Salary cap officially set at $64.3 million for 2011-12 season

For weeks we’ve known the salary cap was going to go up for the 2011-12 season—the only question was “how much?” Today the league answered the question by announcing the NHL cap will be raised to $64.3 million. Additionally, the cap floor was set at $48.3 million.

In the sixth season since the lockout, the salary cap has exploded from the original $39 million to today’s $64.3. To put the figure in proper perspective, the minimum each NHL team must spend is $9.3 million more than the original maximum for each team. After minimal increases over the last two seasons, the $4.9 increase is huge news for some of the richer teams around the league.

After the back-to-back blockbuster trades from Philadelphia this afternoon, it’s clear they can use every single salary cap dollar they can find. Vancouver will be happy to hear they have more wiggle room when trying to re-sign Kevin Bieksa and/or Christian Ehrhoff. Every team that has significant contracts on the books like the Calgary Flames can take the extra money and hopefully re-sign Alex Tanguay or Brendan Morrison.

The news is certainly welcomed by both players and general managers alike. While it’s obvious that players want to get as much of the pie as possible, general managers around the league will welcome the extra cap space provided to piece together their teams for next season. The owners—well, they might not be as happy.

On the flip side, there are teams that are much more concerned with the cap floor than the cap ceiling. For teams much more concerned with the bottom line than winning games, $48.3 million will be the number they keep their eye on. Without a big splash within free agency, teams like the New York Islanders and Phoenix Coyotes could have problems making it to the floor. Dale Tallon has a daunting task ahead of him as the Florida Panthers only have $18.3 million committed to 11 players next season. He’ll have about $30 million to spend—now he’ll just have to pick and choose who he wants (and who he can convince) for the rebuilding project in South Beach.

According to Capgeek.com, here are the Top 5 teams in terms of payroll today (these figures include the Jeff Carter and Mike Richards trades, as well as Ilya Bryzgalov’s new $51 million contract):

  • Calgary Flames: $57.3 million
  • Philadelphia Flyers: $56.7 million
  • Pittsburgh Penguins: $56.4 million
  • Chicago Blackhawks: $54.3 million
  • Los Angeles Kings: $53.6 million

Both the San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks will also be forced to watch their spending habits as they both have holes to fill on their rosters and have significant contracts on the books.

Next, let’s take a look at the five teams that have the lowest payrolls:

  • Winnipeg: $35.9 million
  • Colorado Avalanche: $32.1 million
  • Phoenix Coyotes: $31.6 million
  • Carolina Hurricanes: $31.1 million
  • Florida Panthers: $18.3 million

Again, the cap figures can be a little misleading. Even though the Islanders aren’t in the bottom five in payroll, they already have 17 players under contract. When the dust settles and all of the rosters have been filled, the Islanders will be one of the lowest spending teams in the league (yet again). The Dallas Stars also have 17 players under contract and are in the bottom third in spending—if they don’t make a few big signings, they’ll be near the bottom in payroll as well. Considering the ownership situation, it’s doubtful they’ll be adding significant salary to the books anytime soon (unless the contract reads: Richards, Brad).

It’s always interesting to see how each team will spend their money in the offseason. Some teams like the Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars are operating with internal budgets, while other teams are willing to spend to the cap limit every season. With the announcement today, everyone knows exactly how much money they have to spend for the silly season.

Now we get to see what they’ll do with their money.

PHT Morning Skate: Is it time for the Bruins to move on from Tuukka Rask?

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Tuukka Rask has shown that he can be one of the top goalies in the NHL, but CSN New England’s Joe Haggerty thinks that his inability to deliver in big games is becoming a serious problem. Haggerty even suggests that the Bruins should consider shipping him out of town this summer. It’s an interesting thought. (CSN New England)

–Nolan Patrick is expected to go first overall in next June’s entry draft, but his draft year has been anything but ordinary. He missed the first 34 games of the season with an undisclosed injury, which must be pretty frustrating. But Patrick has gone through a similar situation before. When he was a young teenager, Patrick broke his collarbone twice. He was able to shake the injuries off and turn himself into a top prospect. (Sportsnet)

–Take a look at the top seven plays of the week in and around the NHL. If you’re fed up of seeing Sidney Crosby score ridiculous goals, do not watch this video. (NBC Sports)

–The Flyers got six goals from six different players in their win over the Penguins last night. You can check out the highlights from that game by clicking the video at the top of the page. Philly is now six points back of Boston for the final Wild Card spot in the East.

