Ah the salary cap! It’s probably the most exciting thing about the NHL these days. It makes it impossible to ice the ‘perfect’ team, and levels the playing field for everyone else. With even the elite teams forced to have a hole somewhere on their roster it gives the feeling that anyone can win. With Anaheim looking dominant while boasting admirable cap space, they could be on the verge of a mini dynasty if they manage to capture the Stanley Cup this year.
With trades becoming increasingly difficult to pull off, free agency on July 1st has become even more watchable for fans of player movement. Without the cap constraints, franchises can shuffle their rosters much more freely. A big motivator is getting under the cap. Chicago has become a victim of their own success (a great problem to have) and has had to make difficult decisions every year since their last modern-era Cup win. With their two stars about to receive significant raises, some serious pieces could be on the move yet again. We have seen ex-Chicago players spread across the league, receiving higher pay and positions where they either flourish or flounder. Who’s about to be blown out of the Windy City next? Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa have managed to hang on but is this the year their number gets called? And Corey Crawford's NTC could make it near impossible to move his $6 million contract (although he makes the most sense). Chicago still has at least one more playoff round to weigh their options and decide who is expendable. You can bet that every team in the West will be happy to see the perennial contender lose yet another effective player.
For the have-nots, cap-casualties mean a potential fix to their struggling team. Garth Snow instantly looked like a genius when he managed to acquire two quality defencemen this season for next to nothing. Being a quality GM means making the most of every situation, and snagging a few scraps from a cap-crunched team can make or break a franchise.
So before they’re gone, let’s have a quick look at those who may be packing their bags.
15 Stephen Weiss
A rare misstep for the kings of consistency. With their top stars aging and their head coach potentially leaving for gigantic sums of money, Detroit could be facing a transition period. You couldn’t fault Wing’s management for signing Weiss in the first place, he looked like the perfect fit. Many expected the skilled Weiss to flourish in Detroit after spending his entire career on a terrible Florida team. But injuries derailed any chance of sustained success and after so long with his draft-team, Weiss may be on the move again.
At $4.9 million, he’s the third-largest cap hit in Motown, which is far too high for his production so far. Detroit also needs to sign their rising stars to new deals as Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Junco are both RFA’s this offseason. Potentially matching the crazy offers for Mike Babcock could also limit the available funds for players.
Weiss may be making his comeback someplace else.
14 Johnny Oduya
Chicago is a powerhouse with only two apparent weaknesses; defensive depth and cap space. That’s why chopping Johnny Oduya from the roster would sting especially hard. Chicago has shed salary more than a snake sheds its skin since they won their 2010 Cup, they might even name a holiday after it!
Marcus Kruger, Brandon Saad, and David Rundblad are all RFAs and a big part of Chicago moving forward. Oduya is the UFA and could fetch a big price in an NHL always crying for defencemen.
If Patrick Kane could suddenly develop a two-way game to go along with his masssive pay-raise, that would come in handy for next season.
13 Brad Richards
Chicago will be making the most sacrifices this upcoming offseason. Richards looked to be the steal of last summer with his paltry contract, but he’ll most likely be priced out of Chicago’s range after his bargain year.
The 37 points Richards scored this regular season would have been perceived as awful a few years ago, but on his cheapy deal with new expectations, it starts looking better. With every team now looking to fill out four lines, Richards could easily find a suitor to give him at least $3-4 million to play second line or below.
12 Michal Rozsival
Another Blackhawk down! Rozsival picked a tough time to get injured. Those who follow the Hawks closely were starting to warm up to Rozsival’s play and to lose him in the middle of a Cup run is terrible news for the team and the Czech.
Returning from a sub-par season with a fractured ankle is tough for any player, but Rozival is also 36 years old. He definitely won’t be back in the Windy City, but if Roman Polak got a contract in Toronto, there could be hope for him yet.
11 Justin Williams
Could L.A. ever part with Williams? The man is made for big games. He is unbeaten (7-0) in Game 7s and has been a part of three Stanley Cup squads (look how well Carolina has done without him). He's also a Conn Smythe Trophy winner.
That being said, the best teams know the best time to move on from an asset. Williams turns 34 before the next regular season and his Kings just missed the playoffs. It’s hard to imagine L.A. moving on but as a UFA he could seriously cash in with another franchise.
10 Carl Soderberg
Boston has just over $6 million in cap space and must sign RFAs Dougie Hamilton, Brett Connolly, Ryan Spooner and make a decision on UFAs Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille, Soderberg, Adam McQuaid and Matt Bartkowski. That's a lot of names and not a lot of dollars to go around.
Boston, like L.A. is a team built like a contender that just missed the playoffs. With their recent firing of longtime GM Peter Chiarelli, big changes could be coming, especially motivated by a demanding ownership group.
