10 NHL Teams That Could Shed Salary Before 2014-15

Lyle RichardsonFeatured ColumnistJune 11, 2014

10 NHL Teams That Could Shed Salary Before 2014-15

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    The NHL salary cap is expected to increase for next season from its current figure of $64.3 million. Earlier this year it was projected to rise to $71.1 million. However, The Globe and Mail's James Mirtle recently estimated it could reach $69.6 million.

    While the increase in the cap ceiling is good news for most NHL clubs, the 10 teams on this list could find themselves needing to shed salary before next season.

    One budget-conscious team won't allow payroll to climb too high. Another appears to have sufficient cap room for 2014-15 but must ensure there's space to re-sign top free agents prior to next summer.

    A few could consider rebuilding, which would necessitate shedding high-salaried veterans for affordable youth. Several lack cap space this summer to re-sign their key free agents. While cap-strapped teams are allowed during the offseason to spend over the cap by 10 percent, they must be cap compliant when the 2014-15 season begins.

    The following slideshow examines each club's cap situation, the prime concerns and the players who could become trade or buyout candidates. Cap space, free agency and roster needs factored into the rankings. 

     

    All salary information via CapGeek.com, based upon the original $71.1 million salary cap projection.

10. Chicago Blackhawks

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    Bill Smith/Getty Images

    Cap Payroll: $66.4 million invested in 19 players.

    Projected Cap Space: $4.6 million.

    Key Free Agents: Ben Smith, Jeremy Morin, Michal Handzus, Antti Raanta.

     

    Analysis

    The Blackhawks have their core players under contract next season and possess sufficient room to re-sign their younger free agents. If they wish to bolster their roster, however, they'll have to dump some salary. The real cap crunch could come before next summer.

    They must re-sign superstars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews before their eligibility next July for unrestricted free agency. Nick Leddy, Brandon Saad and Marcus Kruger will be restricted free agents next summer.

    That could mean dropping some salary now while giving more playing time next season to their promising young players.

    The Boston Globe's Fluto Shinzawa suggests winger Kris Versteeg ($2.2 million per season) as a trade option, although the Chicago Sun-Times' Mark Potash reports GM Stan Bowman believes Versteeg still has a future in Chicago.

9. San Jose Sharks

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Cap Payroll: $59.6 million invested in 18 players.

    Projected Cap Space: $11.4 million.

    Key Free Agents: Jason Demers, Alex Stalock, Tommy Wingels, James Sheppard.

     

    Analysis

    The Sharks possess sufficient cap space to re-sign their free agents. However, the San Jose Mercury-News' Tim Kawakami reports GM Doug Wilson is in the process of turning over its core to younger players like Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and others. After years of playoff disappointment, Wilson told Kawakami he wants players who are in San Jose to compete, not just live there.

    That's led to speculation that long-time Sharks stars Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau could be pressured to accept trades. Moving either player would free up over $6.3 million annually in cap space over the next three seasons.

    The Toronto Sun's Mike Zeisberger reports the Maple Leafs are among six teams thought to have an interest in Thornton. CBC.ca's Elliotte Friedman speculates that Thornton might only waive his movement clause for a Stanley Cup contender.

8. Vancouver Canucks

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Cap Payroll: $59.3 million invested in 18 players.

    Projected Cap Space: $11.7 million.

    Key Free Agents: Chris Tanev, Zack Kassian, Mike Santorelli.

     

    Analysis

    There's sufficient cap space to re-sign their key free agents. However, given the Canucks' failure to make this year's playoffs and their recent hiring of Jim Benning as their new general manager, they could shake up their core.

    TSN's Darren Dreger reports that Ryan Kesler still wants to be dealt. Moving him would shed $5 million per season over the next two years. Depending upon the return, that could also create some room to add a promising young scorer.

7. Ottawa Senators

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Cap Payroll: $50.4 million invested in 19 players.

    Projected Cap Space: $20.6 million.

    Key Free Agents: Robin Lehner, Ales Hemsky, Milan Michalek.

     

    Analysis

    The Senators have plenty of cap room to re-sign their key players if they wish, but their days of keeping pace with a rising cap ceiling are in the past. The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch reports they won't re-sign Hemsky, who sought $5.5 million per season.

    Garrioch also reports they're fielding offers for captain Jason Spezza, who's eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer. Though Spezza will earn $4 million in real salary next season, his cap hit is $7 million.

    If Spezza is dealt, Garrioch claims the Senators want a good young player, a first-round pick and a top prospect in return. Such a move allows the Senators to ice a competitive team while staying just above the salary-cap minimum, which could be $52 million next season.

6. Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Cap Payroll: $55.1 million invested in 14 players.

    Projected Cap Space: $15.9 million.

    Key Free Agents: Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Jussi Jokinen, Brandon Sutter, Simon Despres.

     

    Analysis 

    With Niskanen, Orpik and Jokinen eligible for unrestricted free agency, the Penguins will have to pay big to retain them. Just re-signing Niskanen, eligible for unrestricted free agency for the first time, could cost up to $6 million per season.

