James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Report: Coyotes lock up Goligoski for five years, Datsyuk deal discussed (Update: Goligoski deal official)

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The Arizona Coyotes are currently the furthest team from the 2016-17 salary cap ceiling of $73 million, but that might not be the case for very long.

Multiple outlets indicate that the Coyotes have a five-year contract lined up for defenseman Alex Goligoski. ESPN’s Craig Custance reports that the deal would be in the “neighborhood” of a $5.5 million cap hit, which would put the total around $27.5 million.

Update: The Coyotes have officially announced Goligoski’s five-year deal. Arizona didn’t disclose his salary.

Arizona Sports’ Craig Morgan backs up Custance while TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported that it’s at least expected to be a five-year deal.

The Coyotes have been struggling for some time, yet an influx of new talent makes Arizona quite a bit more interesting. You can do worse than the puck-moving combination of Goligoski and Oliver Ekman-Larsson:

While demand keeps climbing for defensemen of Goligoski’s ilk, supply continues to shrink and shrink.

The Coyotes made a bold move in acquiring Goligoski’s rights for a fifth-rounder, but it could pay off. They’re expected to make this official during a press conference scheduled for Wednesday.

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Morgan floats another interesting nugget: there were at least discussions that the Coyotes might absorb Pavel Datsyuk‘s $7.5 million cap hit for 2016-17.

It’s likely that Goligoski + Datsyuk would get the Coyotes close to the floor, although Arizona might be less inclined to do so now. Then again, the Coyotes are already absorbing Chris Pronger‘s $4.935 million cap hit, so they’re certainly not against the concept.

The Red Wings may want to at least keep the Coyotes in mind when making calls, although Arizona’s sights may now be set on guys who … you know, are actually slated to play next season.

So, who’s sweating the NHL salary cap the most?

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It’s only natural: once the $73 million cap ceiling and $54 million floor became official for 2016-17, fans asked “Where does my team stand?”

At such a modest bump from 2015-16’s $71.4 million upper-limit, teams aren’t exactly going to loosen their belts. Meanwhile, hitting the floor is tougher, but not astronomically so.

If you want to check out the situation for every team, consult General Fanager and Cap Friendly. For the sake of your scrolling thumb, consider this an abridged look at the teams sweating things the most.

One team above the cap

The only team currently above the $73 million ceiling is the reigning champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

That’s almost $1.5 million more than allotted.

It’s not necessarily a reason to panic, as Cap Friendly’s estimate is based on a roster size of 23 players. One would assume that the Penguins could place Pascal Dupuis‘ $3.75 million cap hit on LTIR, too. Eventually.

Without major players to re-sign (sorry, Justin Schultz), the Penguins’ situation isn’t as bad as it initially looks. Things will still be pretty tight, however, so expect regular Marc-Andre Fleury rumors going forward.

Teams sweating the ceiling

So, who else is heading for discomfort? The short answer is “the usual suspects.”

The Chicago Blackhawks gained some breathing room by moving Bryan Bickell’s cap hit, but they’re still gasping for air:

And … yeah, it would still be tough to grab Evgeni Malkin.

Maybe the Los Angeles Kings have a slightly better chance to retain Milan Lucic, but that situation is very much TBD, as LA Kings Insider notes here.

That slight bump might be good news for the Detroit Red Wings amid their efforts to get rid of Pavel Datsyuk‘s $7.5 million cap hit:

Long story short, contending teams with limited space and significant pieces to consider will sweat things about as much as expected. Again, these two resources are your friend.

Down under

On the other end of the spectrum, there are the teams that need to get to the floor, aka “Those who should be on Ken Holland’s speed dial.”

  • The Coyotes took a step closer with the just-about-official Alex Goligoski bump. They generally have a lot of spots to fill, too.
  • The Devils are closer after absorbing Marc Savard‘s roaming cap hit. A guy like Kyle Palmieri should help them beef up their salary base, too.
  • The Lightning will probably stand as big-spenders. The Bruins have plenty of money waiting to be spent, with the bigger questions being “Who gets the cash and who leaves?” The Panthers seem primed to spend like a contender, at least in relative terms.
  • Don’t worry about the Flames; Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan should eat up plenty of space.
  • The Jets and Senators rank among those teams trying to be budget playoff contenders, so they might not be far from the floor. They shouldn’t struggle too much, what with the need to re-sign guys like Mike Hoffman.
  • The Hurricanes may be a salary dump target, as they don’t really have major players to lock up and are at about $48 million.

Overall, there aren’t a ton of teams that should really sweat the cap floor, especially if someone actually accepts Datsyuk’s dead money.

