As our own Rick Moldovanyi recently noted, the Florida Panthers are a couple of expensive yachts short of the new salary cap floor of $48.3 million. With just five forwards signed and about $26 million committed to next season, Florida needs to add at least eight players and some $22 million in cap space merely to ice a team next year.
The Colorado Avalanche aren’t too far behind with about $29.5 million on the books. The Avs boast just nine signed forwards, three defensemen and exactly zero NHL goaltenders after walking away from RFA Brian Elliot. Even if they re-sign all seven of their notable current restricted free agents (David Jones, TJ Galiardi, Kevin Porter, Kyle Cumiskey, Ryan Wilson, Ryan O’Byrne and Matt Hunwick) they are likely to be some $10 million short of the cap floor.
With the UFA crop as thin as it is, clubs like Florida and Colorado aren’t going to have a lot of options in terms finding guys to overpay in order to significantly bump their cap numbers. Brad Richards and Tomas Vokoun as the two remaining targets who might garner more than $5 million per year. James Wisniewski, Ed Jovanovski, Tim Connolly, Simon Gagne and Radim Vrbata are the next tier down. Things get sparse after that, particularly with the likes of Alex Tanguay, Brooks Laich, Joni Pitkanen and Ilya Bryzgalov recently being locked-up before going to the market.
As a result, the Panthers and Avalanche may be forced to go the salary dump route in order to make up the difference. Florida has already done Chicago a big favor by accepting the Brian Campbell albatross, but it’s likely they’ll need at least one or two more similar deals at the very least. Luckily for both clubs the NHL is teeming with overpriced players that teams will eagerly line-up to dump. Without further ado, here is a list of potential “cap targets” for Florida and Colorado:
Brad Boyes – $4 million- BUF
This is the final year of Boyes’ deal, a contract he signed shortly after managing 43 goals in 2007-08 for the Blues. He followed that up with a 33-goal campaign but has fallen off a cliff ever since, managing just 31 goals in total over the last two seasons combined. Boyes is a study in the fickle nature of SH% in the NHL – he scored 76 goals on 427 shots during his back-to-back 30+ goal years (17.8%) which is amongst the most accurate players in the league. Since then, however, he’s managed just 31 goals on 375 shots (8.3%).
The truth is, Boyes is probably closer to a 12% shooter, which is his career average, rather than the two extremes he’s visited over the last four seasons. That still marks him as slightly overpaid, although his five goals for the Sabres in 21 regular season games last year probably makes him seem even more expendable. Boyes is a capable enough top-nine forward option and could probably be had for next to nothing.
Niklas Hagman – $3 million, Matt Stajan – $3.5 million, Cory Sarich $3.6 million – CGY
The Calgary Flames managed to dump Ales Kotalik to the Sabres in their recent Regehr deal, but still have a number of poor value contracts they’d like to get rid of. The best option for either Colorado or Florida is likely Niklas Hagman, who fell down the Flames depth chart thanks to the strong seasons by Alex Tanguay and Curtis Glencross down the left side. He remains a 30-40 point option if played in the right circumstances, but his contract is less than ideal for a club like Calgary who is looking to shed inefficient deals this July. There is only one more year left on his contract and he doesn’t own a NTC, which makes moving him a lot easier as well.
Matt Stajan was the lynch-pin in the Dion Phaneuf swap and Darryl Sutter immediately inked him to a four-year, $3.5 million year contract when he arrived in Calgary. After scoring a career high 57 points in 2009-10, Stajan instead fell back to earth last season, managing just six goals and 31 points. He fell out of favor with bench boss Brent Sutter and was skating on Calgary’s fourth line by the end of year. His deal extends until 2013-14 and comes with a limited NTC, so it is certainly less palatable.
Finally Cory Sarich is slightly overpaid given his modest skill set and general immobility, but his importance on the Flames may have been given a bump in the wake of the Regehr trade. Still, the Flames could likely be convinced to move his contract, however, as long as Sarich himself could be persuaded to waive his NMC.
