Mapping the NHL Cap Environment

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 25: Scott Yzerman of the Tampa Bay Lightning speaks with Scotty Bowman of the Chicago Blackhawks during the 2010 NHL Entry Draft at Staples Center on June 25, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)


With discussions of the Flames obvious cap issues on-going (with no end in sight), there’s been a lot of suggestions that Darryl will be able to dump a Cory Sarich or Steve Staios on a "cap floor" team if things get desperate come September. While the league is indeed polarized between a bevy of cap-strapped and cap-flush clubs, the truth is the former greatly outnumber the latter, particularly when real dollars (rather than cap space) is considered.  Here’s how the current budgetary landscape for each club breaks down:

(all numbers from and

The Cap-strapped

Boston Bruins (-3.08M)

With the recent signing of Tyler Seguin to an incentive-laden entry level contract, the Bruins currently own the largest cap burden in the NHL. They havea full compliment of forwards and defense, so the team is basically set outside of cutting the fat. The Bruins are especially deep down the middle (Savard, Bergergon, Krejci, Senguin) so it would make sense for them to deal from that area of the org. They can also ease their problems immensely by sending Senguin back to junior for another season.

Possible salary dumps:

Marc Savard (4.0M – NTC)

Michael Ryder (4.0M)

Marco Sturm (3.5M – NTC)

Tim Thomas (5M)

Savard is the cream of the crop here in terms of price and value, but he’s also over 30 and coming off a severe brain scramble. He also owns one of those pesky NTC’s, further inhibiting demand. Ryder is overpriced for his contributions while Sturm is as fragile as a teenaged girls ego (and, again, NTC). Tim Thomas, although still a capable goaltender, is way too expensive in the current market and a big gamble given he signed his contract after the age of 35. The B’s are stuck with him.

Vancouver Canucks (-2.658M)

The only team in the league to rival the Flames in terms of "needless collection of excess NHL caliber defenders" is the Canucks. By adding both Hamhuis and Ballard (and re-signing O’Brien for some baffling reason), Vancouver now has 9 blueliners – although the predictable Sami Salo injury technically has that number down to 8. Even if they demote Aaron Rome to start the year, Vancouver will have 7 healthy defenders to start the year, five of which making $3M or more.

Possible salary dumps:

Kevin Bieksa (3.75M)

Word is Gillis is aggressively shopping Bieksa around the league. Although he isn’t prohibiltively expensive, Bieksa has battled injuries for each of the last three seasons. And although he’s a capable enough rearguard when he’s healthy, no one is getting a bargain at this price point.

Chicago Blackhawks (-2.503M)

The off-seasons most famous bloated budget, the Hawks have been victims of their own fortune (guys like Toews and Kane scored a number of bonuses thanks to the cup win, enacting more than $4M in overage penalties for the club), bad prior management (Huet and Campbell) and a wily RFA offersheet by Doug Wilson. The result has been a firesale of useful parts and a roster full of holes.

Possible salary dumps:

Brian Campbell (7.142M)

Cristobel Huet (5.625M)

Although the club has already given away the likes of Ladd, Byfuglien, Sopel, Eager, Niemi and Versteeg, the remain over the limit by a couple million. Campbell is a good top 4 and PP defender, but he’s grossly overcompensated and his contract extends until 2016 – poison to any cash poor/cap hungry teams that may be looking to bump their total up to the floor. He’s going nowhere. Nor is Huet, considering the goalie market and his career worst season last year. The latter will likely be demoted at the start of the year, which would technically solve the Hawks cap woes. That said, they currently have all of 11 forwards and 5 defenders signed. Meaning: they have needs besides simply becoming cap compliant.

Calgary Flames (-2.349M)

We’re all aware of the Flames issues around these parts, so nothing more than brief recap is in order: full roster, too many defensemen, several boat anchor contracts. Calgary is also facing the potentially complicating matter of a protacted (but not career ending?) injury to Daymond Langkow.

Possible salary dumps:

Steve Staios (2.7M)

Ales Kotalik (3.0M – NYC)

Cory Sarich (3.6)

Staios and Kotalik are both bad bets to cover their salaries, Staios moreso than Kotalik at this stage of his career. The ex-Olier is especially superfluous on the Flames given their robust collection of defenders at various levels of the organization. Sarich is a top four defender on many other teams, but his perceived value is hindered by a near total lack of an offensive game.

New Jersey Devils (-2.301M)

The Devils current cap number includes the contentious Kovalchuk deal, so things may change completely should the arbitration favor the NHL’s stance. Assuming Lucky Lou wins the day (or the club re-structures the deal) New Jersey will be another club with an urgent need to move a contract or two. 

