A number of reports surfaced over the weekend that suggest the NHL's salary cap could remain static next season, staying at or near the current $69 million. The possibility has several general managers sweating over the cost-cutting impact it could have on their teams.
Here's what we know: Depressed oil prices are crushing the Canadian dollar—up slightly to 88.43 cents on the U.S. dollar as of Monday morning—and given how much hockey-related revenue is generated via the loonie, that is a serious concern. There is also thought to be an “escrow fatigue” among players who currently are having 14% of their pay withheld, making it less likely that the NHLPA would vote in favor of activating the cap's 5% escalator option for 2015–16.
Both of those situations could change, of course. If demand for oil or other commodities grows, then the loonie could surge. And facing a summer of owners pleading cap-induced poverty, some players (particularly free agents) could push the union to implement the escalator when it votes next June.
But in any case it seems inevitable that an increase above this year's ceiling would fall well below the $5 million many were expecting. The cap-crunch relief that several teams were hoping for isn't coming, and that could have serious effects on the lineups of some of the NHL's top contenders.
Take a team like the Blackhawks, which recently extended superstars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews (at $10.5 million annually) with some expectation that the cap would rise and give them a little breathing space. Instead, Chicago is likely to head into next summer with nearly $66 million committed to just 15 players. Upcoming UFA defensemen Johnny Oduya and Michal Rozsival will be replaced internally (read: cheaply) by the likes of Adam Clendening, Klas Dahlbeck, Ville Pokka and Stephen Johns, and top prospect Teuvo Teravainen will step in for grizzled veteran Brad Richards. But even the low-rent roster fillers will push the Hawks over the limit before they get to their most pressing need: a new deal for forward Brandon Saad. The best-case scenario in his case is a two-year bridge deal for something along the lines of $3 million per. That's a resonable hit, but if the cap stays flat it means that another veteran or two will have to be shipped out to clear space—much the same way Nick Leddy was dispatched this fall. Only it could be someone with a larger role than Leddy's this time: Think Brent Seabrook or Patrick Sharp.
The Bruins would have more than $12 million available, but only 14 players signed. RFA defenseman Dougie Hamilton will be due for a raise, and based on the way he's performed while Zdeno Chara has been sidelined Hamilton will likely be looking for a big one. There's no consensus yet on RFA Reilly Smith, but as the most valuable asset gained in the Tyler Seguin trade, and with his future in the top-six all but cemented, Smith is due to be inked to a longer-term deal than the "good soldier" one-year bridge contract that he signed this summer. That will leave little room to fill out the rest of the roster and re-sign UFA Carl Soderberg. The big center has arguably been Boston's best forward this season. If the cap stays flat the Bruins might not be able to match the price that Soderberg would command on the open market. Losing him two years after dumping Seguin would devastate the team's depth down the middle.
The Flyers are potentially tighter to the cap with $66.3 million committed to 17 players, but they don't face the same contract pressures as Boston or Chicago. Still, Philadelphia will need to add or promote a couple of depth forwards, a depth defenseman and a backup goalie to replace Ray Emery, but even league-minimum players would put the team over a cap that stays flat. The Flyers won't be rushed to make any decisions before next year's cap is finalized, but will likely have to cut some salary through trades during the summer.
When the numbers get sorted out next spring and teams start feeling the cap pressure, keep an eye on the Flames. The cap space is there and Calgary will probably be looking to add a couple of veteran components to mentor its young players and help keep the rebuild moving along at a brisk pace.
Sending Semin packing?
Asked about the possibility that Hurricanes forward Alexander Semin would “retire” to the KHL, one agent said it was possible, but that Semin would have to be a pretty effing miserable.” The winger was recently scratched for two games, but since his return he has earned praise for his increased emotional involvement from coach Bill Peters. It would be nice if Semin keeps it up, but his history of inconsistency would seem to argue against that possibility. Sure, Carolina would benefit greatly from slashing his $7 million cap hit through 2017–18, but the team would have to really turn up the heat under Semin to make him consider going back to Russia.
