Despite taking on the expensive contract of Bryan Bickell in a deal with the Chicago Blackhawks that also netted the team young forward Teuvo Teravainen, the Carolina Hurricanes remain the only team in the league that is still projected to fall short of the NHL’s $54MM salary cap floor.
Bickell and Teravainen join Lee Stempniak and Viktor Stalberg as new acquisitions looking to make a difference in Raleigh this season. The Hurricanes finished tenth in the Eastern Conference last year and will return much of the team that got them to that point. Other than trade deadline departures Eric Staal, John-Michael Liles, and Kris Versteeg, the only major contributor to leave is Riley Nash, who signed with the Boston Bruins.
While Carolina hopes that their newest members are enough to put them over the top and get them into the playoffs, as of right now they are not enough to get them over the salary cap floor. As it stands right now, the Hurricanes have about 18 players under contract that are on one-way contracts or are a lock to make the 2016-2017 squad, and those players make up less than $50MM dollars in aggregate cap hit. The simple solution may be to just add from within. Last year’s breakout star and current restricted free agent Victor Rask did not file for arbitration by yesterday’s deadline, but the two sides are likely to agree on a multi-million dollar contract that will work towards the cap floor. Smaller cap hits such as that of restricted free agent defenseman Ryan Murphy or top prospects looking to earn a spot on the roster like Haydn Fleury, Sebastian Aho, and Aleksi Saarela will also help the Hurricanes inch toward the $54MM minimum.
However, if that is not enough to get them over the cap floor, the Hurricanes still have plenty of options left on the free agency market. A glaring hole on the roster right now is the lack of right-handed shooting forwards. The newly signed Lee Stempniak joins Elias Lindholm as the only experienced righties on the team as of now. Carolina could bring back a familiar face in Kris Versteeg (ranked 25th in our Top 50 Free Agents) or could look to add another veteran in Radim Vrbata (27), and both would likely cost $2MM+ on a one-year contract. If the Hurricanes are closer to the cap, they could take their chances on a cheap one-year deal for a veteran like Brad Boyes (47), Tyler Kennedy, or David Jones. However, with a young, rebuilding team, Carolina’s resources may be better spent on a younger player in need of a change in scenery, like Sam Gagner (46), Cody Hodgson, Ben Smith, or Stephen Gionta.
Teams never fail to find a way to get to the cap floor, even if it is through unique strategies. The Hurricanes are well aware of their salary cap situation, as evidenced by the Bickell trade, but remain a team to keep an eye on this off-season until the payroll is comfortably over $54MM.