All 30 NHL teams must be “cap compliant” before the first puck drops on the 2016-17 season this October. With the first month of the off-season on it’s way out, there are still players to be signed and trades to be made though. Many may think that the “buyers” would be those with plenty of cap space remaining and the “sellers” would be those over the cap or uncomfortably close to it. However, this is not always the case. Although the $73MM salary cap limit and $54MM salary cap floor allows teams plenty of flexibility as to how much they want to spend, those two values do not create an even distribution whatsoever. The “average” team expenditure in a balanced, bell curve distribution would be $63.5MM. Currently, there are only four teams with cap hits less than that: the Winnipeg Jets, the New Jersey Devils, the Calgary Flames, and the Carolina Hurricanes. Once the Flames re-sign restricted free agents Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, they will be closer to the limit than the average. The Jets also have RFA defenseman Jacob Trouba to sign and the Devils may still be considering bringing back veteran Patrik Elias or adding another forward, which could leave the Hurricanes as the lone team below the “average” cap hit mark.
Instead of looking at the average, assume that a majority of NHL teams will instead spend as close to the cap as they see fit, whether that means they have a self-imposed budget or are simply content with their present roster. The median cap hit more accurately shows which clubs remain in a position to add to their team before the season begins. The median, or “mid-point” of NHL spending as of now is approximately $69MM. Thus, teams below that mark have $4MM or more in cap space and have the flexibility to still be “buyers” this off-season if they so choose. The teams above that mark may still have needs and want to be “buyers”, but are in a more difficult position to do so. Those teams will likely have to send salary out in return in any trade or make some risky roster moves to incorporate a new signing, otherwise they could leave themselves with too little cap flexibility once the season begins.
Looking at the teams who are just below the median and have some room left under the cap, several can be counted out immediately. Many teams will use up much of their remaining cap space on re-signing their own restricted free agents, as the aforementioned Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets are joined by the Tampa Bay Lighting (Nikita Kucherov), Anaheim Ducks (Rickard Rakell and Hampus Lindholm), Ottawa Senators (Cody Ceci), and Buffalo Sabres (Rasmus Ristolainen). While each of those teams may end up having some space left to make an additional move, their focus will likely be on bringing back their own.
Buffalo, however, is an interesting case, as they wait for August 15th and a decision by college free agent Jimmy Vesey. The Boston Bruins, considered the top suitor for Vesey’s talents, are also below the median line and appear to be waiting to make any further moves until the Vesey decision is made. Once August 15th has passed, expect both Boston and Buffalo to be back working the phones looking for impact defenseman via trade or signing. The Edmonton Oilers should be right there with them, as could the Dallas Stars and New Jersey Devils. The Columbus Blue Jackets could be in the market for added depth, even after their reported signing of Sam Gagner is made official. Additional bodies up front may also be needed in Ottawa and Winnipeg, if they have the means to add it.
As for the teams that are already in a cap crunch, but hope to add to their teams, they’ll have to get creative. The Detroit Red Wings would like to add a top pairing defenseman, but it seems very unlikely given that they are already projected to be over $4MM over the salary cap. The San Jose Sharks and Toronto Maple Leafs both desperately need a reliable back up goalie, but neither have ample room to spend big on one. The Vancouver Canucks would really like to add a top six forward, but there may not be one to be found that can be squeezed in under the cap. PHR Top 50 Free Agents Kris Russell (#12), Jiri Hudler (#18), Radim Vrbata (#27), and Alex Tanguay (#33) could be had for a bargain price at this point, if the teams with more space and flexibility don’t scoop them up first.
The off-season is far from over and there are many teams still looking to add to their rosters for the coming season. Depth charts and salary cap numbers will continue to change, but you can always keep up with all of the news here at ProHockeyRumors.com