9 Shaun Matthias
Vancouver surprised many, rebounding from a disastrous season with John Tortorella. The ‘season from hell’ featured many career lows and the eventual departure of two franchise goalies and heart ‘n soul center Ryan Kesler.
Matthias came to the Canucks from the Luongo trade and delivered a little more than expected while retaining the same frustrating inconsistencies that have kept him from becoming a top offensive player. Like so many gifted and large forwards, Matthias dazzles one night and is invisible the next. But with 18 goals this season as an impending UFA, he will most likely find a much better offer outside Vancouver.
8 Mike Richards
We come to a perennial candidate on this list until 2020. Mike Richards's demotion to the AHL saved his team less than a million and they still did it, highlighting how rough this situation has become.
The Kings have a lot of cap juggling to do and Richards is the awkward ball they have had to leave on the ground. Richards appeared to have some value as a two-way center with leadership but dropping him to the AHL must have sent red flags across the league; potentially killing his trade value.
But who knows, in a world where David Clarkson was traded, anything could happen.
7 Milan Lucic
It'll be interesting to see if this ever happens. Boston needs a shakeup and Milan Lucic hasn’t given them $6 million worth (probably ever), but, he is the prototypical Bruin and the franchise has shown a tendency to stay true to that model (Kessel, Seguin).
A new GM however could cause a shift in the Bruin philosophy. The ownership has been very demanding this season and Lucic could be the next sacrificial lamb for a team that needs some positive change.
6 Patrik Berglund
His name has been on the trading block for years yet he’s remained a Blue. With Paul Stastny taking up $7 million and Tarasenko needing a new contract, someone could be moving very soon. Patrik Berglund is a center on a team loaded down the middle, he’s been expendable for years, could it finally be time for him to move on?
Other than Stastny, the Blues maintain an enviable distribution of funds among their roster. But with an early playoff exit, changes will surely come to a franchise that has been patient long enough.
5 Kevin Bieksa
Kevin Bieksa’s grit, leadership, and solid play has been a staple on Vancouver’s back end for years. Hated by opposing teams, he’s been a true fan favorite, but his play in the postseason has many calling for a trade. He currently makes $4.6 million and was an absolute disaster in the playoffs, getting physically dominated by the upstart Flames.
He does sport a NTC but Canuck GM Jim Benning has previously stated (and proven) he will ask players to waive it for the right deal. Even without Bieksa, the Canucks have seven defenders that could step in and provide a few million of cap relief. He may not fetch much in a trade, but he's looking like the number-one trade candidate in Van city.
4 Brandon Sutter
It may shock those outside of Pittsburgh, but this Sutter isn’t a grinding shutdown man. In fact, his biggest strength is scoring pretty goals. The problem is that the Penguins need every forward to give them the most bang for their buck and they can’t afford a one-dimensional third-liner making $3.3 million.
With Sutter’s pretty goals, last name, and modest cap-hit, he should interest many teams in a trade. Look for him to be moved as Jim Rutherford tries to get this talented core back into the Stanley Cup Final.
3 R.J. Umberger
Hartnell for Umberger was a real head-scratcher. The Flyers saved a bit of term and cash, but Umberger’s contract isn’t that much better and his play has been mediocre.
The Flyers also desperately need defensive help. They have some serious talent up front that is being wasted. Continually burning off Giroux’s prime years with Umberger and Lecavalier’s bloated contracts has to frustrating for the fans and the franchise.
If Umberger could potentially be moved for any kind of defensive help, the Flyers could get on the road to respectability.
2 Patrick Sharp/Marian Hossa/Corey Crawford
Sharp and Hossa are an important part of the Chicago core, providing the versatility and two-way play that rounds out such a top-heavy team. But with $21 million of cap space going to TWO players next season, a big piece must go.
Crawford would be the easiest choice with his postseason struggles and huge cap hit for a team that won both cups with minuscule goaltending budgets. However, his NTC makes him a difficult piece to move.
How Chicago and these three perform for the rest of the playoffs could have a big impact on who stays and who goes this offseason.
1 Evgeni Malkin
A fantasy or grim reality? It’s hard to imagine ever trading one of the best players on the planet, but it’s been done many times before. The Penguins have had zero success with this core since their Cup win. The two-headed monster surrounded by bargain-bin contracts has disappointed every year.
Even though the problem is more likely with goaltending and defence, Malkin would be an incredible chip to play. A trade involving the superstar Russian would be absolutely epic and could help restock the Penguins now and for years to come. Brian Burke gave up two first-rounders for Phil Kessel, so imagine what Rutherford can demand for Malkin.
I would trade Crosby myself, but he’s always been Pittsburgh’s golden boy. Unless Peter Pocklington is in charge, Malkin would be the guy to go first.
Malkin has a no trade clause as well, so the most likely way this would happen is if Malkin asks for one himself, so he could be a no.1 centre somewhere else, in a situation he feels has potential for more Stanley Cups.