Mike Commodore – $3.75 million – CBJ
After struggling through 57 games in 2009-10, Mike Commodore permanently fell out of favor with his team the next season and was demoted to the AHL where he has remained ever since. He’s a guy who has played in a number of team’s top-four rotation, including the cup winning Carolina Hurricanes. He’s also rather big and slow and doesn’t bring much offense to the table. There’s no question Commodore overpaid by a couple of million dollars, but he’s probably still an NHL-quality defender. His ticket expires in 2012-13.
Jiri Hudler – $2.875 million – DET
After spending 2009-10 in the KHL, Jiri Hudler returned to the NHL and promptly fell flat on his face with the Detroit Red Wings. Hudler scored just 10 goals and 37 points and put up a marginal possession rate despite being gifted some of the softest minutes the Red Wings had to offer. Mike Babcock had clearly had enough with Hudler by the end of the season as evidenced by his usage in the playoffs: Hudler averaged less than 12 minutes per game, scored just three points and generated a mere 12 shots on net in 10 games. Even Justin Abdelkader (13:27) and Darren Helm (13:28) played more often in the post-season.
As a result, it’s probable the Red Wings would be amiable to moving Hudler for peanuts. He’s relatively overpaid given his current role on the club and could likely be replaced at half the cost by a number of guys this summer.
Sheldon Souray – $4.5 million – EDM
Demoted to the AHL as much for a tiff with the management as his inflated salary, Souray remains a decent PK and PP option at the NHL level (assuming he can remain healthy). The Oilers have been looking to dump his contract for more than a year now and would eagerly deal Souray for a bag of pucks (or less). There remains just a single year on his contract, meaning minimal risk for Colorado or Florida.
Dustin Penner – $4.25 million – LAK
Acquired by the Kings at the trade deadline to shore up their top-six forward depth, Penner immediately ran afoul of his new club and was consistently criticized by LA fans and management for his lack of production and spotty work ethic. Penner was also singled out by Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish when he became an Oiler for similar reasons, although the big right winger eventually found his footing and became a consistent contributor for the club in his final two seasons there.
The Kings need to re-sign RFA’s Drew Doughty and Brad Richardson, but may also look to add a few more pieces from the UFA market this summer. The acquisition of Mike Richards means the Kings management has entered “win now” mode so they will probably want to re-invest Penner’s $4.25 million into a player they actually like. For his part, Penner is probably a decent 20-goal, 40+ point option despite his flaws. His contract ends this season, making him an even more viable target.
Scott Gomez – $7.357 million – MTL
One of Glen Sathers famous over-payments, Gomez is still a functional top-six type center, although his production fell to a career low seven goals and 38 points for Montreal last season. At 31-years old Gomez won’t be getting any better, although a rebound back up to the 50-point range isn’t outside the realm of possibility given his track record of a 50-60 point centerman prior to his recent struggles.
Even if he bounces back, Gomez ticket remains a boat anchor of a deal in terms of cap hit. His contracts lasts until 2013-14, but the real dollars (rather than the cap hit) fall to $5.5 million and $4.5 million in the last two years respectively, meaning the a cap floor club will get the “benefit” of his large cap hit without having to pay a concurrently big salary.
Brian Rolston – $5.062 million – NJD
The New Jersey Devils need to re-sign superstar Zach Parise this year, a player who will likely command upwards of $6 million per season despite the fact he’s an RFA. The Devils organization is relatively cap strapped and will be looking to dump Brian Rolston’s ticket, given the fact he was signed after he turned 35 and his cap hit is therefore glued to the books outside of a trade.
Rolston can still shoot the puck, but hasn’t scored more than 40-points in any of his last three seasons. His ceiling is likely that of a third liner who can play on the second PP unit and manage around 35-points a year. It’s a lot of money to pay for that role, but the contract mercifully ends after this coming year.
