Apologies for the cold opening, but a statement procured by Greg Wyshynski from an undisclosed NHL agent has stuck with me over this past week. Greg’s article with ESPN was about the flat cap affecting various team’s abilities to sign the remaining unrestricted free agents this late into the offseason. It’s a compelling piece. You’ll find a link to it in the comments. It’s a solid read. Wyshynski is one of the best.
Anyway, here’s what one NHL agent had to say of the upcoming 22-23 season.
“The unfortunate part of this year in general is that the marketplace has shifted because of the cap," one NHL agent said. "You have a weird situation where you have 16 or 17 teams that want to lose and you've got the rest that want to win. The cap has incentivized losing in a way: 'Hey, if I'm not going to make the playoffs, I could do better by selling my cap space.'"
That is a hefty amount of candour. The privilege of anonymity certainly helps.
Let’s assume this isn’t just an agent using the media to play reindeer games with a general manager or two. Let’s also assume that by “teams that want to lose” this agent means management and ownership, as there aren’t many coaches or players out there interested in losing on purpose.
The Great Divide
Simply looking at the standings last year, it’s easy to see what this person was talking about. The Eastern Conference had their playoff teams decided by the end of January.
Eastern Conference – February 1, 2022
8th – Boston Bruins – 55 pts
9th – Detroit Red Wings – 46 pts
By the end of the season, the 8th in the East Capitals finished with 16 more points than the 9th place Islanders.
What about the West?
The Western Conference had more competition for the final two wildcard spots.
Vegas, Vancouver, and Winnipeg aside, we see the drop between 11th and 12th. A 12 point difference between the Jets and Sharks.
Using the fall-off points in standings last year, we can identify teams that would be more interested in weaponizing space to acquire more assets. We’ll include their cap hit after players expected to hit LTIR do so. Some of the injuries had to be looked into to confirm whether the player will be available to start the season. That all said, this is more of an estimate given the uncertainty of so many injuries.
Day one of the regular season; this should more or less be the situation. The cap is an incredibly complicated system. For the sake of brevity, we’ll tie LTIR space and bonus space accrued from LTIR together.
*Denotes a team currently up against or over the cap waiting for LTIR players to enter the LTIR pool when the season begins.
– $8,433,083 (Pacioretty 7 million, Gardiner 4.05 million)
Toronto Maple Leafs
– $19,437,500 (For about two months, then will hang around $0)
– $2,136,667 (An extra 4,500,000 in liquid cap space if Tanev spends extended time on LTIR)
New York Rangers
*Tampa Bay Lightning
– $4,479,167 (assuming Cirelli starts on LTIR)
St. Louis Blues
First, we need to just address Boston. That cap space will be available for two months. Washington and Carolina are in similar situations, but their number here truly is fool’s gold. McAvoy and Marchand will be back a couple months into the season and they’ll be in tight to the cap before anyone notices they even had cap room.
37,125,527 among 11 teams if the three teams in the red become cap compliant by trade or waivers.
30,764,402 is the total amount of space available among the contenders if you include overages.
That number becomes 11,548,319 if you take Washington, Boston and Carolina out of the picture, who have Backstrom, Wilson, McAvoy, Marchand, Grzelcyk, Pacioretty and Gardiner injured as the sole source of their cap space. Roughly 11.5 million between nine of the twelve clear cut favourites certainly implies that cap is going to be a valuable commodity this season.
How about the bubble teams?
– $4,163,333 (Andersson and Durzi still to be re-signed)
– $9,669,167 (Jason Robertson unsigned and expecting to get 6.5-9 depending on term)
*Vegas Golden Knights
– $2,620,833 (Hague still needs a contract, Nolan might go on LTIR, any given player might be on LTIR by the end of week one)
New York Islanders
Columbus Blue Jackets
Assuming Durzi and Andersson come in at around two million each, assuming Robertson bridges at 7 flat and assuming Derek Ryan is waived and Holland tweaks the roster enough to get the Oilers cap compliant, the total cap space among bubble teams is 19.39 million among nine teams. That number becomes 17.11 if you assume Vegas re-signs Hague and (as always) finds it’s self with a few cents in cap space to start the season.
Other than a few temporary LTIR anomalies such as the Hurricanes, Bruins and Capitals, we’re looking at the other 18 teams in the playoff picture having about 28 million in spending room total. An average of 1.555 million in space per team.
Potentially Weaponizing Cap Space
Some teams eliminate themselves as sellers based on their lack of space.
San Jose Sharks
Detroit Red Wings
– $12,171,111 (Fabbri may return early and take up 4 million)
*New Jersey Devils
– $73,375 (4,198,375 assuming Bernier isn’t healthy)
Assuming the three goalie situation in New Jersey resolves and they start with around two million in cap space, the bottom eleven teams share a whopping 102,328,951 in cap room to start the 2022-23 NHL regular season.
Washington and Carolina:
19.23 million and dependant on four injury timelines
The Other Nine Contenders:
Eight Bubble Teams:
Four Perma-Injured, Non-Contending Veteran Teams:
Six Cap Mules and the Senators:
We start to get a better picture of what this agent was talking about.
Ten teams are more or less stuck for the rest of the offseason due to LTIR jail.
Teams Waiting on LTIR Space
Four teams need to get under the cap and don’t have an LTIR player in the wings.
Over the Cap Ceiling Without an Apparent LTIR Eligible Player
Still Over the Cap Ceiling after LTIR Pool is Deducted
Seventeen teams in the playoff picture as of last season, again excluding Washington and Carolina, have an average of 1.5 million in cap space each.
Four teams have over 12 million each to help out other clubs by taking on contracts. Detroit, Anaheim, Arizona and Buffalo also already have a defined strategy of accumulating picks. They have 25 total picks in the first two rounds of the next two drafts. A surplus of 9 from the picks they would have organically. Let alone third round picks and 2025 second round picks hoarded by those teams.
Looking at you, Bill Armstrong.
Ok. So we’ve identified that the current economic climate combined with a flat cap for consecutive years has led the league away from the concept of parity. This is also polarized by a strong draft year in 2023. Where do the Flames come into the equation?
Barring a major trade, the next piece will examine where the Calgary Flames fall into all of this. They will have about 1,386,667 after Ruzicka signs and have nine defencemen that are eligible for waivers currently signed. If you assume Chris Tanev is on LTIR to begin the season, that opens up some fluid cap space (4.5 million) that would have to be adjusted for when he comes back. Given the warrior he is — that might be much sooner than most expect. That space would also only be available once Tanev was added to the LTIR pool around mid-October, so that may hold up a potential deal.
We’ll also look into a few potential options for Brad Treliving based on the limitations of the current market. Given that almost a third of the league is bound by the fluid nature of LTIR cap relief, four teams need to get under the cap still, and an unspecified amount of forwards are about to be waived – the next three and a half weeks are going to be as interesting as they are complicated for the Calgary Flames.
Stats via capfriendly.com and nhl.com. Graphics courtesy of nhl.com and capfriendly.com. Credit to Greg Wyshynski at ESPN for the quote.