Possible salary dumps:

Brian Rolston (5.06M – NTC)

Dainius Zubrus (3.4M)

Jamie Langenbrunner (2.8M – NTC)

Bryce Salvador (2.9M)

Rolston is probably the most expendable asset, but he’s also the toughest to move. His contract is expensive, it was signed after his 35th birthday and it has a NTC to boot. Lou would have to make an offer a rival GM couldn’t refuse to get rid of Rolston. Every other piece is orders of magnitude easier to move and I assume it’s one Zubrus or Salvador that will be getting the chop. Langenbrunner had a public feud with Lemaire last season, but with the old curmudgeon retiring (again), it’s safe to say the Devils would prefer to retain their captain.

Philadelphia Flyers (+327k)

Philly recently punctuated a…curious summer by signing Nikolai Zherdev to a decent bet deal and then shipping off Simon Gagne for what amounted to a paperweight and some toenail clippings. With 8 NHL defenders currently counting against the cap, the Flyers could probably solve a lot of their problems by simply demoting Matt Walker to the AHL at seasons start.

Possible salary dumps:

Sean O’Donnell (1.1M)

Ian Laperriere (1.17M)

Philly has too many forwards and defenders right now. Both of these aging warriors seem to be the most expendable at either position. Laperriere is apparently very popular with teammates and fans alike, but with Carcillo, Shelley and Cote signed to punch things next year, one wonders just how long he’ll stick around.

New York Rangers (+465k)

After swapping in Todd White for Brashear and Rissmiller, Sather’s merry patchwork of europeans and miscreants has about 400k to work with – and their best shut-down defender in Marc Staal left to re-sign. Although just 22 years old, Staal is already taking on the best the opposition has to offer night-in and night-out. He’ll be at least $3M to retain, meaning the blueshirts are virtually over the cap as we speak. 

They have other needs besides inking Staal. The bottom end of their roster is pretty much a wasteland featuring kids and fringe players: Boogaard, Boyle, Christensan, Prust, Anisimov, etc. Acquiring at least one more actual NHL player for the bottom 6 should also be on Sather’s radar (although who knows if actually it is or not. Dude is one of the mad hatters of the NHL these days).

Possible salary dumps:

Chris Drury (7.05M – NTC)

Wade Redden (6.5M – NTC)

Michal Rozsival (5.0M – NTC)

That’s right – on top of an already outrageous dollar figure, Sather also gave Drury, Redden and Rozsival a NTC when he signed each of them to their ill-fated deals. Drury is aging and his salary bears about as much relation to his contributions as does Paris Hilton’s celebrity does to her actual value as a human being. He’s going nowhere. Wade Redden is also grossly overpaid and on a fairly steep decline besides. Rozsival is the only remotely movable trade asset on the Rangers and even his salary is pretty hard to swallow.

 The Cap Rich

It’s hard to know just where the internal budgets begin and end for the league’s less fortunate clubs. What we do know is the salary cap floor: $43.4M. Only two teams are currently looking to spend money for the sake of complying with the NHL CBA – the Colorado Avalanche and the Atlanta Thrashers.

Colorado Avalanche (38.41M or +4.989M to cap floor)

The cheapest team in the league actually has a full roster more or less. With 12 forwards and 6 defensemen plus two RFA’s in Peter Mueller and Chris Stewart, there aren’t a lot of needs to be filled here besides a depth defender. Stewart and Mueller are both in line for a bump in pay, with Stewarts 28 goal season a good bet to land him north of $2M. Once they ink both guys, the Avs will likely be in the clear, depending on how bonuses shake out*.

*(While they technically count against the cap, I’m not sure how they’re accounted for when it comes to the cap floor given that bonuses are not necessarily granted at the end of the year. The numbers in this section include bonuses for the sake of simplicity).


None. If the owners were as worried about W’s as the P-and-L, then I would say there are obvious needs all over the place. But it’s pretty clear the mandate is to operate as cheaply as possible for now. Heck, who can blame them after that strategy kinda worked out last year?

Atlanta Thrashers (40.733M or +2.67M)

Like the Avalanche, Atlanta still has two noteworthy RFA’s to sign in Bryan Little and Niclas Bergfors. With both counting at least one noteworthy offensive season in the last two years, it should be a trivial matter for ATL to get to the floor. Under Rick Dudley, the Thrashers have been the primary beneficiaries of the Blackhawks misfortune this summer, raiding Chicago’s cupboard and coming away with Andrew Ladd, Brent Sopel, Dusitn Byfuglien and Ben Eager. The club has been relatively aggresive so far, but Dudley’s ambition is going to run up against some internal budgetary constraints sooner rather than later.


