By Allan Muir
With less than two weeks until the start of training camp, it's clear that this year's $64 million salary cap won't be the financial sharknado that many feared.
Despite the sharp reduction from last year's prorated $70.2 million ceiling, most clubs appear to be in fair shape -- if a bit shorter on breathing room than they'd like. There are some perfectly serviceable veterans who still find themselves on the outside looking in, of course, but that would have been the case no matter where the cap had been set.
Not every team is set to be in compliance, though. Six are believed to be over the $64 million limit. But even with some tough decisions looming, it seems that cap-space hell isn't as bad as it's cracked up to be.
Take the Flyers. According to capgeek, they're about $2 million over the cap, but they are also two players over the 23-man roster limit. With 10 defenders on NHL deals, it's a safe bet that Philadelphia will trade or waive two of them. Bruno Gervais ($825,000) and Marc-Andre Bourdon ($612,500) are likely targets. Waiving veteran forward Jay Rosehill ($675,000) would cover the difference, but if the Flyers don't want to risk losing his intimidating presence, they could demote forward Brayden Schenn for a game and then call him back up for Game 2 after putting defenseman Chris Pronger and his $4,941,929 contract on long-term injured reserve.
The Bruins, who are about $1.1 million over and one man shy of the roster limit, have a similar option on the table with concussed forward Marc Savard. Assuming that they are comfortable with the ability of young defensemen Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski to compete for top-six roles, they need some leeway to cover both their current commitments and the salary of a 13th forward. If the kids stumble, the B's could use some of that space to add a veteran blueliner (possibly Ron Hainsey) on the cheap. That shouldn't be a problem for GM Peter Chiarelli. One of the reasons he was re-signed last week was his ability to manage the cap while keeping the core of the team intact. Placing Savard and his $4,027,143 hit on LTIR looks like his best option.
The Penguins are over by a little more than $1 million, but their solution likely comes down to moving a veteran blueliner. As mentioned in this morning's Top Line column, Matt Niskanen ($2.3 million) looks like the odd man out with Simon Despres and Robert Bortuzzo ready to step into the lineup full-time. That kind of hit won't be easy to ship out, especially since Niskanen is a player who needs some protection in order to be effective, and unlike last year, no teams are looking for help to climb up to the cap floor. So the Pens may have to add a sweetener (or assume some of the hit) to move his deal. Veteran forward Jussi Jokinen ($2.1 million) might be easier to swap.
The Red Wings are over by approximately $637,000, and currently two players above the roster limit, so they have options. Trading Jordin Tootoo (if they can find a taker who would move a pick or marginal prospect in return), would shave $1.9 million off the books. Patrick Eaves ($1.2 million) might be a less popular option with fans, but his jack-of-all-trades role would be fairly easy to fill. Moving Cory Emmerton ($500,000) could be a painless, but only partial solution. Mikael Samuelsson ($3 million) can be a real asset when healthy, especially on the power play, but if he pulls up lame in camp, he's a possible LTIR candidate. So is Darren Helm, who still isn't sure he'll be ready for the season opener.
The Sharks (approximately $400,000 over and one man under the roster limit) and Kings ($87,000 and a man over) are both expected to try to trade at least one player during the next couple of weeks. San Jose would like to move Adam Burish ($1.8 million). Los Angeles could solve its problem by getting Keaton Ellerby off the books, but there's not exactly a long line for his slow-footed services.
Even though they're currently under the cap, the Maple Leafs appear to be in the most trouble. Armed with just under $5 million in space, they need to fill two roster spaces, presumably with RFAs Nazem Kadri and Cody Franson. Barring a significant change of heart by both players, though, there's not enough money to make each of them happy. That means somebody has to go.
Kadri's a core player, but trading Franson is an option, albeit one that would be a hard to justify. He scored 29 points last season, sixth most among all NHL defenders, and displayed a maturing physical game that made him a favorite of coach Randy Carlyle. If Paul Ranger or better yet, Morgan Rielly, steps up in camp, that might give the Leafs some leverage to work Franson's demands down, but don't count on that happening.
And don't expect a panic move, at least not yet. The Leafs have plenty of time to get the situation settled. Teams can be up to 10 percent over the cap until the end of this month, so both players could be signed and the space cleared later. But in that case, GM Dave Nonis would have his back against the wall and end up having to give away a player he can't afford to lose just to get into compliance. That might be hell after all.