Today marks the first day of the second half of the season, whether it feels like it or not. The 2021-22 campaign began on October 12, 2021, which was 100 days ago, half of this year’s 200-day NHL season. Despite that, teams like the New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators have played just 32 of a scheduled 82 games, less than 40 percent of their season. In fact, only the Tampa Bay Lightning, Nashville Predators, and Anaheim Ducks have reached the halfway point in terms of games played, with most teams falling somewhere between 35-38 because of the hundred-plus postponed games in the early part of the season.
With that in mind, there is actually an interesting opportunity for teams that have a condensed schedule in the coming months. Since a player’s cap hit is applied to a team’s finances on a daily basis, anyone acquired today would be added at half of their original average annual value. That is to say, as PuckPedia explains on Twitter, a player with a full-season cap hit of $5MM would only need $2.5MM in cap space from here on out. With more than 60 percent of the games left for some teams, that offers some increased value for any acquisition—basically, they’ll play in more games for the new team than they’re paid for.
There could even be more savings if a team waited until the optimal time. Take the Islanders for example, who like the rest of the NHL had their February Olympic break filled up yesterday with the revised schedule. The team has seven more games before the All-Star break, at which point they will be off for another week. As they head into their February 9 game against the Vancouver Canucks, 120 of 200 days will have passed in the NHL season—60 percent—yet they will have played only 39 games out of 82, not quite 48 percent of the schedule.
While the Islanders are still struggling to even get above .500 and may not be the most likely to take advantage of this opportunity, it is present for other contenders as well. The Minnesota Wild have played just 35 games to this point, the Carolina Hurricanes and Boston Bruins just 36. With some smart maneuvering, these teams could get more than half a season of performance from a new player, while paying him quite a bit less.
This opportunity is most apparent for teams that have been able to stay out of long-term injured reserve, accruing cap space all season. The Wild, for instance, are on track to have more than $15MM in deadline cap space according to CapFriendly, obviously enough to add several impact players. The Bruins meanwhile will have more than $8.2MM in deadline cap space, and have played fewer games than all of the other contenders in the Atlantic Division.
In a league where every single dollar has come into focus during a flat-cap period, any advantage is important. For some teams, adding reinforcements for what will be a war of attrition down the stretch could come at a considerable financial bargain.