The 2017 NHL Awards and Expansion Draft are in the rear view mirror. That said, there is still plenty of action going on in the NHL and trades are coming in hot and heavy, all leading up to the NHL Entry Draft and July 1st's free agency day.
One thing we learned about the process of NHL Expansion this year was that it was an exercise in being creative with the salary cap. Some teams who were in tight made moves with the Vegas Golden Knights to free up space, send bad contracts or use picks to protect their assets. It was less about the Golden Knights building a competitive team for 2017-18 and more about stockpiling draft choices that could help them in the next two or three seasons. This is not usually the approach most teams take when it comes to free agency.
Often known as a time to overspend on available talent, many teams were not in a position to do anything useful without first cleaning house. Some teams look like they were able to do so effectively. The Chicago Blackhawks moved Marian Hossa to the long-term injured reserve and are expected to trade Marcus Kruger to Vegas. The New York Islanders were able to offload Mikhail Grabovski and others to make room for a trade that brought them right-winger, Jordan Eberle.
Others teams still have serious questions and their directions are uncertain.
Below is a list of 15 teams that will likely want to make a move on July 1st. Of the 15 teams, eight of them are completely screwed. Without first making transactions to clear space or after they take care of their own internal contracts, they won't have room to go shopping. Seven of these teams are in excellent shape and could be big players on July 1.
15 Completely Screwed - The Chicago Blackhawks
Despite getting rid of Marian Hossa's contract (a relief of $5.275 million), Chicago has some serious work to do. They just moved Niklas Hjalmarsson and traded Artemi Panarin for Brandon Saad and don't appear to be done. If they are going to move Marcus Kruger that will be helpful, but the team has so much money tied up into Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane they are going to struggle to find ways to make more room and fill the roster with talented depth.
We can't forget that moving Marian Hossa is not all good. The veteran forward provided the Hawks with 26 goals in 2016-17. He was a top-six winger and it's not like that kind of production is going to be easy to reproduce without at least spending $4-$5 million dollars on the open market. That's money Chicago doesn't really have. The Blackhawks need to hope they have someone in the system who can produce on the cheap or find another player willing to come to the organization for a discount. They aren't necessarily the powerhouse they used to be.
14 Primed To Take Advantage - Montreal Canadiens
Expect the Montreal Canadiens to be big players on July 1st. They've added some scoring in Jonathan Drouin and they're looking to bring back Alexander Radulov, but even if they do and they sign Alex Galchenyuk, they'll have some $12 million or so to sign a forward and two defenders on short-term deals.
Montreal is in the market for a center and perhaps Matt Duchene is on their radar. Going back the other would likely be Galchenyuk.
The only thing the Canadiens need to be extremely cautious of is getting in too deep with long-term contracts. Goaltender Carey Price is going to earn big bucks on his next deal and the last thing Montreal wants to do is jeopardize getting him extended. He's their backbone.
13 Completely Screwed - The Edmonton Oilers
Right now the Edmonton Oilers are fine. If it stays that way is the real question. There are rumors circulating that the Oilers may struggle to find a way to fit both Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl under a cap that isn't going up much and with McDavid's numbers rumored to go as high as $14 million per season and Draisaitl set to make $7 mill per, this could get tricky for the Oilers in a hurry.
The Oilers finally made the postseason after 11 years of not in the playoffs and they want to get back. If they lock up over $20 million in these two players, contracts to forwards like Milan Lucic are going to look problematic. They moved Jordan Eberle on Thursday to free up space but they need to convince McDavid and Draisaitl that hometown discounts will benefit everyone's future. I repeat, they are good right now and have some pretty nice contracts on the books, but they have to tread carefully and can't go on any spending sprees. It's a reason why there are people in Edmonton concerned that guys like defenseman Kris Russell just received a four-year extension at $4 million per season.
