After making his rounds on the phone, one NHL general manager said Wednesday he realized that most of the league’s 31 teams fit neatly into one of three buckets that will determine the cadence of this off-season.
There are the teams with massive salary cap issues or financial constraints, the teams with tons of salary cap space, and then the teams in the middle – those with enough breathing room to re-sign their free agents with ease and maybe even get a little creative with others.
Where does your team fall?
As an explainer to TSN Hockey’s latest Trade Bait board, let’s attempt to categorize each team:
(all numbers via CapFriendly.com)
THE SALARY CAP HELL BUCKET
Toronto Maple Leafs: So long as the Big Four (Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and William Nylander) account for nearly half ($40.4 million) of the frozen $81.5 million cap, filling in the gaps will be challenging.
Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers have less than $11 million to spend on a starting netminder and three or four depth forwards.
Arizona Coyotes: Phil Kessel, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Derek Stepan, Michael Grabner and Niklas Hjalmarsson are Trade Bait candidates as the Yotes look to shave salary.
Anaheim Ducks: Moving Ryan Kesler to LTIR can give GM Bob Murray another $6.8 million to spend, but the Ducks still have more than $74 million already committed.
Chicago Blackhawks: GM Stan Bowman needs a starting goaltender and to re-sign 30-goal rookie Dominik Kubalik and Dylan Strome. He’s got less than $8 million to do it.
Dallas Stars: The Stanley Cup finalists have some decisions to make. RFAs Radek Faksa, Denis Gurianov and Roope Hintz need new contracts, plus a mega deal is looming for Miro Heiskanen. The Stars might also need another netminder because playoff hero Anton Khudobin is up.
Florida Panthers: The Cats aren’t expected to spend to the cap under new GM Bill Zito, who is actively trying to move out money. The potential trade of Mike Matheson, which hit a snag, signals that direction.
New York Islanders: Is Matthew Barzal’s new AAV eight figures or seven? Barzal doesn’t have arbitration rights, but he can sign an offer sheet. Moving Johnny Boychuk (No. 13 on Trade Bait) is a start, since buying him out doesn’t help the cap.
New York Rangers: Henrik Lundqvist is likely heading for a buyout, which makes for $12 million total in dead space, counting Kevin Shattenkirk’s buyout. That reduces GM Jeff Gorton’s spending power to nearly $68 million, which is why big-ticket RFAs Tony DeAngelo and Ryan Strome are Trade Bait.
Pittsburgh Penguins: The Pens are looking at an internal cap around $75 million, which is why GM Jim Rutherford is on a quest to clear out money, starting with Nick Bjugstad and then in the attempt to move Patric Hornqvist, so he can dip his toe into the free agent market.
St. Louis Blues: There are all sorts of ways the Blues can keep captain Alex Pietrangelo. They include finding a new home for one of Tyler Bozak, Vince Dunn or Colton Parayko – because the contract of Justin Faulk would be a tough one.
Tampa Bay Lightning: A Stanley Cup would soothe the fact that the Bolts probably need to clear $10 million off the books this summer. It was J.T. Miller last year. This year, it could be Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, Ondrej Palat or even Yanni Gourde.
Vegas Golden Knights: It seems to be a poorly kept secret that Vegas wants to gear up to take a run at pending free agent Alex Pietrangelo. The question is: How will they be able to afford him? They’re going to have to start by figuring out their goaltending.
THE EASY LIVIN’ BUCKET
Ottawa Senators: The Sens have more than $18 million to spend just to get to the salary cap floor ($60.2 million) and they plan to use their four second-round picks (Nos. 33, 52, 59 and either 61 or 62, depending on Dallas' outcome in the Stanley Cup final) to help pluck players from teams in cap trouble.
Winnipeg Jets: There is no question GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is aiming for something big this off-season to fill Winnipeg’s holes at centre and on defence (See: Laine, Patrik).
Buffalo Sabres: Just because Buffalo has an abundance of cap space doesn’t mean the Sabres intend to use all of it.
