Rumor Roundup: rising salary cap ceiling a welcome relief for some NHL teams

Lyle Richardson
Boston Bruins v Toronto Maple Leafs

A projected increase of the NHL salary cap to more than $71 million for 2014-15 was welcome news for a number of clubs with stars to re-sign.

Mark Zwolinski of The Toronto Star reports the increase makes it easier for the Maple Leafs to re-sign captain Dion Phaneuf, who’s eligible for unrestricted free agency in July and reportedly seeking $7 million per season. Zwolinski also believes it provides the Leafs with room to pursue free agent talent.

While the increase pushes the Leafs’ projected cap space to $28.8 million, re-signing Phaneuf will take a sizable chunk. Other notable Leafs free agents include Dave Bolland, Mason Raymond, Jay McClement, Nikolai Kulemin, James Reimer and Cody Franson.

If Reimer is traded and Kulemin cut loose, the Leafs would have enough to re-sign their other key free agents as well as pursue a scoring center and a shut-down defenseman.

The Philadelphia Flyers would also benefit from the increase. The Philadelphia Daily News reports the Flyers would have over $21.7 million (which includes placing Chris Pronger on LTIR) to re-sign key players like Steve Mason and Brayden Schenn, leaving room for GM Paul Holmgren to go shopping in the free agent market.

Mason and Schenn combined could take up around $8 million of that cap space, with free agents like Steve Downie, Ray Emery, Erik Gustafsson and Michael Raffl to be re-signed. Holmgren could also re-up Kimmo Timonen for one more season on a reduced salary. Still, that should leave enough to pursue some blueline help in the off-season.

The increase boosts the San Jose Sharks’ cap space to over $25 million, which will come in handy for re-signing Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle. It will help the New York Rangers in their efforts to re-sign Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi, while the St. Louis Blues could use it to retain late-blooming star Alexander Steen.

The increase could affect the Montreal Canadiens’ efforts to re-sign superstar defenseman P.K. Subban to a long-term deal. TSN’s Pierre LeBrun suggested the decision facing the Subban camp is accepting an eight-year deal or a shorter term.

With the cap expected to keep rising in the coming years (perhaps reaching $100 million by 2021-22), if Subban agreed to a shorter term he would become an unrestricted free agent sooner, increasing his chances for a substantially bigger contract down the road.

LeBrun’s colleague Bob McKenzie also noted the long-term impact for free agents over the next two years. He pointed out Chicago Blackhawks stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews become eligible for UFA status in July 2015. The Blackhawks can start negotiating with them in July, and if the salary cap jumps to between $75-$80 million for 2015-16, Kane and Toews could justify doubling their current $6.3 million per season salaries.

The salary cap minimum would also rise to $53 million, potentially forcing some clubs near the cap floor this season to spend considerably more to become cap compliant next season.

For example, the Buffalo Sabres have $28.6 million invested in 10 players for 2014-15, so they must spend at least $25 million to get above the cap floor. Even if they only re-sign their restricted free agents (which includes Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno and Jamie McBain), they’ll still have to invest more to plug the remaining gaps in their lineup and stay within the cap limits.

The Sabres could achieve that goal by re-signing unrestricted free agents like Ryan Miller and Matt Moulson. However, if they’re traded or depart in July via free agency they’ll have to be replaced, which could make the Sabres active in the free agent market.

Rumor Roundup appears weekdays 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 The Guardian (P.E.I.).

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