Ultimately, the table is set for an intriguing off-season. The increase in cap space keeps free agent season alive, but the boost is small enough that teams might need to make bold trades to save space.

Buckle up.

The NHL’s salary cap for 2016-17 is $73M

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No more guessing or estimating needed: the NHL’s salary cap ceiling is set at $73 million for the 2016-17 season.

The floor is set at $54 million while the “adjusted midpoint” is $63.5 million.

It looks like the NHLPA did indeed agree to a 5 percent escalator that bumped up the cap from what would have been a very limiting mark. Breaking: not every player is happy taking one for the team, so to speak:

This represents a modest $1.6 million bump from 2015-16, when the cap ceiling was at $71.4 million.

Early guesses were that the cap would be at $74.5 million, but NHL GMs will need to settle for a point in between that overly optimistic estimation and last season’s upper-limit.

It doesn’t sound like GMs were relying on that early, incorrect $74.5 million prognosis:

This $73 million provides at least a touch of breathing room, yet we’ve already seen examples of teams needing to make some painful decisions, including the Chicago Blackhawks giving up Teuvo Teravainen to get rid of Bryan Bickell’s cap hit.

The cap wouldn’t be the only factor in moves around draft day and beyond, yet it would be one of the leading motivations for what some believe will be the busiest off-season in years. Stay tuned.

Want to know more about which teams are affected the most by the cap? Check out this post.

Sounds like Panthers won’t re-sign Montoya, who could be a nice find

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Every summer, there are players who slip under the free agency radar and end up yielding surprising returns for affordable contracts.

Could Al Montoya be a sneaky goaltending gem for teams that wait out the feeding frenzy stages of the UFA period?

We may get to find out, as the Sun-Sentinel reports that Montoya will likely join Brian Campbell as Florida Panthers turned free agents.

There were already murmurs of the Panthers wanting to move on from Montoya a couple weeks ago, even when the team seemed a little more optimistic about retaining “Soupy.”

When it comes to lower-tier free agents, it’s all about managing expectations.

Montoya isn’t likely to save a team’s bacon over and over again, yet he boasts reasonable potential to be either a nice backup or even a decent 1B option.

In 25 games for Florida in 2015-16, he went 12-7-3 with a nice .919 save percentage. He also managed a .920 save percentage in 2013-14 with Winnipeg.

Now, his 2014-15 work with the Panthers was a little rough (6-7-2, .892 save percentage), so it’s not to say that he’ll light the world on fire. His career .909 save percentage argues that he probably isn’t a backup who can become a true top guy like, say, Martin Jones.

Call them flashes of brilliance or glimpses of competence, but there have been enough moments that he could be the sort of backup who can grab subtle-but-important points. There’s even the possibility that he can hold down the fort when a No. 1 guy gets injured.

With Luongo getting up there in the years, the Panthers might require even more than what Montoya can provide. Another team – maybe the Anaheim Ducks with John Gibson more exposed? – would be wise to take a look at Montoya if he hits the bargain bin.

How to pry the eighth pick from the Sabres

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Stockpiling high-end draft picks isn’t just about nabbing prospects. Sometimes you can gain more immediate boosts by converting certain picks into roster players with a well-timed trade or two.

The Buffalo Sabres have already done a little of both. Sure, they drafted Jack Eichel with the second pick of the 2015 NHL Draft, yet they also spent excess picks to nab the likes of Robin Lehner, Ryan O'Reilly and Evander Kane.

GM Tim Murray seems open-minded about doing similar things with the eighth overall pick of the 2016 NHL Draft.

He detailed what kind of deal might work to the Buffalo News:

“If we can trade a couple picks and improve our team, we’ll continue to do that,” Murray said Tuesday. “If somebody offers us a top-end, young, left-shot” defenseman “and they demand our eighth overall pick and we feel it makes us better, we’ll do the trade.”

“Top-end” is a subjective matter, but someone like Anaheim Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler fits at least some of that criteria.

(Someone like Kevin Shattenkirk would be interesting, although he shoots right.)

Now, sending out feelers for a roster defenseman doesn’t mean Murray sees no value in the pick itself. Buffalo is apparently eyeing three different players who could fall to the eighth spot, with two being blueliners. (He believes at least two of them will make it that far.)

As we saw in Murray trading for Jimmy Vesey’s rights, the Sabres’ GM isn’t afraid to make bold moves. It doesn’t sound like he’s resting on his laurels this summer after such a busy 2015 off-season, either.

This could shape up to be a very busy draft night even off the boards, and don’t be surprised if Buffalo is in the thick of things.