Have you heard the news? The National Hockey League salary cap is going up again! Well, okay, the numbers keep on going up year after year. But this increase will be a blessing for many NHL teams.
In 2005, a salary cap was established for the first time in the NHL. This came after an entire year where the NHL and the NHLPA disputed the existence of a salary cap, ultimately resulting in the cancellation of an entire season.
The cap has gone up gradually over the years. It was $39 million in 2005-06 and eventually grew to $64.3 million by 2013-14. It has grown quickly, increasing by about $5 million per year in its first two years.
The cap was down to $60 million in 2012-13 due to the lockout that cancelled half the season. Teams could still spend up to $70.2 million as the salaries were pro-rated that year. This year's cap of $64.3 million is back to the NHL's old standard.
The 2014-15 cap is expected to be around $71 million. So, how does this get calculated? According to the new CBA, players and teams split all hockey related revenue 50/50. The salary cap will be 15% over the midpoint of the projected salary range and the floor will be around 15% below. Therefore, teams must spend a minimum of around $52 million and up to $71 million based on projections for the 2014-15 season.
With that in mind, let's take a look at which teams are going to be open for free agency based on this new salary cap. Important moves are bound to be made considering some of the big-name free agents hitting the market after this season. As of January 15, 2014, there are fifteen players making $5 million or more who will be free agents at the end of the season including Marián Gáborík ($7.5 million), Dany Heatley (also $7.5 million) and Joe Thornton ($6 million).
Note: This is all in accordance with the $71 million projection; the final totals could be slightly different depending on how the cap changes.
10 Ottawa Senators - Cap Space: $24.3 million
The Ottawa Senators are trying hard right now to get a playoff spot for the third straight year. The Sens don't have many big-name players to consider resigning and have $24.3 million in cap space to use. The bigger question will come in 2015 when Jason Spezza and Bobby Ryan, two top players who make a combined total of around $12 million in a year, will resign. One thing is for certain; the Senators don't have to pay lots of money for Daniel Alfredsson anymore. He's getting $5.5 million from the Detroit Red Wings right now if you include the $2 million bonus that the team is paying him. The Sens have it easy for now but they'll have to plan for the future if they want to have any success.
9 San Jose Sharks - Cap Space: $25.1 million
The San Jose Sharks have reached the playoffs nine straight times and are expected to do so again in 2014. But what is it going to take for the Sharks to finally get over the hump and reach the Stanley Cup Finals? The Sharks are well-stocked for the future with sixteen players guaranteed to be there in 2014-15. However, around $18.5 of their $25.1 million in cap space for the year could be consumed by the salaries of three players. Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle are all making at least $6 million each in deals that are set to expire this year. And it's only a matter of time before Tomas Hertl starts asking for more than a $1 million per year. It's time for the Sharks to make a move. But will their top players be around to see it happen?
8 Montreal Canadiens - Cap Space: $27.6 million
Would you want to wear the bleu, blanc et rouge for the Montreal Canadiens? You might be on a historic franchise while playing in front of sold-out crowds at the Bell Centre, but Canadiens fans are known for being hostile and tough on their team. The Habs have $27.6 million in cap space for the 2014-15 season, so they could potentially be looking to sign some free agents, particularly a much-needed big winger to bolster their struggling and undersized offense. The Habs are expected to resign P.K. Subban at a value of at least double the $3.75 million he has now. Andrei Markov, who is currently making $5.75 million, could be a different story. The Habs will have to decide now long they wish to secure the 35-year-old defenseman.
7 New York Rangers - Cap Space: $31.9 million
Who wouldn't want to play for an Original Six team at Madison Square Garden? Eapecially when you're making $7.8 million per year like Rick Nash or $9 million like Brad Richards. However, you'd also have to bear with extreme amounts of pressure from Rangers fans and even more pressure from the infamous New York sports media. It's been twenty years since the Rangers' last Stanley Cup and they might spend quite a bit of their $31.9 million in cap space to improve the team. Of course, the Rangers' big pockets have kept Ryan Callahan from leaving with his $4.8 million salary; although trade rumors are flying. Dan Girardi, who makes $3.4 million this year, could also be heading out of the Big Apple after this season.