Once Little and Bergfors are signed, the Thrashers will have 12 forwards and 6 defenders under contract. One more NHL caliber player at each position is probably in order, especially up front where the most expensive players are currently Nikolai Antropov and Evander Kane (when bonuses are included). The back-end is relatively flush with 5 of the 6 current blueliners making $2M+.

New York Islanders (43.626M)

The team that Wang built is a hair over the cap floor as we speak. They have a full compliment of players at all positions, although they may look to add another goalie in case Rick Dieptro’s body finally up and leaves him for good. The goaltender market is flooded, so that won’t be an issue.


It really depends on whether the Islanders want to try to be competitive this year or not. My guess is no, meaning their needs are limited. Perhaps a forward older than 21 who makes more than $3M a year?

Nashville Predators (44.541M)

As usual, David Poile is trying to put together a competitive club while spending next to nothing. The Preds still have to get the emergent Patric Honrqvist’s name on a new deal as well as youngster Cody Franson. Honrqvist looks to be a guy the team will want to build around up front in the future, so expect him to get signed soon.


As things stand, Nashville only has 5 defenders under contract. Poile likes to have a solid blueline from back to front so even when Franson is re-upped, look for the Predators to acquire at least one more veteran rearguard.

Phoenix Coyotes (45.481M)

Still embroiled in messy ownership issues, the Coyotes have a pretty full line-up despite the small cap number. They also have RFA and future Selke winner Martin Hanzal left to re-sign besides. Adding him would make for 13 forwards and 7 d-men.


None. A full roster with a 107 point season behind them and an unknown financial future ahead means this is not a place to look to add players (or dump salaries).

Others: St. Louis (48M), Anaheim (46M), Dallas (47M), Carolina (48M) and Los Angeles (49M). Of the the five, probably only LAK is in a position to acquire a pricey contract.


There’s a glut of teams looking to dupm salaries and a general lack of clubs willing and able to accept them. Most of the weak sisters have close to full rosters and/or are pinching pennies with their RFA’s. Only two teams are below the cap floor and both of them will probably crest that barrier once they re-up with in-house assets. Most of them are also broke or fighting off past losses/ownership ordeals. In terms of supply/demand, this is a buyers market…except none of the buyers have any coin.

I don’t know if it will be impossible for the overspenders to get rid of a contract here or there, but they’re probably going to have to offer up something else of value to do so. Think a reasonably high draft pick or decent prospect. Even if some are willing to do that, bet on there being a lot of buy-outs and demotions come October.

      • Although in practical terms, the Flames don’t have to worry about that at all. The ownership, being of wealthy stature and profitable club, *can* afford to swallow the necessary salary in the AHL as a last resort. It’s just not the desired outcome.

      • Maclean Kay

        Almost curious to see what would actually happen in this case, though I’m almost certain forfeiture wouldn’t be an option. More likely having to dress fewer players, as happened last year.

        Eventually, a really ballsy/desperate/either or both GM is going to try this.

  • MC Hockey

    Good comments here by the author. HOpefully one of those reluctant-to-buy teams with cap room suddely falls in love with Sarich or Staios and ifwe get anything in retun it’s a bonus.

  • Its true. N. Murray Edwards owned 10,960,210 shares of CNRL as of March 2010 which split 2 for 1 in May (21,920,420 current shares). Based on that he made $3,600,000 on his investment TODAY, and currently owns over $800,000,000 worth. Just on the one company.

    If there is anyone around who has the ability to watch money burn just for their own entertainment, its this guy. Can’t wait to go to A-town to watch Backlund this year.

  • Graham

    Maybe the reality of the CBA is finally sinking in. In the past, GM’s have signed players to excessive contracts, and bailed themselves out by persauding other teams to take on the contract, by throughing in the odd draft pick.
    (Primeau and Van der meer are great examples)

    With the ability to dump contracts drying up, maybe some of the GM’s will need to do some actual long term planing, and think past the immediate need to save their jobs.

    Given a $59 million dollar cap, you have to wonder what the profit margins are for a small market team like Calgary. If you have to bury
    $2 – $5 million of salary in Abbotsford, how much of the annual profit does this really represent?