Keeping an eye on the kids
The Russian club in this year's Subway Super Series, which gets underway tonight in Saskatoon (click here for schedule and rosters), is missing too many top players to be seen as a real preview of the squad that will be sent to Canada for the World Juniors in December. Nikolai Goldobin (Sharks, 27th in 2014) is sticking with HIFK of the Finnish League, while Vladislav Kemenev (Predators, 42nd in ’14), Ilya Sorokin (Islanders, 78th, ’14) and Pavel Buchnevich (Rangers, 75th, ’13) are staying home after playing in the Karjala Cup. Still, it's a decent club that should give Team Canada a good run in the Super Series. If you're planning on watching, keep an eye on forward Alexander Dergachev and defenseman Ivan Provorov. Both could be high draft picks next June.
More D needed in Dallas
Could rookie John Klingberg be the tonic for what ails the Stars? The rookie defenseman got the call-up from the AHL on Sunday night and is set to make his NHL debut this week. He's a right-handed shot—a nice change from the six lefties that Dallas currently employs—and has proven in the AHL that he can QB a power play. Klingberg is a high-IQ skater whose ability to read and react could be a good addition to a blue line (excluding Trevor Daley) that has been second guess itself frequently of late.
An unsuitable bit
Full marks to the folks over at Rogers for embracing technology as a means of enhancing their productions, especially a Hockey Night In Canada broadcast that had grown a little stale over the past few years. But a month into the season, it's time to recognize a failed bit and put an end to the stick-in-hand demonstrations of Nick Kypreos, Kelly Hrudey, et al. Watching guys in suits and dress shoes slide awkwardly around a fancy fake-ice set makes for an endearing what-the-hell-are-they-doing moment the first time you see it, but the big quickly loses its charm. And it's nowhere near as informative as slowing down a replay on a monitor and clearly explaining how a play developed. Sometimes less is a whole lot more.
Early returns on the Kesler-Bonino swap
There has been lots of talk early on about which team got the best of the trade that send Ryan Kesler and a 2015 third round pick from the Canucks to the Ducks in exchange for Nick Bonino and change. So far, the swap looks like a win for both Anaheim and Vancouver. Kesler has been everything the Ducks were hoping for in a second-line center, bringing some offensive punch to go along with a terrific defensive game (he was brilliant on Sunday night against the Canucks, owning the Sedin twins from start to finish). Bonino has likewise exceeded all expectations, making a quick transition to his enhanced role while trading on his nasty release and slick playmaking touch. He's tied for third on the team with 13 points. Long term, Vancouver and GM Jim Benning should feast on this deal. Bonino is four years younger than Kesler and the Canucks also scored a first-round draft pick (Jared McCann), a depth defender (Luca Sbisa), and a third-round pick that they converted into Derek Dorsett. For it's part, Anaheim was thinking short-term, looking to win a Cup or two in the next few years. If the Ducks get there with Kesler's help, there won't be anyone complaining about the deal when he hangs 'em up.
Devils on the Schneider
After starting the season with three wins the Devils have won just three of their last 11 games. A scout points to the play of netminder Cory Schneider as the problem that has to be corrected for New Jersey to right the ship. "They've had a lot of injuries to deal with and you can't rule that out, but to these old eyes it looks like they don't get the big save when they need it. [Schneider] will give them the stops he's supposed to make, but the big ones, the ones that change the course of a game, he's not making enough of those. When they're down by two, he's more likely to give up that third goal than he is to keep them hanging around long enough to get back into the game."
That's a veteran observation borne out by #fancystats. According to waronice.com, Schneider's save percentage on high quality shots is just .781, which is better than a couple of big name goalies (Vezina winner Tuukka Rask and gold medalist Carey Price among them), but which still ranks just 25th among keepers who have played at least eight games this season.