July 1 is free agent frenzy day and teams will be falling all over themselves to have the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk, Evgeni Nabokov, Anton Volchenkov and others put pen to letter-headed paper. Check out our divisional free agent previews (Northeast, Atlantic, Southeast, Northwest, Central and Pacific) for team-by-team rundowns of free agents, team needs and prospects ready to jump to the NHL.
We’ve all heard about the salary cap troubles in locales such as Chicago, Detroit, Calgary and Boston – those teams will be bit players when the unrestricted free agent market opens at noon Thursday. But what about the teams with the ability to blow others out of the water with contract offers?
We took a look at the franchises with money to burn and found there is some serious cake available out there. Assuming teams spend the maximum $59.4 million available, these are THN.com’s Top 10 teams with money to spend. (Thanks to capgeek.com (http://www.capgeek.com/) for saving us hours of tedious research.)
10. Los Angeles Kings, $17.5 million to spend
Rumored to be the biggest player in the Kovalchuk sweepstakes, the Kings have to be careful not to get too far ahead of themselves. They have 16 players signed to NHL contracts and must re-up RFAs Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson and Wayne Simmonds next summer.
9. Phoenix Coyotes, $19.7 million
With 19 players already signed and $19.7 million to play with, the Coyotes appear well situated at first blush. But who knows how much they actually can spend and they’re in danger of losing UFAs Zbynek Michalek, Matthew Lombardi and Lee Stempniak.
8. Edmonton Oilers, $19.8 million
After finishing last overall, two pieces of good news come Edmonton’s way: Taylor Hall and the fact just 14 players are signed. There are some RFAs to ink – led by Sam Gagner and goalies Jeff Deslauriers and Devan Dubnyk – but flexibility abounds for the Oilers. Now, if only Shawn Horcoff wasn’t costing them $5.5 million the next five seasons.
7. Anaheim Ducks, $21.2 million
The retirement of Scott Niedermayer gave the Ducks an injection of much-needed cap space. RFA Bobby Ryan will eat up some of that, but with 19 players signed the Ducks can pick and choose which free agents they like without having to panic about icing a full squad.
6. Nashville Predators, $21.5 million
The Preds have been dumping salary heading into the free agency period. But Nashville isn’t exactly known as a huge spender, so who knows what GM David Poile et al., are planning. But with 17 players already signed and just a few RFAs to ink, if the Preds want to be big players, they have the room to do so.
5. Tampa Bay Lightning, $23.8 million
A team with a number of needs and just 13 players signed. New GM Steve Yzerman has a reputation that’ll attract players to Tampa – and he needs a number of them. But with Steven Stamkos an RFA next year and Martin St-Louis a UFA, Yzerman will have to count his beans well this summer.
4. Colorado Avalanche, $29.5 million
With such a young team on his hands, GM Greg Sherman faces the problem of having a number of his own RFAs to sign this summer – led by Chris Stewart and Peter Mueller. But with 17 players signed and owner Stan Kroenke pulling the purse strings, money – and we mean Wal-Mart money – isn’t really an issue, so if the Avs want to make a splash, they can.
3. Atlanta Thrashers, $30.1 million
Not ponying up $120 million or so over the next decade-and-a-bit to Kovalchuk left the Thrashers with oodles of money to spend if they want – if being the important word. An ownership mess means they likely won’t spend to the cap, but new GM Rick Dudley has shown recently he’s not afraid to spend, so who knows? He’ll need to make some moves with only 13 players signed.
2. New York Islanders, $32 million
Despite all of the problems surrounding a new arena and the Kansas City/Brooklyn rumors that won’t go away, the real problem is actually attracting players to the Isle. With 17 players signed, owner Charles Wang has money to allocate, but marquee free agents aren’t interested. Have the Islanders become a dumping ground for out-of-options veterans?
1. St. Louis Blues, $32 million
The Blues just earn the No. 1 spot with about $5,000 more cap space than the Islanders. But St. Louis has just 12 players signed and must get RFAs Jaroslav Halak, Erik Johnson, David Perron and Alex Steen signed, all while keeping in mind T.J. Oshie, Patrik Berglund and Roman Polak will need raises next summer. So while there’s money to spend, GM Doug Armstrong and company have some planning to do.
The THN.com Top 10 appears Wednesdays only on TheHockeyNews.com.
If you enjoy this feature, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine for the exclusive countdown, Starting From 5, and other great features from the world of hockey.