    • I honestly think we’re going to see universal salary suppression in the next couple of years, due to the cap constraints. The overall ceiling for the entire NHL is starting to get pretty tight, and I wouldn’t be surprised if average annual salary growth slows significantly, or even stagnates.

    • Couldn’t agree more. You can tell some GMs predicted this, some didn’t care and some who thought that they needed to to keep up so did it reluctantly.

      It’s just like the housing market in the US. Spending too much now and not thinking about the future and whether or not you can afford it.

      There will be a huge market correction in the next few years. Look at it going on right now with goal tenders. Turco for 1.3??!

  • dustin642

    I don’t like the trend that seems to be building since the lockout with more and more teams being heavily strapped to cash/cap room or being bottom feeders on the cap floor. No real middle ground anymore. But who’s fault is it and who’s side are you on?

    Is it the fault of the Owners/Ownership groups of these poor market teams that refuse to spend to the cap ceiling thus leaving plenty of worthy free agents still looking for a job as well as teams having to either buy out or send players to the minors because they cannot find a trade partner anymore? Is it the fault of the players being overly greedy and demanding these ridiculously long-term contracts with NTC/NMC’s attached to them? Or is it the fault of the GM’s that are giving in to these players demands and only building their teams for the now (Mr. Sutter) rather than trying to build a team that will win for a long time.

    I wish the difference between the Cap Ceiling and Cap Floor was not as big as it is. If your going to own a sports team, you are going to have to spend money. If you do not like it, then sell your team to Jim Balsillie.

  • Haha, the Hilton joke made me LOL. Never thought of Nashville as a possible suitor for Sarich or Staios. We must have a decent relationship after we hooked them up with Boyd for peanuts.

    I’m hoping that Daz catches on to the trends of the Cap and smartens up in his spending. Less drastic moves will help us in the long run, although we all know Darryl loves to spice things up at the deadline with random dudes who are overpaid whilst losing all of our draft picks as well.

  • Graham

    I agree, somethings gotta give. One thing i do like about the NBA CBA is that NTCs are only available to certain players, those with certain amount of experience, etc and limited to the amount of them on one team. I say no more than 1 maybe 2 per team to a player 35 years of age or more OR someone with 10 years with one team. That way not anyone can ask for one.

  • Greg

    I think the best (only) chance to trade Sarich or Staois would come part way through the season if another team gets a rash of injuries on the blueline. I’m starting to wonder if even Regher is tradeable… Toronto has been asking for a top 6 forward for Kaberle and still doesn’t have a good enough offer, and that’s without needing any cap relief in the trade either. Given that, and what Philly got for Gagne, I think you could only get either a 2nd liner or cap relief (2nd rounder?), but not both.

    Very interested to see how this Staotalik fiasco ends up. Will the owners fall on the financial sword to fix a VERY obvious and expensive mistake by their GM? Or will they use that sword to lop off his head instead? Or will Daryl still manage to find a way to deflect that sword on Kotalik et al? Or does the team/fans take the brunt of it in a dumping of a valuable asset like Regher? Seems likely that one way or another, $3-5M dollars worth of blood has to be shed (figuratively speaking :), just no way to know whose yet.

  • MC Hockey

    For the Flames, here are some options to relieve cap space that possibly make sense for both teams (due to cap and # players and #D signed by other teams)… but either DSutter will never consider or other team won’t:

    -Sarich to Atlanta for unsigned Bergfors or unsigned Little, heck give them a 2nd rounder too so they say yes..we know Darryl doesn’t like to keep those!
    – Sarich or Staios to Nashville (only 5 D signed) for Klein, Bouillon, or more likely a bottom 6 forward
    – Sarich to Buffalo for Montador (similar players, but Monty cheaper, maybe Buffalo needs leaders on back-end)
    – Sarich or Staios to TB for unsigned RFA Downie (I would love that!)

  • Sarich to LA for ANY prospect.
    They need to fill a veteran D spot.

    Sarich to ANA for Jaffray or Mcelhinny….Sike. But the ducks could use Sarich.

    Sarich to DAL for Brunnstrom (or anyone)

    Staios to WAS for prospect.


    Sarich won’t go to Buffalo or Atlanta as they have enough money locked up in both somewhat solid defensive cores.

    And Yzerman wouldn’t pick him up either, they already have 3 Dmen making 3.5+.

  • You seriously think Zubrus is “orders of magnitude easier to move” than Brian Rolston? Seriously? Zubrus makes $3.4 million (!!!) for 3 more years. His offensive game is limited at best (only 2 20 goal seasons in his entire career) and his defensive game is mediocre. His contract is worse than Kotalik’s.