Race to the salary floor: Four teams still have cash to spend to compete

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While we’ve been busy taking a look at the cap room a handful of teams will have next year and the lack of cap room others have, there’s still a few more teams that have a lot of money left to spend so that they too can compete this year. Four teams are still under the NHL salary floor of $48.3 million and with most, if not all, of the prime free agent targets signed these teams could be facing a bit of a bind.

Who are those four? CapGeek.com has us covered in knowing who they are and how much they’ve got left to spend. We’ll take a look at each team’s scenario and just what they’ve got left to do to cover the rest of their payroll bill to play next season.

New York Islanders

The Isles have over $9 million left to spend to get to the salary floor. CapGeek lists the Islanders as having just over $39 million committed to next season’s payroll and for a team that’s got most of their roster set for next season, that’s a bit of an issue. To help chip away at that daunting amount, the Islanders have four restricted free agents left to sign. Josh Bailey and Blake Comeau will get a decent pay day once they’re signed to new deals but Micheal Haley won’t get paid much at all and likely ends up in the AHL. Jesse Joensuu has already departed to play in Sweden.

Making things more fun for the Islanders is the talk of bringing back former captain and major buyout victim Alexei Yashin. Yashin is reportedly being offered a deal around $2 million but the stunning part about that is he’s already being paid $2.2 million by the Islanders for the next four years thanks to being bought out back in 2007. Whoops.

If Yashin is signed by the Islanders again, he’ll be double dipping on the team and still unlikely to help them reach the salary floor. That is unless they offered him a contract similar to the one that got the Isles in so much trouble the last time around. Of course, if things play out like that they’ll have to completely rebuild the Nassau Coliseum really fast after hordes of angry Isles fans burn it to the ground.

If the Isles can acquire a defenseman worth a couple million in a deal and get Bailey and Comeau re-signed to improved deals and bring in Yashin, they’ll get closer to the $48.3 million they need to reach the floor. Finding another team to deal with for a defenseman might be tricky and the isles seem unlikely as an option to bring back newly unrestricted free agent Chris Campoli.  It’s never a dull moment on the Island.

source: APNashville Predators

Nashville’s situation can get figured out really fast and really easily. The Predators payroll is sitting at $41.2 million, just over $7 million from the salary floor and they’ve got one really big restricted free agent left to get signed in captain Shea Weber. Weber is one of the top defensemen in the NHL and more than worthy of a big raise and a long term deal with the Preds.

Weber should get a contract somewhere in the range of $6 million-$7 million per year against the cap and with that coupled up with potentially Ryan Ellis making the Predators roster and bringing his entry level deal worth over $1.4 million against the cap the Predators are shaping up just fine to be in compliance with the floor.

The key is getting Weber’s deal done and while the Preds are a frugal team that doesn’t break the bank for anyone, doing so for Weber makes a lot of sense. He’s their best player, the team captain, and he loves playing in Nashville. While the Preds may have headaches next season dealing with Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne, it’s not as if they’re pushed up against the cap. Time to “get ‘er done” in Nashville.

source: Getty ImagesColorado Avalanche

The Avalanche aren’t too far off from getting things done. Colorado’s payroll is at $45.4 million putting them about $2.8 million off from reaching the salary floor. The Avalanche have just one restricted free agent left to get signed in defenseman Kyle Cumiskey. Cumiskey’s potential deal likely won’t pay him enough to get the Avs to the floor but there’s another guy waiting in the wings that could solve all of Colorado’s problems.

