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


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.)

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”