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.)