12 Primed To Take Advantage - Arizona Coyotes
The Arizona Coyotes have already acquired Niklas Hjalmarsson from the Chicago Blackhawks and they added Derek Stepan and Anti Raanta. They could make the biggest splash on July 1st, but they probably won't. With over $31 million in available cap space, the Coyotes can take care of players like Anthony Duclair and Jordan Martinook and still have a ton of room to make other moves.
But, as many know, Arizona is not a cap team. They'll never spend close to the ceiling and instead will be an organization that takes on bad cap hit contracts with no actual salary required. Now that Dave Tippet has left the organization and Shane Doan has been told to take a hike, this could be even more of an accurate statement and questions surrounding the Coyotes are even more present.
11 Completely Screwed - Vegas Golden Knights
In a matter of 24 hours, Vegas went from a roster with next to no salary to a roster that has the second-highest payroll in the NHL. Vegas took the approach that they would help existing teams relieve themselves of their cap problems by taking on large contracts like David Clarkson ($5.25 million), Mikhail Grabovski ($5 million), Reilly Smith ($5 million) and others.
There is still plenty of time for them to make trades and moves to free themselves of some of the contracts they took on, but it seems like Vegas is settled on the fact that they won't be players on July 1. They had a window in which to talk to pending UFA's and they didn't really use it other than to sign Erik Haula from Minnesota. They may not even be able to act as further cap relief for teams trying to find room for free agents. The organization will have to settle for bargain contracts available later in the summer.
10 Primed To Take Advantage - New Jersey Devils
Expect the New Jersey Devils to be a busy team on July 1. They have almost $25 million to work with, need at least four more forwards and one defenseman. They also have the task of getting Ilya Kovalchuk back to the U.S., signing and trading him to another team.
The Devils have the first overall pick in Friday's NHL Entry Draft and it looks as though they'd like to find a player that can contribute right away and add pieces that will make them much more competitive than they were last season. The Devils may be a team with the most roster change for the 2017-18 season. Clearly, their defense needs major work and they'll try to add someone to play with Taylor Hall up front.
9 Completely Screwed - New York Islanders
The Islanders are always a team that does something interesting. Already involved in some of the biggest moves of the Expansion Draft, they cleared significant space with Vegas, then added Jordan Eberle. They'd be in good shape to sign players if it weren't for the fact their name is mentioned in every rumor involving Matt Duchene.
Because Duchene is a $6 million per year player over the next two seasons, adding him would effectively wipe out all of the open cap space Garth Snow has to round out his team. It's highly unlikely that Colorado retains any salary in a Duchene deal so Snow would have to move an existing piece and then would need to clear room to keep John Tavares after next season. Tavares will earn a significant raise should he choose to stay with New York and these moves are pretty much centered around convincing him to stay.
8 Primed To Take Advantage - Nashville Predators
The Predators took a hit when they lost James Neal at the NHL Expansion Draft. A top-six winger, Neal was good for at least 20 goals per season. As such, the Preds will be looking to add scoring come July 1st and general manager of the year David Poile is good at finding bargains in free agency. He'll likely look to do so again.
The Predators have nine forwards under contract and need to do some internal housekeeping by getting Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson under contract. That will likely eat into about half of their remaining cap space and give them 11 forwards. If Mike Fisher and Vernon Fiddler return, neither will be expensive. The Preds have a wicked blue line and don't need much help there.
7 Completely Screwed - Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings have 10 forwards signed for 2017-18 and six defensemen. Both their forward group and their blue line could use upgrading and they have a couple of their own contracts to take care — namely Tomas Tatar, who scored 25 goals for them last season.
Detroit was once a powerhouse team but as of late are anything but. They missed the playoffs for the first time in forever and it's not a place the team wants to be again. They definitely would have liked to be active in trades or free agency but with just under $8 million to spend on at least 2 or 3 roster spots, they'll be in tough to add anyone significantly able to help the team. They have done next to nothing so far and haven't popped up in any rumors. They could be relatively quiet.
