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Mike Smith’s Blog: Cap situations for ‘letdown’ teams

The Penguins celebrate a goal against the Islanders. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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The Penguins celebrate a goal against the Islanders. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The All-Star Game is over. Next on the horizon is the March 4 trade deadline, then the playoffs. Well, for some teams the post-season follows. For others it’s a possibility, and still others, nothing but a distant dream.

There are several squads most people – including the “experts” – had penciled in as playoff locks, but it turns out that’s not the case.

In the salary cap era, we must always examine how much cap space a team has available this season and in the coming campaign before determining a prudent course of action.

What teams are we talking about?

Anaheim
Current Cap Space:  $1.35 million
Space Available Next Year:  $20 million

The 2007 Stanley Cup champs currently have just a two-point buffer from being bumped from the playoff picture. Brian Burke departed for Toronto’s greener pastures in November – something NHL insiders knew he was going to do in the summer of 2007 – leaving personnel man Bob Murray as the new GM. 

Murray, whose fingerprints were all over the successful player transactions that made this team a Stanley Cup winner, is quite capable of getting his team into the playoffs. The real task at hand is preparing for next year. Chris Pronger is the only top-six defenseman signed beyond this season. Todd Marchant and Rob Niedermayer are unrestricted free agents. The Ducks have a gem in 26-year-old goalie Jonas Hiller.

Murray will have a busy summer.

Dallas
Current Cap Space: $1.35 million
Space Available Next Year: $16.2 million

Sean Avery, Sean Avery, Sean Avery. It’s not that simple. Is Brad Richards a $7.8-million player? How much does Mike Modano – as exciting a player as anyone in the NHL during his peak – have left? Does the co-GM system of Brett Hull and Les Jackson work? Is Marty Turco still a top-10 goalie?

This is an aging team that needs to be re-tooled over the next couple of seasons. The Stars made the conference final last season; can they even make the playoffs this season?

Coach Dave Tippett can get them there, but the players need to pull their weight in every game. Given the glut of teams trying to hunt down the eighth seed in the West, Dallas needs to be strong down the stretch. No Sean Avery is a good start.

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Ottawa
Current Cap Space: $3.24 million
Space Available Next Year: $12.6 million

Currently 13th in the East, Ottawa is having what is called a “bad year; a very bad year.” They do have the money available to acquire a player or two this year. Will that help? It’s possible.

Two years ago the Sens chose to keep Wade Redden over Zdeno Chara. Now Redden is gone, as is Andrej Meszaros. Goaltending, no matter who is in net, has not been strong. Committing roughly $23 million to four forwards – Heatley, Spezza, Alfredsson and Fisher – is not working.

With only a little more than $10 million available for next year, smart decisions are needed for a turn around. Improved goaltending would be a fantastic first step.

Pittsburgh
Current Cap Space: $167,433
Space Available Next Year: $9 million

Last year’s East champs are presently on the outside looking in at the playoff picture, but remain well within striking distance. Who would have thought a team with all this talent would be just trying to scratch out a post-season berth? A healthy Sidney Crosby down the stretch should make the difference.

What about next year? Evgeni Malkin goes from making $3.8 million to $8.7 million. Even with Miroslav Satan, Petr Sykora and Ruslan Fedotenko becoming unrestricted free agents, the Penguins only have $9 million to work with in the summer. Having two of the league’s top-five forwards is great, but perhaps not so much under the current economic system as it would have been prior to the cap.

Thirty-one percent of the payroll will be tied up with Crosby and Malkin: Management has its work cut out going forward.

Mike Smith is a former GM with the Blackhawks and Jets and associate GM with the Maple Leafs. He also served as GM for Team USA at the '81, '94 and '95 IIHF World Championship. His Insider Blog will appear regularly only on THN.com.

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