    Since their playoff elimination in May, there have been calls in the Pittsburgh media for management to shake things up.

    The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Dejan Kovacevic believes Kris Letang and James Neal should be moved in salary-dumping deals. However, it remains to be seen if new GM Jim Rutherford intends a major shake-up or only minor changes.

5. Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Cap Payroll: $48.7 million invested in 12 players.

    Projected Cap Space: $22.3 million.

    Key Free Agents: Dave Bolland, James Reimer, Cody Franson, Jake Gardiner.

     

    Analysis

    There's sufficient cap space to re-sign their key free agents, but doing so won't leave enough to take on additional talent. After missing the playoffs for the eighth time in nine years, there's media chatter about a possible roster shake-up. If the Leafs make a major move it could be for younger, cheaper talent.

    Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos speculates everyone except Phil Kessel, Jonathan Bernier, Tyler Bozak and Morgan Rielly could be available via trade.

    Captain Dion Phaneuf ($7 million per season) remains a fixture in the rumor mill. The Toronto Sun's Mike Zeisberger reports there's a wild rumor the Leafs could offer Phaneuf to Florida as part of a package for the Panthers' first-round pick. 

4. Los Angeles Kings

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Cap Payroll: $57.9 million invested in 18 players.

    Projected Cap Space: $13.1 million.

    Key Free Agents: Marian Gaborik, Willie Mitchell, Matt Greene, Dwight King.

     

    Analysis

    There's sufficient cap space to re-sign or replace Mitchell, Greene and King, but it could get tight if they hope to re-sign Gaborik. While he won't command over $7 million annually anymore, it could cost over $5 million annually to retain him. Factor in the cost of re-signing or replacing the others and there might not be sufficient cap space for call-ups or other additions during next season.

    The Hockey News' Ronnie Shuker reports veteran center Mike Richards has recently become the subject of buyout speculation. The Kings still have both their compliance buyouts but this is the last year they can use them.

    Using a compliance buyout for Richards frees up space to retain their key free agents and leave sufficient room for other moves.

3. New York Rangers

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Cap Payroll: $53.9 million invested in 13 players.

    Projected Cap Space: $17.1 million.

    Key Free Agents: Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, Derick Brassard, Anton Stralman, Brian Boyle, Dominic Moore, Benoit Pouliot.

     

    Analysis

    The Rangers have too many good players to re-sign and not enough cap space to do so. Re-signing restricted free agents Zuccarello, Kreider and Brassard could be the priority. Unless they shed salary, they'll find it difficult to re-sign or replace unrestricted free agents Stralman, Boyle, Moore and Pouliot.

    ESPN.com's Katie Strang reports center Brad Richards ($6.66 million per season) could be bought out of the remaining six years of his contract. The Rangers have one compliance buyout left, and this year is the last opportunity to use it.

    Despite how well Richards performed in this year's playoffs, this could be his final season with the Blueshirts. They could use the savings to put toward re-signing their pending free agents.

2. Boston Bruins

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Cap Payroll: $61.9 million invested in 17 players.

    Projected Cap Space: $9.1 million.

    Key Free Agents: Jarome Iginla, Reilly Smith, Torey Krug, Chad Johnson, Shawn Thornton.

     

    Analysis

    The Bruins will get $4 million in cap relief by placing Marc Savard (concussion) on long-term injured reserve, but cannot do so until the start of the season. CSNNE.com's Joe Haggerty reports they're in contract talks with Iginla, who is eligible for unrestricted free agency on July 1.

    While Bruins management insist they're not planning significant moves, Haggerty cites sources claiming otherwise, with Brad Marchand ($4.5 million) and/or Johnny Boychuk ($3.36 million) listed as potential trade candidates. Moving one or both will provide much-needed cap space to retain their key free agents.

1. Philadelphia Flyers

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Cap Payroll: $64.5 million invested in 17 players.

    Projected Cap Space: $6.5 million.

    Key Free Agents: Brayden Schenn, Kimmo Timonen, Ray Emery, Jason Akeson, Tye McGinn.

     

    Analysis

    The Flyers will get $4.9 million in cap relief by placing Chris Pronger (concussion) on long-term injured reserve, but they cannot do that until the start of next season. It will cost more than their available space to re-sign or replace their key free agents.

    CSNPhilly.com's Tim Panaccio claims they need a “sturdy No. 1 defenseman” and a scoring left wing.

    The Philadelphia Inquirer's Sam Carchidi speculates former Flyers and current Nashville Predators coach Peter Laviolette could try to convince his new team to acquire Vincent Lecavalier. Moving the 34-year-old Lecavalier (who has a no-movement clause) would jettison $4.5 million from the Flyers' payroll. Trading away an aging, expensive center who's past his prime could be wishful thinking.

    The Flyers also used up their compliance buyouts. Any future buyouts will count against their cap. Other trade options could include winger Matt Read and defenseman Luke Schenn.