5 Cap-Strapped NHL Teams That Will Need to Make Trades This Offseason
The NHL's offseason business will begin soon after this year's Stanley Cup champion is crowned in July. Trade activity will renew, as all clubs will be allowed to make deals when the Final ends.
Those moves will include cost-cutting trades by teams with limited salary-cap space for next season. With the cap expected to remain at $81.5 million for 2021-22, CapFriendly shows six clubs with less than $10 million in projected cap space.
Not all of those teams will need to shed salary via trades. They could get some cap relief by losing a player to the Seattle Kraken in July 21's expansion draft. Some could buy out a player's contract. A few, like the Chicago Blackhawks, could get relief if necessary by placing permanently injured players on long-term IR.
Several teams, however, have little choice but to shed salary via offseason trades. A franchise sitting over next season's cap, such as the Tampa Bay Lightning, will have to pare down its payroll. Meanwhile, a club like the New York Islanders will need room to re-sign some key players.
Here are five such clubs.
New York Islanders
With a projected $81.48 million invested in 23 players for 2021-22, the New York Islanders are bumping up against the salary cap. However, general manager Lou Lamoriello can get $6 million in relief by placing permanently sidelined defenseman Johnny Boychuk (eye) on long-term IR.
However, the Islanders have three restricted free agents with arbitration rights in winger Anthony Beauvillier, defenseman Adam Pelech and goaltender Ilya Sorokin. The cost of inking them to new contracts should exceed that $6 million of long-term IR relief. Sorokin could ink an affordable short-term deal, but the other two will be more expensive.
Beauvillier, 24, is completing a two-year deal worth an annual cap hit of $2.1 million and could seek to double his money. The 26-year-old Pelech is coming off a four-year contract with an annual average value of $1.6 million, plus he's a year away from unrestricted free-agent eligibility. As one of the Isles' top-pairing defensemen, he could seek over $5 million per season on a long-term extension.
Even by losing a player to the Kraken in July, the Islanders could be faced with shedding a salary via trade. Depending on how much cap room the expansion draft frees up, Lamoriello could try to find a taker for a veteran such as Cal Clutterbuck ($3.5 million), Leo Komarov ($3 million) or Thomas Hickey ($2.5 million).
During his season-ending press conference on June 2, Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ron Hextall mentioned he would like to add some size and toughness to his roster this summer. He could trade a player to address that need depending on whom the Penguins lose to the Kraken.
Pittsburgh has $78.3 million invested in 19 players for next season. Re-signing restricted free-agent depth forwards Teddy Blueger and Zach Aston-Reese will chew up a good chunk of that remaining cap space, leaving little room to address their toughness issue.
Hextall indicated he's comfortable keeping this year's team together. Nevertheless, he'll be on the lookout for the right deal. If the Kraken select a lower-salaried player, he'll have to get creative in the trade market to find that suitable grittiness.
Pittsburgh Hockey Now's Dan Kingerski suggested making a pitch for a significant addition such as Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. Unless the Sabres agree to absorb part of his $5.4 million cap hit, Hextall would have to send another salaried player to the Sabres in that deal or trade one to another club in a separate cost-cutting move.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning have a star-studded lineup few clubs can rival. They paid a hefty price to compile that roster, with a final cap hit of $98.8 million for 2020-21. They exceeded the $81.5 million cap ceiling because general manager Julien BriseBois used the long-term IR to his advantage.
Nikita Kucherov was placed on the long-term IR after undergoing hip surgery in December. The winger missed the entire regular season, allowing the Lightning to exceed the cap by the equivalent of his $9.5 million annual average value. They gained additional cap relief by acquiring the contracts of permanently sidelined forward Marian Gaborik ($4.88 million) and goaltender Anders Nilsson ($2.6 million) from the Ottawa Senators.
BriseBois will need more creativity this offseason to ensure his club is cap-compliant when next season begins in October, as Tampa is already above the cap by $5.07 million with 19 players under contract.
The Lightning GM could get near the cap if the Kraken select someone like Spokane, Washington, native Tyler Johnson ($5 million annual cap hit). Nevertheless, he'll still need to make a trade or two to ensure sufficient cap room to ice a full 23-player roster.
The cost of re-signing young stars Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes could force Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning to make a salary-dumping deal. His club has $65.7 million tied up in 15 players for 2021-22, with Pettersson and Hughes coming off entry-level contracts. The youngsters' new combined cap hit could exceed $13 million.
Pettersson, 22, is tied with Bo Horvat for the team lead in total points (153) since 2018-19, and his stats would have been better if he hadn't suffered a season-ending upper-body injury in March. The 21-year-old Hughes, meanwhile, is fifth in total points (94) among NHL defensemen since 2019-20.
The Canucks could get $3.5 million in cap relief if winger Micheal Ferland (concussion symptoms) remains on long-term IR. They'll garner more immediate relief by losing a player in the expansion draft. Still, that might not be enough to re-sign Pettersson and Hughes and have enough room to fill out the remainder of the roster.
On May 28, Sportsnet's Iain MacIntyre reported Benning indicated contract buyouts would be part of their offseason approach. He also said he intends to be aggressive in the trade and free-agent markets. MacIntyre suggested trading forwards Antoine Roussel and Jay Beagle ($3 million each), even if it meant picking up half their annual cap hit.
Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin is slated to become an unrestricted free agent on July 28. He and general manager Brian MacLellan are confident they'll get a deal done before then. Doing so, however, could also mean shedding some salary to make room for his new contract.
Ovechkin is completing the 13-year, $124 million pact that he signed in the years before term limits were placed on player contracts in the 2013 collective bargaining agreement. The annual average value was $9.54 million.
Now 35 but still elite, Ovechkin could get a three- or four-year contract for around the same annual cap hit. The Capitals, however, already have $72 million committed to 18 players for 2021-22. Assuming they can squeeze their captain's new contract within the $81.5 million ceiling, they could dump a salary to free up space even after losing a player in the expansion draft.
Evgeny Kuznetsov could become a trade candidate if he's not left unprotected in the expansion draft and snapped up by the Kraken. The 29-year-old center surfaced in trade rumors prior to the playoffs. He has four years remaining on his contract with an annual average value of $7.8 million.