Looking at the NHL's Cap-Crunched Teams
The dust is starting to settle from NHL free agency, although a few big names – mainly Nazem Kadri – remain available.
We've also seen some trades; like always, many of those moves involved dumping salary. While more signings and trades will occur, several teams are in significant cap trouble.
According to CapFriendly, nine NHL teams are poised to spend over the salary cap in 2022-2023. Using LTIR, however, not all of those teams are in trouble…at least not yet, but these teams will be watching their cap closely this season, and will need to crunch the numbers if they intend to make any additions to their rosters.
Vegas Golden Knights
The acquisition of Shea Weber was a band-aid for an organization that can’t print money fast enough. They were forced to give away Max Pacioretty and throw in Dylan Coghlan to the Carolina Hurricanes for nothing, except the almost $8 million in cap relief it provided the team.
Unfortunately for Vegas, they aren’t out of the cap crunch yet. Already over the salary cap (although they’ll be compliant due to Weber’s relief), the Golden Knights only have two-thirds of a roster signed. They still have some meaningful RFA’s (Nicolas Hague, Keegan Kolesar, Nicolas Roy) to be signed, and have no room to make an in-season trade, unless it’s again shedding money…and talent. The clock is ticking for Vegas until this cap nightmare can no longer be avoided.
The main reason the Flyers missed out on Johnny Gaudreau is that they literally did not have the money.
The Flyers remain in salary cap trouble, with a projected cap hit over the ceiling according to CapFriendly. The biggest move Philadelphia could make to give themselves cap space moving forward is trading James van Riemsdyk. The 33-year-old is in the final season of his contract paying $7 million per year, and is destined for unrestricted free agency next summer. Moving van Riemsdyk might involve retaining salary, but he can help a playoff-bound team, and the Flyers can bank futures in return.
The move to acquire Ryan Ellis could help Philadelphia’s cap issues if he remains on LTIR, but if Ellis is fit to play, Philadelphia will need to make a move.
Any dream of Montreal adding a player like Pierre-Luc Dubois would need to involve salary going the opposite direction, and would potentially handcuff general manager Kent Hughes should another deal be needed.
The Canadiens are against the cap ceiling with only a few hundred thousand to spare. The lone RFA to sign is newly acquired Kirby Dach. Montreal will gain significant cap flexibility following this season with Jonathan Drouin, Jake Allen, Paul Byron, and Evgeni Dadonov poised to become unrestricted free agents. Those players total $16,775,000 in space about to become available.
A large portion of that will go to Cole Caufield, but Montreal’s cap issues seem temporary. The main question mark is the future of Carey Price. Until a long-term understanding of his situation becomes clear, the team will need to be wary of his $10.5 million salary.
Los Angeles Kings
Sitting with roughly $1.5 million in cap space, the Kings still have work to do this offseason, specifically in signing Sean Durzi and Michael Anderson. It will be impossible for Los Angeles to get both signed for what they have remaining. One method to find some temporary room is by burying overripe young players who remain waiver exempt in the minors.
Quinton Byfield, Rasmus Kupari, Jordan Spence, and Jacob Moverare all fit the bill, but at least a few of these players are in Los Angeles’ immediate plans and could help them at the NHL level.
There’s a reason JT Miller’s name continues to appear in trade rumors.
It’s a combination of the fact his value as a 99-point scorer has never been higher, and that Vancouver could desperately use his $5.25 million in cap space, not to mention the assets he’d return instead of losing him to free agency for nothing next summer.
Vancouver also risks seeing captain Bo Horvat exit town as a UFA alongside Miller, although Horvat is more likely to sign an extension. Currently, the Canucks are more than $2.75 million over cap, but will use Michael Ferland’s LTIR relief to stay compliant. It feels like a major trade for Vancouver is a foregone conclusion this year unless they're locked into a playoff spot. Then, we’ll see what Patrik Allvin is made of in his first full season as Vancouver’s GM. Will he hold tight and hope for the best? Or will he exchange an early playoff exit for future success?
Toronto Maple Leafs
No discussion on cap crunches would be complete without the Toronto Maple Leafs. Kyle Dubas has sold several draft picks, including first-round selections, to mitigate his cap situation in recent years.
It happened again at the draft when the Leafs dropped into the second round to offload Petr Mrazek to Chicago. Despite the move, Toronto is still almost $1.5 million over cap, and still has Rasmus Sandin to sign.
There are a few moves that look likely during the season. First, if Timothy Liljegren and Sandin emerge as hoped, Justin Holl and his expiring $2 million contract could quickly become expendable.
Up front, Alex Kerfoot could be a midseason trade piece, although his 10-team no-trade clause could slow things down. If Dubas hopes to add at the deadline, it will mean shedding salary. Toronto always finds a way, and it would be a shock if they didn’t make it work yet again.
Cap relief is coming through LTIR via Oscar Klefbom and Mike Smith, but the Edmonton Oilers still don’t have the flexibility to make the moves they’d like to push Connor McDavid and co. over the top. Notably, a trio of RFA’s are in line for new contracts in Kailer Yamamoto, Ryan McLeod, and Jesse Puljujarvi. The trio made up a significant portion of Edmonton’s secondary scoring last season. The retirement of Duncan Keith was a cap boost, but aside from Jack Campbell, this team does not look markedly improved compared to the team that was bumped in the conference final by Colorado. In particular, Ken Holland is still in the blueline upgrade market. Right now, money remains tight despite their LTIR relief.
New York Islanders
The Islanders needed to get better this off-season. The problem? There was little to no money available to spend. Names like Nazem Kadri and Johnny Gaudreau were certainly of interest. New York, however, doesn’t have room. They currently have around $11 million available, but still need to sign Noah Dobson, Alex Romanov, and Kieffer Bellows. Islanders fans will hope for a bounce-back season, but the roster remains unchanged. GM Lou Lamoriello needed to do something, but before that's possible, he needs to shed salary. Things could get even worse next season with Mathew Barzal entering restricted free agency.
Tampa Bay Lightning
There’s a cost that comes with winning and the Tampa Bay Lightning are paying it. They have seven players - Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Nick Paul, Anthony Cirelli, Mikhail Sergachev, Erik Cernak, and Andrei Vasilevskiy - locked up through at least 2026-2027. It gives the Lightning a core but also limits the immediate moves they can make. Add in the big contracts they’re paying to Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, and things are tight in Tampa Bay.
Currently, Tampa sits more than $7 million over the cap. Luckily, they’ll get most of that back through Brent Seabrook’s LTIR, but it still leaves work to be done before opening day. Following the 2022-23 campaign, the Lightning have six players destined for unrestricted free agency totaling roughly $13 million, but almost half of that will immediately vanish in extensions for Cernak, Cirelli, and Sergachev. Tampa has an almost complete roster that will remain in contention, but from here out, Tampa will need to cost cut with every move.