Friends, free agent season officially begins at 10 a.m. MT on Wednesday. At that point, teams can sign new free agents, old free agents, and chaos generally ensues. As we await the chaos, let’s quickly discuss cap space.
Cap space before free agency
Up until free agency opens, the 2021-22 salary cap still exists ($81.5 million). However, teams can sign new deals for players currently on their roster with a value not exceeding their current cap space plus the value of their expiring contracts. (It’s essentially swapping this season’s spending for next season’s spending.)
The Flames were in long-term injury at the end of last season, so they have no cap space – they actually went over the cap by $183,758 (per PuckPedia). The deals they have expiring on the NHL roster include Matthew Tkachuk ($7 million), Johnny Gaudreau ($6.75 million), Erik Gudbranson ($1.95 million), Nikita Zadorov ($3.75 million), Andrew Mangiapane ($2.425 million), Michael Stone ($750,000), Oliver Kylington ($750,00) and a few others.
So if you’re wondering “Can the Flames afford to extend Gaudreau before he becomes a free agent?” the answer is an unqualified yes.
Cap space from July 13 until the end of training camp
From the moment free agency opens at 10 a.m. MT on Wednesday, the salary cap for each team (a) boosts to $82.5 million for the entire season and then (b) bumps up 10% until training camp ends in order to give clubs flexibility to make off-season moves. So the Flames (and everybody else) can have cap commitments of up to $90.75 million up until they have to file their opening rosters with the NHL’s Central Registry on Oct. 10.
So what counts? Cap hits for players on one-way deals and pro-rated cap hits for players on two-way deals that spent 50 (or more) games in the NHL the prior season (scaled to how much time they spent on the NHL roster).
What about qualifying offers? Teams have to have enough open cap space to accommodate the qualifying offers for any player who gets a one-way offer or players who spent 50 (or more) games in the NHL the prior season. Essentially, if a player would count against the cap if they accepted their qualifying offer, you have to have the space to accommodate that.
The Flames have about $56.5 million in cap commitments ($56,487,500), plus another $12,212,500 in qualifying offers they need to have room for (covering Tkachuk, Mangiapane and Kylington). That gives the Flames just a bit more than $34 million of wiggle room to work with throughout the summer, though they’ll need to be under the actual cap ceiling by Oct. 10.
Let the chaos begin.
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