant roster issues that could arise in 2016-17. Should the Jackets fail to make substantial improvement this coming season, they could shake things up with some salary-dumping deals. 

    Veteran forwards Scott Hartnell ($4.75 million annually) or center Brandon Dubinsky ($5.85 million) could hit the trade block, though their no-movement clauses make them difficult to move. Defenseman Jack Johnson could be shopped or left exposed in next summer's expansion draft. 

2. Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Salary cap payrolls for 2016-17 and 2017-18

    For 2016-17, the Pittsburgh Penguins have over $75.7 million invested in their salary-cap payroll. That puts them over $2.7 million above the $73 million cap ceiling. For 2017-18, they have over $56.3 million committed to 13 players. 

    Notable free agents

    Defenseman Trevor Daley and forwards Chris Kunitz and Nick Bonino are slated to become unrestricted free agents in 2017. Restricted free agents include goaltender Matt Murray, defensemen Justin Schultz and Brian Dumoulin and right wing Conor Sheary. 

    Analysis

    The Penguins have until the start of 2016-17 to become cap compliant. They'll likely achieve this by placing right wing Pascal Dupuis and his $3.75 million cap hit on long-term injured reserve.

    Still, that move won't leave them much room to promote from their farm team or to pursue a free agent. Any trade will have to be dollar-for-dollar or shipping out a pricey contract. 

    Of their free agents, re-signing Murray, Dumoulin and Bonino are the likely priorities. It could cost $10 million to retain the trio. 

    The Penguins could move out some salary via next summer's expansion draft. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury could be left unprotected if he agrees to waive his no-movement clause. He could also be dealt at some point this season in a cost-cutting deal. 

1. Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Salary cap payrolls for 2016-17 and 2017-18

    The Tampa Bay Lightning have over $8.5 million in available cap space for 2016-17. They also have over $53 million invested in 12 players for 2017-18.

    Notable free agents

    The Lightning still have to re-sign restricted free agents Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov and Nikita Nestorov this summer. 

    Next summer, forwards Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin are their top restricted free agents. Goaltender Ben Bishop and center Brian Boyle are eligible for unrestricted free agency. 

    Analysis

    Of the Lightning's trio of remaining free agents this summer, Kucherov will be the most expensive to re-sign. It could cost up to $6.5 million annually on a long-term deal. Factor in new deals for Namestnikov and Nesterov, and the Lightning payroll for 2017-18 will rise to over $60 million. 

    On July 17, Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times reported Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman acknowledged a trade might be necessary to free up sufficient room to re-sign those three. Jones suggested center Valtteri Filppula ($5 million cap hit) or defenseman Jason Garrison ($4.6 million) could become trade candidates. 

    It could also cost the Lightning over $12 million to re-sign Johnson and Palat. A strong performance by Drouin in 2016-17 could have him seeking a rich new deal. If there's another marginal increase in the NHL cap ceiling next summer, management will have little choice but to shed additional salary. 

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