How Does The NHL Salary Cap Affect Your Team?

Marc Elliott

INDEPENDENCE… I caught a conversation recently whereby the moderators on this particular show were discussing the Edmonton Oilers and their early season struggles. This club is a mere 6-11 out of the gate and is in a battle to correct course before it becomes too late for this campaign. That’s saying a lot for a team with the expectations this one had going into the year based upon the season they had last year and due to the exciting performance they had in the Stanley Cup Tournament. Many had them pegged for the Conference Final this year while other analysts even had them getting into the SC Final. Then the conversation got a little more interesting when the question was posed regarding the future of the team and how their roster building might be impacted once the major contracts of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl kick in.  

Well, that IS interesting I thought. But it’s not their immediate challenge, but this is a valid point of debate. For the here and now, the Oil isn’t scoring too much or in a timely manner, nor are they defending all that well. Do they have a depth problem right now? That was the concern of many prior to the season for this team. For the young McDavid, the 2nd best player in the world, he won’t be a cap concern until next season when his new contract kicks in, he is winding up his Entry Level Contract this season. This year it’s Draisaitl whose contract is at the top of the Oiler heap. He has a $9mil base salary with a $8.5mil cap hit, but note that that amount represents 12.5% of the teams space. In July McDavid inked an 8 year, $100mil contract that will carry a $12.5mil cap hit. If the cap doesn’t go up after this season ($75mil per club max) that means that these two players would consume 28% of the clubs available cap space. So, in my book this means that assessing the teams ability to build a championship roster under this scenario IS a valid point of contention.  

In fact I believe there are some teams right now that have too much invested into their top six core deals and that it has impacted their ability to construct the remainder of the roster. Look at Chicago as an example. Their top six deals to Kane, Toews, Seabrook, Saad, Crawford and Keith consume roughly 60% of their cap space. Their next 5 biggest deals are also 7 figure contracts that takes them to 78% consumption of their cap. After that there is quite the drop-off in salary and thus talent level and depth. I can note that in the case of this team at least some of these contracts were payback for Championships delivered. On the flip side, while I think their top six core still has some pop left in their games, I don’t think there is enough there to obtain another at this juncture. And some of these deals still have a lot of term left on them, meaning that unless their young up and comers have the game the top six once had, Chicago is in for another lengthy dry spell.  

Right now the Hawks are 8-10 after 18 tilts, but are 5th in the Western Central, and on the outside looking in for a Wild Card playoff spot. Where do the Minnesota Wild stand in this regard? The Wild’s top six contracts consume 50% of their available cap space with another ten seven figure deals following those. This teams 7 figure deals consume 94% of their available space. However, after that there are only six other contracts to consider on the 23 player major league roster and they all represent young and/or inexperienced players. It must be noted that with Charlie Coyle on LTIR, his contract is not currently configured here. And as is the case with many teams in the show, the Wild’s buyout of Thomas Vanek is still counting against the cap, if even in a minor way. From a cap standpoint it’s hard for me to analyze the Wild roster. They have several players who have shown promise and improvement, and then after exiting their ELC’s but still in the RFA status, the team has made a show of faith to those players with some nice deals. The challenge for me is that this group has won nothing. And that’s not to say that those players are getting elite contracts, it just makes me feel as if they have gotten a bit of a reward and have only had to show some relative personal improvement to obtain them.  

How does a “Cadillac” club come out under this scrutiny? Lets look at everyone’s consensus “best” team so far this year, the Tampa Bay Lightning. This is a team that appears to have managed the cap quite nicely, albeit it must be noted that the team has a built in negotiating advantage they can use in constructing deals with players in that the State of Florida does not have a personal income tax. This grants the team a lot of different ways they can craft deals to the teams and players advantage. The Bolts have roughly 50% tied up in their top six deals followed with 11 more 7 figure deals. Those take the team to about 91% of cap space available. Out of their 6 remaining contracts, all are six figure deals. Tampa’s data is not that much different then the Wilds but the Bolts are widely considered to be the best team in the show right now. They are 14-4 for 30 points at this time with a plus 25 in goal differential. They are 2nd in GF, 6th in GA, 2nd in PP, 9th on the PK and are 19th in PIM’s. (1st being the least) If you asked me who would be he victor between the Bolts and Wild in a 7 game series right now, I would have to go with the Bolts. They have everything working right now, and the Wild still seem to be working on it….  

THE MINNESOTA WILD; after last weeks poor outing in Boston, the team played much better in a loss at TOR, even better the next night in a win at MON, and had another nice win at PHI. The last two of those tilts were shutouts for the struggling Devan Dubnyk, and Jason Zucker has scored the last 6 goals for the club. THE ATHLETIC; 16TH with a 57% chance of making the SC playoff. THE SAGARIN; 9TH, and 1-2 versus Sagarin top ten and 2-6 versus top 16. NHL STANDINGS; by points percent, 23rd, 7-9 for 16 points. Currently 7th in the Central, outside of a Wild Card berth. Hopefully the team is starting to find their game and can buckle down, faceoff with the Flyers in a few moments!! Lets Go Boys!! PEACE