2011 first round pick Gabriel Landeskog is a distinct possibility to make the team in his first year out of junior hockey and should he do that, his first-year entry-level contract will come with a cap hit of over $3 million as the second overall pick in the draft. The trick there is that Colorado still has to sign him to it and then he’ll have to make the team out of training camp. If he does that, the Avs salary floor worries are all taken care of and the addition of Cumiskey’s deal will push them over the floor limit.

source: Getty Images

Phoenix Coyotes

Phoenix doesn’t have much to do to get over the salary floor. With a payroll currently at $47.8 million, the Coyotes only have just over $430,000 left to spend to break the barrier. With restricted free agents Kyle Turris and Mikkel Boedker left to get signed, it’s mathematical that the Coyotes will get over the salary floor. Even if somehow both Turris and Boedker signed contracts worth the league minimum they’d go flying past the salary floor and into compliance.

As it is, the Coyotes will be looking to Turris to have the breakout season they’ve been waiting on since drafting him third overall in 2007. Turris has had his ups and downs in Dave Tippett’s system in Phoenix and being rushed to the NHL under Wayne Gretzky’s watch in 2007-2008 did him no favors. Boedker similarly could use a breakout year as well and he too has struggled under Tippett’s watch. They’ll get paid, but they may not be long for the desert if things don’t pick up.

Melnyk threatens to move Senators if ‘disaster strikes’

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If you’re looking for someone to spoil an upcoming function, you may want to give Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk a call.

On the eve of the Senators’ outdoor game against the Montreal Canadiens at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa, and on the night when Ottawa’s greats from yesteryear took the ice with Parliament Hill as a backdrop, Melnyk did his best to steal the spotlight from the NHL 100 Classic on Saturday.

Speaking to reporters, Melnyk threatened to pull the plug in Ottawa and relocate the team if disaster struck.

“If it becomes a disaster, yes,” Melnyk said. “If you start not seeing crowds showing up, yes. But, for now, we are on the cusp of doing OK.”

The doom and gloom continued, with Melnyk suggesting he isn’t going to waste a “lifetime of working hard” to support the Senators.

“It’s not going to happen,” he said. “The bigger question is whether I’m prepared to blow all that money I made over many years in a different industry in a different country. How long can you underwrite a team?”

Melnyk reiterated that he’s not looking to sell the team, a statement he made earlier this week in the Ottawa Sun, and used McDonald’s as an example on Friday. 

“It won’t. It just won’t happen,” he said. “It’s a franchise. Imagine if you own a McDonald’s franchise, but you can move it. But why would you sell it? It’s something that’s very difficult to buy.

We’re doing OK here. Not great, but we’re doing OK. It’s just too much fun. What else do you do? I’m a Canadian. I’m a hockey fan, fanatically a hockey fan, and I couldn’t think of anything better to do.”

Melnyk said the Senators have “cut everything to the bone,” saying the Senators have one of the thinnest management groups in the league.

“We want to keep and maintain great players,” he said. “You can’t keep spending at the top end and getting the lowest revenues. It doesn’t work.”

According to CapFriendly, the Senators are at just over $73 million in projected cap space.

Melnyk called the Senators disaster on the ice this season a “crappy streak” that every team goes through.

“We have way too much talent with this team not to perform,” he said.

When asked if his comments on Friday could take away from the luster of the event taking place in Canada’s capital this weekend, Melnyk said no.

“It keeps the newspapers selling and the radio people listening,” he said.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Marian Gaborik plays game No. 1,000 on Friday

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Marian Gaborik has already hit two milestones that end in double zeroes this season.

On Friday night, and at the world’s most famous arena, he hit his first that ends in three.

Gaborik took to the ice at Madison Sqaure Garden in his 1,000th NHL game as the Los Angeles Kings took on the New York Rangers.

It’s not a bad backdrop for the veteran of 19 NHL seasons.

Gaborik played 255 games with the Blueshirts between 2009 and 2013, hitting the 40-goal plateau twice and recording his career-best season in 2009-10, scoring 42 goals and adding 44 helpers for 86 points in 76 games played.

Gaborik has only played 11 games this season after starting the year on the shelf with a knee injury. Gaborik only returned to the lineup on Nov. 24, but he set two milestones in his return, hitting 400 career NHL goals and 800 career NHL points earlier this month.