6 Edmonton Oilers - Cap Space: $33.7 million
Apparently having three straight #1 picks doesn't do much. The Edmonton Oilers haven't reached the playoffs since 2006 and fans are disgruntled as they're continuing the trend of Alberta's incompetence on the ice. The Oilers have at least got Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for $6 million per year each for the next six years. Much of the $33.7 million cap space for the Oilers comes from how only two of the team's active defensemen are signed beyond this year. Andrew Ference will still be there but Nick Schultz could head out and take his $3.6 million pricetag elsewhere as he is unrestricted after this season. The big question at this point is whether or not the Oilers can actually get back into the playoffs off of youth and prospective talent alone.
5 New York Islanders - Cap Space: $34.7 million
After reaching the playoffs for the first time in six years, the New York Islanders have fallen back to the bottom. 2015, the year they move to Brooklyn, can't come soon enough as no one really wants to head out to the Nassau Mausoleum to see games. Before moving out from a cramped arena (with a banner celebrating Billy Joel's 1998 world tour to the Barclays Center), they'll have $34.7 million in free space to work with. Who will want to play one final season in Uniondale before heading west into Brooklyn? Thomas Vanek, who makes $6.4 million per year, could be coaxed into returning. However, the Isles will have just one final cap hit of $2.2 in their buyout of Alexei Yashin's contract in 2014-15. Can you believe it's been almost seven years since he played in the NHL?
4 Colorado Avalanche - Cap Space: $35.1 million
The Colorado Avalanche are back in action! They've gone from having the top pick in the 2013 Draft to being in the running for the playoffs with a spot in the top three of the Central Division. Patrick Roy could potentially win the Jack Adams Award for his coaching efforts if the team continues its success in the postseason. However, the Avs will have to make a huge decision on two free agents, Paul Stastny and Ryan O'Reilly, two players who are making a combined total of $13.1 million. O'Reilly is a restricted free agent so the Avs have the first shot at him. Stastny is unrestricted and could go wherever he feels. Don't forget that the youngest team captain in NHL history, Gabriel Landeskog, will be paid $4.5 million next year instead of the $925,000 entry-level salary he has now.
3 Florida Panthers - Cap Space: $35.9 million
The Florida Panthers seem to be extremely comfortable with catering to the Canadian snow-birds that come out to the BB&T Center to see them play games in the awkwardly-aligned Atlantic Division. So, why not sign some high-name Canadian players to the team? The Panthers have $35.9 million for doing so. Patrick Marleau is a Saskatchewan native who's getting $6.9 million from the San Jose Sharks, so why not him? The Panthers don’t have to do much to reach the cap floor either, as they've got $40.4 million secured for 2014-15. Many of the free agents that the Panthers will lose unless they are resigned are lowly-paid ones like Mike Weaver at $1.1 million and Marcel Goc at $1.7 million. Don't forget, the Panthers also owe Filip Kuba $1.2 million next year from a buyout.
2 Calgary Flames - Cap Space: $37.7 million
The Calgary Flames are battling it out with the Oilers for the bottom of the Western Conference. Their home ice at the Scotiabank Saddledome is appropriately named because the Flames are banking $37.7 million in cap space. Mike Cammalleri is getting $7 million and will be walking unless the Flames choose to do something about it, which they probably won't. Along with Camy, Matt Stajan will be a UFA at the end of a season with his $3.5 million deal coming to an end. Fortunately for the Flames, Dennis Wideman is signed for three more years at $5.25 million per year.
1 Buffalo Sabres - Cap Space: $41.4 million
The Buffalo Sabres have been in the cellar for just about the entire NHL season and are favorites to have the top pick in the 2014 NHL Draft. While they'd pay approximately $925,000 for the top pick, as the Edmonton Oilers have done with Nail Yakupov and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the Sabres will still have more than enough money to play with, having $41.4 million in cap room. That’s loads of money for luring guys to wear those ugly yellow third jerseys... At least their logo doesn't look like an evil slug anymore. Goalie Ryan Miller, the only guy who seems to be trying lately, will be a free agent after being paid $6.25 million this season. Poor Cody Hodgson is signed until 2019.
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