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Sabres wrestle with salary cap

Brad Boyes had 17 goals and 55 points in 83 games with St. Louis and Buffalo last season. (Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Brad Boyes had 17 goals and 55 points in 83 games with St. Louis and Buffalo last season. (Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)

With about three weeks until training camps open and the start of the 2011-12 season only six weeks away, the Buffalo Sabres and Washington Capitals remain above the $64.3 million salary cap.

They have until the start of the regular season to get under the cap, so while there's still plenty of time for both teams, their situations raise the possibility they will make salary-dumping deals.

The Sabres, sitting nearly $3.6 million over the cap, have a significant amount to clear, while the Capitals are nearly $891,000 above the ceiling.

The Capitals, of course, face an easier task. Although left winger Alexander Semin and his $6.7 million salary is a popular target for trade gossip, it's believed the Capitals will instead shed the necessary dollars by placing injured defenseman Tom Poti ($2.875 million per season) on long-term injury reserve.

It was assumed the Sabres would demote right winger Ales Kotalik and defenseman Shaone Morrisonn, as their combined salaries ($5.075 million) would provide the necessary cap relief, but GM Darcy Regier recently told Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News he hoped it wouldn't come to that.

“Hopefully we're able to make some moves to address that prior to the start of the season", said Regier, who also told The National Post's Sean Fitz-Gerald he would look at the trade market as the season neared, noting things are currently quiet with many of his peers on vacation.

Harrington wondered which players Regier would move, pointing out forwards Brad Boyes ($4 million), Jochen Hecht ($3.525 million) and Paul Gaustad ($2.3 million) are in the final year of their contracts and would need to have good seasons to be re-signed by the club.

Moving Boyes, who can play center and right wing, would clear more than enough cap space. At 29 years old, he is valuable to teams seeking scoring depth.

Hecht is only a season removed from a 21-goal, 42-point performance, but he's also aging (34) and has an injury history. Clearing his salary alone wouldn't be quite enough to get the Sabres under the cap.

Gaustad, 29, had the third-best faceoff percentage (59.8) in the league last season, was second on the club in hits (128) and is popular with his teammates. He has trade value, but Regier might not be keen on parting with such an aggressive and useful forward. Like Hecht, moving Gaustad's salary alone wouldn't be enough to make the Sabres cap compliant.

It's possible Regier will try and trade one of Hecht or Gaustad, then demote Kotalik or Morrisonn. The GM may also try to peddle the latter two, but there likely won’t be much interest.

Harrington also listed the Colorado Avalanche, Phoenix Coyotes, New York Islanders and Winnipeg Jets as potential trade partners, due to their need to get over the $48.3 million salary cap floor. The latter two teams can likely achieve that goal by re-signing or promoting players from their farm team, while the Coyotes recently became cap compliant by re-signing winger Mikkel Boedker.

The Coyotes are believed to be in the market for a center, so Boyes or Gaustad would fit that desire. The Jets are also rumoured to be seeking more scoring depth, while the Ducks will be in the market for a right winger if Teemu Selanne retires. Both teams would have a certain degree of interest in Boyes if he’s made available.

Beyond Boyes, Hecht and Gaustad, Regier's trade options appear limited.

Of the players earning $4 million or more, Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and Derek Roy won't be dealt. Neither will Ville Leino, who just signed with the team this summer, or Drew Stafford, who was re-signed to a long-term extension July 3.

Defensemen Robyn Regehr and Christian Ehrhoff are recent additions who'll figure prominently in the Sabres’ playoff hopes this season and anyone who suggests goaltender Ryan Miller will possibly be shopped should have their head examined.

Defenseman Jordan Leopold is a trade possibility, though. Like Hecht and Gaustad, shedding his salary ($3 million) alone wouldn't be enough to get the team under the cap, plus Regier would prefer to retain him.

While a trade is of course possible, Regier won't risk weakening any part of his roster simply to get under the cap, especially since he can't afford to take back salary in return. Demoting players such as Kotalik and Morrisonn remain his best option.

Rumor Roundup appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and Kukla's Korner.

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