by PuckStopsHere on 10/10/08 at 01:23 PM ET
In the first season of the salary cap 2005/06, teams were adjusting to the new economic system and this made for some teams that had very tight finances as they were very close to the salary cap. These teams were unable to add significant talent at the trade deadline, so it turned out that the Stanley Cup was a battle between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Edmonton Oilers. There were two teams who left themselves enough salary cap space to add some key players. Carolina added Doug Weight and Mark Recchi. Edmonton added Dwayne Roloson and Sergei Samsonov. That is one reason that they were the teams that wound up in the finals. In the next two years, teams better adjusted to the new system and the next two Stanley Cup winners in the Anaheim Ducks and Detroit Red Wings managed to leave a bit more breathing room.
This season, there is a change in how the salary cap is calculated. Because it is potentially the last season of the CBA (the NHLPA can chose to end it this summer), all potential bonuses are counted against the cap this year until which time they cannot be achieved. This “helps” the NHL maintain cost certainty under this CBA, since it does not allow teams to exceed the cap with bonuses which are then charged to next year’s cap. As a result, we have more teams that are close to the salary cap than in the last two years. Thus, it might be a similar situation to 2005/06 where the eventual cup winner is a team that left itself cap space to make trade deadline additions.
Who are the teams that are potential contenders who have saved some salary cap space? A look at nhlscap.com leaves me with two potential answers (and one with a lot more potential than the other). The Dallas Stars currently project to have over $4 million salary cap room left at the end of the season. However, this number is probably not reality. They have this room because Sergei Zubov and his $5.35 million salary cap hit are on the long term injury reserve. When Zubov returns their available cap space should be used up. That leaves the New Jersey Devils as the potential contender with the most salary cap space free. They project to having over $2 million cap space available with no long term injury reserve players. When only about a quarter of the season remains at trade deadline time this might allow them to add over $8 million in payroll to beef up for a cup run.
How likely is that to happen? It is likely that name players will be available at trade deadline time. Jay Bouwmeester and Marian Gaborik are two big name potential 2009 unrestricted free agents who might be available. Ilya Kovalchuk is a potential 2010 UFA who might also find himself available. Should New Jersey succeed in adding one of them are they a serious cup contender? It is very possible. We cannot predict future trades, but we can predict those teams that might be in position to capitalize from them.
Which team currently has the least projected cap space to use at the trade deadline? The Detroit Red Wings. They are currently less than $50,000 below the cap. They probably will not be able to add anyone at trade deadline time, unless something changes. The question is - are they good enough that it doesn’t matter?
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