Coming into Friday’s game, his stat line read 800 points in 999 NHL games.

As Sportsnet’s Mike Johnston points out, perfect symmetry could be achieved if Gaborik finishes with a plus-one in the plus-minus column in the game and he is held without a point.

I’m sure he’d rather have a new puck to add to his mantle… but think of the stats, Marian.

UPDATE: He didn’t think of the stats. 


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Check, mates: NHL top lines are expected to do it all

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By Stephen Whyno (AP Hockey Writer)

Tyler Seguin doesn’t consider it a challenge. He sees it as an opportunity.

Every time Dallas Stars coach Ken Hitchcock sends Seguin and his linemates over the boards against an opponent’s top line, he knows he has a job to do.

”Out-check the other line and let the skill kind of take over,” Seguin said. ”It’s fun.”

Fun? Sure. It’s also increasingly common in the NHL as coaches seek to put their top lines on the ice against the other team’s best forwards to create matchup problems that often lead to goals.

Goodbye to the likes of Bob Gainey and hello to Boston’s Patrice Bergeron, Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom. All can help keep the puck out of the net almost as well as they can put it in.

”We’re seeing less of the old Don Luce, Craig Ramsey, Brent Peterson lines,” said Capitals coach Barry Trotz, referring to defensive-minded forwards of yesteryear. ”We have guys like Bergeron; Sid goes up against top guys. So I think you’re seeing more of the power against power than we have in the past.”

Power against power is the name of the game in hockey today as players such as Bergeron, Crosby, Backstrom and Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews embody the kind of top-line stars who can double as shutdown centers. Crosby was so good in that dual role at the 2014 Sochi Olympics that Canada won a gold medal – and he was so dominant offensively the past two seasons that the Penguins won consecutive Stanley Cup championships.

Crosby is well aware of the modern duties of a top-flight center.

”You have more responsibility defensively,” he said. ”You’re covering a lot of space, so it’s just something you’ve got to be aware of.”

Before the season, reigning MVP Connor McDavid of Edmonton cited defense and faceoffs as areas he wanted to improve. He already has the dynamic offensive capabilities and sees that as the next step in his evolution.

”It’s more rounding out your game,” McDavid said. ”Being a defensive guy, being able to be put out there in the last two minutes to defend a lead, just to be able to be trusted by your coach out there.”

Coaches have to be able to trust their top players in all situations, particularly since the days of strict shutdown lines are dwindling.

”The systems are about defense, and everyone needs to play it,” Backstrom said. ”That’s what the mindset is – to be good defensively and offensively.”

The best defense is good puck possession because often the most productive players aren’t as sound in their own end. Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella considers it essential to make elite offensive players spend time in their defensive zone, figuring they’re more apt to try to do too much in the neutral zone and turn the puck over.

Good two-way players also have that mindset when they’re matched up against top skill guys.

”They’re so good offensively that sometimes they can forget about their defense, and that’s when you can take advantage of them,” Philadelphia Flyers No. 1 center Sean Couturier said. ”They’re thinking so much offense that once they turn the puck over they’re going to try plays to get turnovers. That’s when you can take advantage of them most of the time.”

That’s the danger of going skill on skill. Few see Calgary Flames stars Johnny Gaudreauand Sean Monahan as defensive stalwarts, but coach Glen Gulutzan continues to put them on the ice against other top lines.

Gaudreau said ”sometimes the best offense comes from playing against other top lines.” And the strategy has multiple benefits.

”It makes sure that your top guys, they’re aware that they’re out there against the other sharks, so to speak, in the league,” Gulutzan said. ”Now they’re a little more conscious defensively. And what you hope is that, through a course of a season, you’re making your guys more defensively aware and come playoff time those things will come in handy.”

Seguin said he thinks the playoffs lead to concerted defensive efforts to shut down certain players, though that largely comes from coaches leaning on their top defensemen. Hitchcock and other coaches said putting their best defensemen against opponents’ top forwards is the most important matchup no matter the situation.