Wojtek Wolksi – 3.8 million, Sean Avery – $4 million – NYR
The New York Rangers apparently have their sites set on landing Brad Richards this summer. Sather managed to buy-out the doddering Chris Drury recently but may want to clear-up a few more dollars before he goes shopping. Wojtek Wolski and Sean Avery are both candidates given their salaries and disdain they both conjure in coach John Tortorella. Wolski and Avery were amongst the bottom-five Rangers in terms of ice time during their first round series, with only a broken Drury and rookie Matts Zucarello in the same ballpark in terms of usage.
Wolski had a career season on the wing of Paul Stastny back in 2008-09 for the Avalanche scoring 17 goals and 47 points in 62 games before being dealt to the Phoenix Coyotes. Rumors of consistency and attitude problems have dogged the talented winger for years, however, and Wolski has now been bounced by his last three NHL coaches. The ability is there should someone manage to harness it though.
Avery is a well-known commodity at this point: a relatively effective player and pest who can incite disgust in both the opposition and his own teammates thanks to his antics. Tortorella grew tired of Avery’s act last season, an issue that was exacerbated by the player’s SH% falling to just 2.2%. Avery is a better player than he showed last year no doubt, but remains a wildcard on the ice and in the dressing room.
Scott Hartnell – $4.2 million, Kimmo Timonen $6.33 million - PHI
The Flyers created some breathing space with the blockbuster Jeff Carter and Mike Richards deal, but still remain relatively close to the cap ceiling with some $56 million already committed. Recent additions Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds are RFA and will need to re-inked this summer, while UFA’s Ville Leino and Nikolai Zherdev will have to be re-signed or replaced.
If the Flyers want a bit more flexibility, they make look to deal Scott Hartnell who at $4.2 million is slightly overpaid given the fact he has averaged about 45 points in three of his last four seasons. Hartnell’s contract lasts through this coming season and the next, but being front-loaded the dollars are actually less than the cap hit ($3.7 million and $3.2 million respectively).
Expensive rearguard Kimmo Timonen may also be available. He hasn’t managed more than 40 points in each of his last two seasons and the club has added a number of high-priced defenders around him they grabbed him from Nashville, including Chris Pronger ($4.291 million), Andrej Meszaros ($4.0 million), Matt Carle ($3.438 million) and Braydon Coburn ($3.2 million).
Vincent Lecavalier – $7.727 million – TBL
One of the most onerous contracts is the league is that of Vincent Lecavalier. The contract extends until 2019-20 (!!) and costs $10 million in real money for the next seven seasons. As such, there is very little chance any of the floor teams will consider Lecavalier as a legitimate target since his ticket comes with such a sizable commitment. His cap hit would go a long way to curing short-term ills, but the associated costs are just so astronomical.
And that’s not even mentioning the fact Lacavalier has settled into a 65-70 point player the last few years and is very surely on the down slope of his career already.
Mike Komisarek – $4.5 million – TOR
The surely defender’s place on the Toronto blueline has mostly been usurped by Luke Schenn and Dion Phaneuf. Komisarek settled in as a third pairing defender this past season under Ron Wilson as a result, averaging just 13:37 of ice per game. The only other Maple Leafs defenseman to see less ice time last year was Brett Lebda, and he was a disaster. Even rookie Keith Aulie was considered a vastly superior option by the Toronto coaching staff when he was in the line-up, playing more than 19 minutes per night.
Clearly the Leafs would like to rid themselves of Komisarek’s deal, one that ends after the 2013-14 season. He still brings size and physicality to the role, but his immobility, poor puck skills and total lack of offense mark him as very poor value.
There are probably other candidates, but this list contains the front-runners. Obviously clubs like Florida and Colorado won’t have to go far to find partners willing to help them with their cap floor problem. The true problem may be for club’s looking to dump salary because it seems there is more supply than demand. The Flames had to throw in a second round pick to convince the Buffalo sabres to accept Ales Kotalik with Robyn Regehr last weekend for example, meaning we may see more deals this summer where a club with a big ticket and a budget crunch are forced to sweeten the pot in order to dump their problems on the Panthers or Avalanche.