The lower-than-projected salary cap for the NHL’s 2019-20 season ($81.5 million) recently forced several teams to make cost-cutting deals.
With the frenzy from the opening day of the free-agent market faded, a handful of clubs remain uncomfortably close to the cap. Some could be forced to free up more dollars via the trade market.
Last week, we examined the Western Conference clubs that could shed salary and the players who could become cap casualties. This week, it’s the Eastern Conference.
The Penguins made two cost-cutting moves last month, shipping out Phil Kessel to Arizona and Olli Maatta to Chicago. Following their recent signing of winger Branden Tanev, Cap Friendly indicates they have just over $1.59 million in salary-cap space.
With restricted free agents Zach Aston-Reese, Marcus Pettersson, and Teddy Blueger to re-sign, general manager Jim Rutherford could make another salary-dumping deal. In a recent mailbag segment, Matt Vensel of the Pittsburgh Post-Gaz ette suggested Nick Bjugstad or Bryan Rust as possible trade candidates.
Toronto Maple Leafs
GM Kyle Dubas has thus far successfully walked the salary-cap tightrope. He slashed payroll by shipping out Patrick Marleau, Nikita Zaitsev, and Nazem Kadri. The savings went into adding Tyson Barrie, Alex Kerfoot, and Cody Ceci to his defense corps and re-signing Ceci, Kerfoot, Kasperi Kapanen, and Andreas Johnsson.
Those moves, however, leave the Leafs just over $3.76-million to re-sign RFA winger Mitch Marner. Dubas can find extra wiggle room by placing Nathan Horton ($5.3 million), Zach Hyman ($2.25 million) and Travis Dermott ($836K) on long-term injury reserve. Those moves could also handcuff the Leafs efforts to maintain a competitive roster during the season. Trading another salaried player might be the best way to address this issue.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Like his peers in Pittsburgh and Toronto, Lightning GM Julien BriseBois was busy last month freeing up salary-cap space. He traded forward J.T. Miller to the Vancouver Canucks and placed Ryan Callahan on long-term injury reserve when the winger was diagnosed with a career-ending back ailment.
The latter tactic will prove useful once RFA forwards Brayden Point and Adam Erne are signed to new contracts. That could push the Lightning over the $81.5-million cap, though Callahan’s status will allow them to exceed it by up to the equivalent of his $5.8-million cap hit. Still, BriseBois could attempt to ship out another contract. With Curtis McElhinney signed as their new backup goalie, Louis Domingue ($1.15 million) could be on his way out of Tampa Bay.
New York Rangers
Rangers GM Jeff Gorton decided to accelerate his roster rebuild this summer. Last month, he acquired defenseman Jacob Trouba from the Winnipeg Jets. On July 1, he made the biggest UFA signing of the day by inking left-winger Artemi Panarin to a seven-year, $81.5-million contract.
The Panarin signing left the Rangers with just over $8 million in salary-cap space. That won’t be enough to re-sign Trouba and fellow RFAs Pavel Buchnevich, Brendan Lemieux, and Anthony DeAngelo. Trouba’s new contract along will eat up most of it. Winger Chris Kreider, who’s a year away from UFA eligibility, could become a trade candidate. Gorton could also buy out a blueliner such as Kevin Shattenkirk or Brendan Smith.
Earlier this week the Bruins avoided salary arbitration with Danton Heinen, re-signing him to a two-year, $5.6-million contract. That leaves just over $8 million remaining in salary cap space.
Defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo are RFAs coming off entry-level contracts. Given their value to the Bruins blueline, it’s doubtful they’ll accept cost-effective bridge contracts. On Wednesday, NBC Sports Joe Haggerty suggested both could around $10 million to re-sign. He feels a rearguard like Kevan Miller ($2.5 million) or John Moore ($2.75 million) could be moved once they’ve recovered from their respective injuries.