Of course, it helps to have forwards who thrive on tough matchups and understand balancing priorities.

”A lot of times you’re getting matched up with better players, so I think playing offense the whole game isn’t realistic,” Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri said. ”Most of the time it’s just being in the right places and knowing where you are on the ice as opposed to chasing everybody around and that whole ‘shadow’ thing. You’ve just got to be in right areas and right zones.”

Playing responsible defense is one piece of the transition to offense, whether it’s winning board battles or faceoffs or taking the puck away. But top players are counted on and paid to score, so keeping others off the board simply isn’t good enough.

”If it’s 0-0, we’re still kind of mad as a line,” Backstrom said. ”We want to win that match. It would be nice if we could score against them.”

Russia aims for Olympic hockey gold despite turmoil

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russia can’t win Olympic hockey gold in Pyeongchang, but the ”Olympic Athletes from Russia” will have a great shot at the title.

OAR is the moniker imposed by the International Olympic Committee as part of Russia’s punishment across all sports for doping at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.

That’s likely to mean neutral-colored jerseys – though Team Russia executives are battling to keep the traditional red – but still a roster boasting some of the best players outside the NHL.

Asked if the Russians consider themselves gold medal favorites in South Korea, captain Ilya Kovalchuk said: ”We always are.”

The OAR name is no big deal for Kovalchuk. ”Everyone knows where we’re from. It doesn’t matter. The flag is in our heart.”

Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings are among the stars available to Russia ahead of the first Olympics since 1994 without NHL players.

The commercial power of the Moscow-based Kontinental Hockey League – fueled by Russia’s state-run oil and gas companies – has allowed it to compete financially with NHL teams for Russian talent.

Along with Kovalchuk and Datsyuk, the Russian team has forward Vadim Shipachyov, who walked out on the Las Vegas Golden Knights last month, and two-time Stanley Cup-winning defenseman Slava Voynov, who is banned from the NHL indefinitely after pleading no contest to a misdemeanor charge of domestic violence.

Russia showed its potential Thursday with a 3-1 win over Sweden – a key Olympic rival – on two goals from Sergei Kalinin in a Moscow exhibition tournament game.

Russia recorded 34 shots against 22 for Sweden in front of a passionate home crowd, many in red shirts hailing the team as ”Red Machine Reloaded” in honor of the legendary Soviet rosters. Datsyuk sat out the tournament for fitness reasons.

”We just tried to play simple and hard,” defenseman Sergei Andronov said. ”We’re trying to play every game for a victory.”

The Russians haven’t won Olympic hockey gold since 1992, when an almost entirely Russian lineup of players from the recently collapsed Soviet Union competed as the Unified Team.

Under the Team Russia name, its best result is silver in 1998. The last Olympics on home ice in Sochi were a disappointment, as Finland beat Russia 3-1 in the quarterfinals.

The Sochi Games have come back to haunt Russia, with 31 athletes across six sports banned for doping and other sanctions from the IOC.

There’s no allegation of doping by the men’s hockey team, though six women’s team players were suspended.

The key Russian whistleblower, former laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov, has stated in an affidavit that men’s hockey players were not included in a doping program as they would have been harder to keep track of across multiple clubs, and could have given the game away if they failed tests outside Russia.

Not everything has been smoothed out just yet though for Russia ahead of Pyeongchang.

The KHL leadership has yet to confirm it will release players, though any obstruction by the Russia-based league would face fierce opposition from the players and the Russian Hockey Federation leadership, which includes wealthy businessmen close to the Kremlin.

Months of uncertainty over whether Russia would be allowed to compete at all in Pyeongchang haven’t worn team morale down, coach Oleg Znarok insists.

”We’re feeling great and it’s always been great,” he said Wednesday. ”We’ve been working and getting ready. We had no doubts.”