True North Sports and Entertainment will have cap room to burn - if it wishes - when the free agent market opens for business on July 1.
Winnipeg's ownership inherits one of the most frugally-managed rosters in the NHL, one that cost Thrashers ownership just $41.7 million excluding performance bonuses last season. Only the stingy New York Islanders spent less.
Heading into the off-season, the Winnipeg roster features 15 players signed for just $35.9 million, meaning management will need to spend more than $10 million on eight players just to get to a projected cap floor of $46.2 million.
But if True North is in the mood to splurge, it has more than $26 million - almost $3.3 million per player - if the salary cap increases to $62.2 million, as reported by the New York Post.
Only a few teams have that kind of cap room, and those that have it aren't likely to use all of it. While there's no indication at this stage of how much True North intends to spend, Manitobans can certainly dream until ownership lays its cards on the table.
That kind of cap space would put Winnipeg in a position to take a run at the crown jewel of the free-agent market - Dallas Stars center and former Conn Smythe Trophy winner Brad Richards - or any of the other lower end forwards up for grabs on July 1. Those names include Alex Tanguay, Ville Leino, Brooks Laich and Jussi Jokinen, not to mention one with special significance to Winnipeg, former Jets superstar Teemu Selanne.
The one fly in the ointment for True North will be selling the city to the free agents it wants to sign. Part of getting players to the city might involve the risky approach of sweetening the pot on contracts: offering more money, longer term, and iron-clad no-movement clauses.
But splurging a little might not be a bad plan, because the relocated Thrashers have shown indications they might be a few pieces away from making the playoffs after last season's 34-win, 80-point showing.
The Thrashers, buoyed by acquisitions of Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd from the Chicago Blackhawks, were near the top of the league early last season. As late as the all-star break, they were holding down a playoff spot, but went 10-17-3 down the stretch as things fell apart.
The roster got remarkable bang for its buck given the comparatively meager payroll. The Thrashers finished sixth in the league in dollars per standings point with an estimated ratio of $522,000. That wasn't far behind the Tampa Bay Lightning, which had a league-best ratio of around $488,000.
Starting with solid yet inexpensive goaltending - Ondrej Pavelec and Chris Mason combine to make just $3 million - and a fully signed, $18.65-million defense corps that features Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom, Ron Hainsey, Johnny Oduya and Mark Stuart, there is a foundation to work from.
Up front, Ladd ($2.35 million), Blake Wheeler ($2.2 million) and Anthony Stewart ($632,500) need to be re-signed, but Nikolai Antropov, Bryan Little, Evander Kane and Alexander Burmistrov are all under contract in the $3- to $4-million range.
It's a cap-friendly situation, to say the least, and until things play out in July, it gives Winnipeg hockey fans plenty to think about.
Here's a look how Winnipeg's cap situation is shaping up in 2011-12:
|Nik Antropov||$4.062 million|
|Evander Kane||$3.1 million|
|Bryan Little||$2.383 million|
|Alexander Burmistrov||$1.5 million|
|Jim Slater||$1 million|
|Dustin Byfuglien||$5.2 million|
|Ron Hainsey||$4.5 million|
|Tobias Enstrom||$3.75 million|
|Johnny Oduya||$3.5 million|
|Mark Stuart||$1.7 million|
Matthew Wuest runs Capgeek.com, the popular website that breaks down NHL salary cap numbers.