–Sabres forward Brian Gionta will be playing in his 1000th NHL game tonight. As you’d imagine, the 5-foot-7 forward didn’t have an easy path to the big show, but he was still able to carve out a great career for himself. “To be out there and part of his 1,000th game, it’s a proud moment for me,” teammate Josh Gorges said. “I know it’s a proud moment for him. We’ve talked about it before, and it’s an amazing accomplishment. … We’re all looking forward to it.” (Buffalo Hockey Beat)

–Did you really think that changing the goalies’ pants was going to result in more goals scored? Well, let’s just say it hasn’t worked out that way. Before the change, teams were scoring 2.73 goals-per-game. Since the change, that number is slightly down at 2.70. (The Score)

–Jets super fan Kiera Neal was diagnosed with cancer at the age of one, but Neal, now 10, is doing well and is cancer free. Her wish was to meet the Winnipeg Jets and her favorite player Dustin Byfuglien, and the people at Hometown Hockey made it happen:

Ducks cement Pacific lead as Getzlaf continues his mammoth March

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By the end of Sunday night, the Anaheim Ducks removed all doubt: they’re on top of the Pacific Division.

Now, it’s not the sort of substantial lead that the sliding San Jose Sharks squandered; Anaheim merely leads the Sharks and Edmonton Oilers by two standings points after beating the New York Rangers 6-3.

With everyone at 75 games played, it’s kind of nice to enjoy the clarity that comes with a clear lead (though the Sharks and Oilers will disagree):

Pacific top four (all teams with 75 games played)

1. Ducks – 93 points (38 ROW, 41 W)
2. Sharks – 91 poitns (40 ROW, 42 W)
3. Oilers – 91 points (37 ROW, 41 W)

Flames – 88 points (38 ROW, 42 W)

The Ducks are now on a four-game winning streak and managed an 8-1-1 mark in their last 10 contests.

With all due respect to Patrick Eaves‘ two goals, it’s Ryan Getzlaf who’s really playing outstanding hockey. He generated four assists in this one, giving him eight helpers in his past four games. He now has a whopping 20 points in March.

A lot going on – fight included – between Corey Perry, Brendan Smith (Video)

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If there’s one thing that’s undeniable from the clip going on, it’s that Corey Perry and Brendan Smith squeezed a lot of activity (carnage?) into a single shift.

Early on in Sunday’s New York Rangers – Anaheim Ducks game, both player delivered hits that were at least borderline dangerous. After that, they traded punches in a pretty solid fight (especially since they seemed a little tired because, again, this was a fairly elaborate sequence).

It’s way too messy a sequence to call neat, but there is something efficient about trading hits and then getting into a fight. That’s a mini-hockey feud in short order.

If you want a pretty moment to counteract all that, check out the great puck movement on this 3-on-1 goal for the Rangers:

Penguins lose to Flyers and lose another key player to injury

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PITTSBURGH — Even with a ridiculously long injured list that would be the foundation of a pretty good hockey team, the Pittsburgh Penguins still found a way to go 8-1-3 in their previous 12 games entering Sunday’s contest against the Philadelphia Flyers.

The injuries finally seemed to start catching up to them on Sunday in a 6-2 loss, extending their current losing streak to three games, matching their season long.

While the loss certainly impacts their pursuit of the top spot in the Metropolitan Division (they remain three points back of the Washington Capitals), and even their quest for home ice advantage in the first round, it is still not the worst thing to come out of Sunday’s game.

The worst thing for them would be the fact the Penguins lost yet another key player to an injury when forward Conor Sheary had to leave the game mid-way through the first period.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said after the game that Sheary is dealing with a lower body injury and that right now he is considered to be day-to-day. It was initially believed that Sheary was injured blocking a shot, but Sullivan insisted that was not the case and that it happened in the offensive zone at some point in the first period.

With Jake Guentzel still sidelined due a concussion he suffered in a recent game against the Buffalo Sabres, that means two-thirds of the team’s recently assembled top line (Sidney Crosby-Sheary-Guentzel) is now sidelined due to injury. Sheary’s injury is especially concerning given how good he has been on Crosby’s wing dating back to the 2016 playoffs. Entering play on Sunday Sheary was averaging nearly a point per game (50 points in 54 games) with almost all of that production coming at even-strength.

They had yet another scare in the third period on Sunday when defenseman Brian Dumoulin had to briefly leave the game and head to the locker room after he was elbowed in the side of the head by Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds.

On Sunday, all of the injuries finally seemed to be too much with the Flyers pretty much dominating the game over the final two periods.

The Flyers received goals from six different players (Jordan Weal, Valtteri Filppula, Dale Weise, Jakob Voracek, Radko Gudas and Shayne Gostisbehere) in the win and outshot the Penguins by a 24-15 margin over the final 40 minutes.

“That wasn’t a good effort and at this point of the season we can’t afford to have those,” said Penguins forward Matt Cullen after the game. “I don’t think that was a typical effort for us. I don’t think we had a lot of life, to be honest.”

Even more than winning games the rest of the way the biggest concern for the Penguins has to be getting their list of injured players healthy and finding a way to avoid adding to it, something that has proven to be difficult in recent weeks.

At this point, whether they win the Metropolitan Division or not, they know their path through the Eastern Conference playoffs is very likely going to have to go through both Washington and Columbus, and they are going to need their full complement of players to do it.

One of the biggest factors in winning a Stanley Cup is having all of your key players in the lineup come playoff time.

A year ago the Penguins did.

Right now they are not even close to having that.