6 Primed To Take Advantage - Dallas Stars
The Dallas Stars have eight forwards under contract and a lot of expiring contracts that will likely not be returning. General manager Jim Nill is not one to sit around so you can expect he'll be a player on July 1. With over $22 million in available cap space and the need to sign at least four more forwards, expect the Stars to be busy and try to help out stars like Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn.
The Stars also only have four defensemen under contract and will either look to renew a player or two from their own roster or look to what seems like a more limited blue line pool available. The Stars just hired Ken Hitchcock as coach and you can expect any signings will be the type of players who fit into his system.
5 Completely Screwed - Los Angeles Kings
After losing Brayden McNabb in the expansion draft, the Los Angeles Kings have only four defensemen signed for the upcoming season. They also have a couple terrible contracts on the books with Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik taking up almost 15 percent of the entire team's cap. Some of the biggest name free agents are also much older players and the Kings are not actively looking to get older. They need to get younger and quicker.
Their biggest splash may be a player like Cody Franson and that's hardly going to make a dent. Alternatively, the Kings are rumored to be in on Evander Kane via trade and if that's true it makes their cap situation even that much more of an issue. The rumored exchange would involve a defenseman like Alec Martinez or Jake Muzzin.
4 Primed To Take Advantage - Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto is under no real pressure to do anything. With 20 roster players already signed and tons of their talent on entry-level deals their biggest concern is what to do next summer when some of their young talent comes due for big raises. Even still, large contracts like Joffrey Lupul and James van Riemsdyk will come off the books giving Toronto plenty of room to make the deals they need.
The Leafs have about $14 million to play with and are likely to try and improve their defense and acquire a backup goaltender. They should have a variety of options in which to do so and as long as they don't go long-term on any expensive contracts, should be in excellent shape. The key for the Leafs is that their young talent doesn't regress in any way.
3 Completely Screwed - San Jose Sharks
The question in San Jose is, who are the Sharks planning on keeping and who are they planning on letting walk? If the Sharks are looking to bring back both Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, both will have to take significant pay cuts. Both like San Jose, but how much are they willing to eat to the let the Sharks grab pieces that can truly help them? Thornton is injured and potentially will miss part of the season. Unless he's on long-term injury reserve it won't help the Sharks cap.
Otherwise, they have eight forwards signed with $18 million in cap space to land at least four more forwards. Can we expect Thornton and Marleau to eat up half that space? Potentially and that could pose issues since they really need at least one more significant forward for their top-six.
2 Primed To Take Advantage - Colorado Avalanche
With how the Colorado Avalanche finished the season in 2016-17 and with the rumors swirling that any or all of Matt Duchene, Tyson Barrie, Gabriel Landeskog and even Nathan McKinnon are possible trade pieces this summer, Joe Sakic may be among the busier of general managers on July 1.
The Avs have about $21 million in cap space and only 13 players signed. A complete overhaul is in play here and with Sakic still being a relatively young GM and having already made questionable decisions, this could be an interesting summer in Denver. You can bet other GM's and agents will look at the Avalanche to get the best possible deals that are out there. Whether or not players are attracted to the idea of playing for an organization in such disarray is another question altogether.
1 Completely Screwed - Washington Capitals
If you take a look at their current cap space you might say that they have lots of room with almost $25 million to spend. Then if you look a little closer, things get interesting. Let's say that the Caps want to keep Shattenkirk. If they do, that could be at least $6 million. If they want to re-sign Justin Williams, that could be between $2.5 million and $3.5 million. Evgeni Kuznetsov needs a new deal and that's between $5 million and $6.5 million. Karl Alzner, T. J. Oshie, Andre Burakovsky and Dmitry Orlov need new deals too. That cap money is going to disappear in a hurry.
If the Capitals don't keep many of these players, they'll have to go into the free agency market to sign a handful of players and that's not always the best game plan. This is especially true for a team that was disappointed in the playoffs again and there's been buzz they may contemplate moving Alex Ovechkin.