Bruins, Canucks, Red Wings and 4 other contenders have cap space to make big moves next season

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Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland told Jim Parker of the Windsor Star that the team was hoping to land a top six forward during free agency. Holland said that they hoped to find a Dan Cleary-type guy: “A good, two-way forward.” Unfortunately for Holland and just about any general manager whose eyes weren’t bigger than their stomachs at the free agent market, there just weren’t many quality products available.

Yet the article brought up an interesting – and for the Red Wings’ opponents, potentially scary – point: that lack of spending could allow Holland to be a buyer when some appealing discounts become available. Whether it’s through the waiver wire or trades throughout the 2011-12 season, Detroit can thank a $64.3 million cap ceiling for giving them the peace of mind to know that they have room to improve if needed.

While the Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers and Buffalo Sabres are this year’s fat guys in little coats, Holland’s point brought me to an interesting conclusion: there are quite a few Stanley Cup contenders who should be unusually flush with cash this season. Before I provide that list, here are a few notes on why some teams were left out.

1. The Nashville Predators have a ton of space (more than $23 million) but must re-sign Shea Weber, eventually deal with their other two big future questions and probably have a self-imposed budget that doesn’t match the cap ceiling.

2. The majority of the Los Angeles Kings’ space will wave goodbye when they re-sign Drew Doughty.

3. Ryan Callahan should eat up most of the New York Rangers’ breathing room.

4. I excluded teams that didn’t make the playoffs, even if some think highly of the likes of the New Jersey Devils and Toronto Maple Leafs going into next season.

5. I also excluded a few teams because I question their validity as contenders. Jonas Hiller’s health and a shabby defense leaves me down on the Anaheim Ducks while the loss of Ilya Bryzgalov/their inability to win a playoff round in ages makes me pass on the Phoenix Coyotes.

OK, with those teams out of the way, here are the Cup contenders with a healthy amount of cap space left. I also listed the amount of roster spots a given team has covered; teams with less than 23 will probably have slightly less room after adding a few minimum salaries. (One more note: these numbers are rounded up, but aside from that they follow Cap Geek‘s lead.)

Boston Bruins: $8.7 million (20 roster spots covered)
Montreal Canadiens: $7.68 million (20 spots covered)
Detroit Red Wings: $5.85 million (23 spots covered)
San Jose Sharks:$5.01 million (22 spots covered)
Tampa Bay Lightning: $4.97 million (22 spots covered)
Vancouver Canucks: $3.88 million (22 spots covered)
Chicago Blackhawks: $3.14 million (“24” spots covered)

Obviously, some of this is subject to change (the Blackhawks need to get to down to 23, the Bruins still need to lock up Brad Marchand and so on), but it’s pretty impressive that many of the NHL’s strongest teams built up this much space. As you can see, this list includes three of the last four Stanley Cup winners and all four 2011 conference finalists. All of these teams managed to play in at least one conference finals series in the last three years.

What does it all mean? To some extent, maybe NHL general managers are figuring out how to run teams in the post-lockout, salary cap era.

Beyond looking at why, how about what’s next. If these teams are contenders as expected in 2011-12, they should be able to add the “missing piece(s)” during the trade deadline. It’s unfair to say that the 2011 deadline was dreary since there were some significant trades during that month overall, but things could be much more interesting if these top teams have this kind of breathing room in February 2012.

Feel free to change “interesting” to “terrifying” if your favorite team isn’t one of the seven listed above, though.

(H/T to Kukla’s Korner for the Windsor Star story.)

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.