Colorado Avalanche: Life is good when you’ve got all-world Nathan MacKinnon locked up for three more years at $6.3 million. GM Joe Sakic has a blank canvas and more than $20 million in space to spend, starting with a starting netminder.
Detroit Red Wings: Expect GM Steve Yzerman to use his cap space potentially as an escape ramp for troubled teams as he continues to collect assets in the Red Wings’ rebuild.
Los Angeles Kings: The Kings are quietly accruing cap space ($16 million) and draft picks, even though they’re not expected to be a big spender this offseason.
New Jersey Devils: What the Devils will do with Jersey native Kyle Palmieri? He’s No. 7 on the Trade Bait because this is the summer to re-sign him or move him.
THE COMFORTABLE MIDDLE BUCKET
Calgary Flames: It’s not unlimited spending, but the Flames have plenty of wiggle room for GM Brad Treliving to re-sign his RFAs and get creative in remaking his defence. Will that also include moving one of Johnny Gaudreau or Sean Monahan?
Montreal Canadiens: GM Marc Bergevin has just $42 million committed for 2021-22. How much of the following year’s cap does he want to chew up this off-season? RFA Max Domi needs a new deal and Phillip Danault has questioned his place in the Habs’ hierarchy.
Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks’ window is just cracking open. The trick is GM Jim Benning must have one eye on the present and one eye on the future, with Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes eventually due big deals.
Boston Bruins: Goodbye to Torey Krug, the No. 3 ranked UFA this summer. Many are wondering whether GM Don Sweeney is quietly checking the value of goaltender Tuukka Rask, entering the final year of his deal at $7 million, ahead of an off-season unlike any other for the position.
Carolina Hurricanes: How good would an All-Finnish first line of Patrik Laine, Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen look? The Canes can move one of their embarrassment of riches on the blueline to make it happen and still dabble in the goalie market.
Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets could use a little more breathing room by moving Alex Wennberg or Markus Nutivaara as they attempt to keep both RFAs Pierre-Luc Dubois and Josh Anderson.
Minnesota Wild: Spending more than $25 million combined on their top four defencemen next year, GM Bill Guerin is comfortable putting that corps up against anyone, but moving Matt Dumba would help ease the cap burden in his pursuit of a centre.
Nashville Predators: The cap picture for GM David Poile isn’t as bleak as it might appear, especially not if he can find a new home for one of his high-priced forwards. The tough part in finding takers is the term.
Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers aren’t expected to be big spenders on the free agent market, with GM Chuck Fletcher looking for value plays, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be active on the trade front – starting with defenceman Shayne Gostisbehere.
San Jose Sharks: How can GM Doug Wilson retool the Sharks on the fly? He has some spending capability with $14 million in space, but has nearly half of his forward group to fill out around his core pieces.
Washington Capitals: Not re-signing Braden Holtby leaves GM Brian MacLellan just less than $9 million to tinker with his defence, add a veteran backup for Ilya Samsonov, and a depth forward or two.
Here is TSN Hockey’s latest Trade Bait board, which always seeks to blend a player's prominence with his likelihood of a trade:
1. Matt Murray, PIT
2. Matt Dumba, MIN
3. Josh Anderson, CBJ
4. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, ARI
5. Patrik Laine, WPG
6. Phil Kessel, ARI
7. Kyle Palmieri, NJD
8. Ottawa's 2nd Round Picks
9. Marc-Andre Fleury, VGK
10. Kris Letang, PIT
11. Ryan Donato, MIN
12. Darcy Kuemper, ARI
13. Johnny Boychuk, NYI
14. Alex Pietrangelo, STL
15. Tony DeAngelo, NYR
16. Ryan Strome, NYR
17. Brady Skjei, CAR
18. Tyler Johnson, TBL
19. Alex Killorn, TBL
20. Max Domi, MTL
21. Andreas Johnsson, TOR
22. Phillip Danault, MTL
23. Frederik Andersen, TOR
24. Brandon Montour, BUF
25. Adam Larsson, EDM
26. Shayne Gostisbehere, PHI
27. Tyler Bozak, STL
28. Patric Hornqvist, PIT
29. Mike Matheson, FLA
30. Dougie Hamilton, CAR