Last week we started off this season’s salary cap rankings at Daily Faceoff, in which we take a look at all the different aspects of managing payroll in the cap era and grade teams based on how well they do it. The rankings are formulated through a somewhat complex process and system, which I have outlined in a summary of its own for your convenience.
This week, we look at teams that find themselves in cap heck but not cap hell. Whether it’s teams that have managed to shave off more of the unnecessary weight on their cap sheets, longtime competitive teams that are starting to show signs of decline in their cap management or teams content with being mediocre, there’s a bit of variety on this week’s list as we approach the halfway point of the rankings.
Also, it should be noted that any signings or other moves made by teams after Sept. 1 aren’t going to be considered for this list in order to keep it consistent. For instance, adding Jake Sanderson’s extension could have positively or negatively affected the Ottawa Senators’ ranking. But since they already appeared last week, it would be unfair to let other teams still move while they’re stuck in 28th. Don’t say I don’t do anything for you, Sens fans.
24. Montreal Canadiens (2022: 23rd)
Good Contract Percentage: 16th (2022: 24th)
Quality Cheap Deals: 19th (2022: 3rd)
Contracts with No-Trade/No-Move Clauses: 9th (2022: 14th)
Dead Cap Space: 27th (2022: 17th)
Quality of Core: 28th (2022: 20th)
Cap Space to Skill Differential: 12th (2022: 24th)
The Canadiens haven’t seen a lot of improvement with their salary cap situation since last season. Even though they’ve started to offload some of their bad deals, a majority of the ones they added this offseason haven’t made their situation any better. They’re still deep into a rebuild, so if there’s any time to gamble on players that haven’t fully established themselves, it’s now. However, that doesn’t mean the Habs situation looks good either.
The Erik Karlsson trade gave Montreal an opportunity to move on from Mike Hoffman’s contract, and they also managed to bring in Casey DeSmith’s contract, which is fine money for a backup goalie. Add in moving Joel Edmundson, seeing Jonathan Drouin’s deal come to an end and adding Alex Newhook, and it certainly helps the Habs’ good contract percentage look a bit more favorable than it did last year. That said, the system is not a fan of Cole Caufield’s new extension just yet. Drouin’s departure also helped the Canadiens out with no-trade/no-move clauses, dropping it from seven to six. And they saw a jump in their cap space to skill differential mostly due to their roster improving slightly from last year.
The most surprising result may be the Habs’ quality cheap deals. You would expect that to stay near the top after their inexperienced blueline managed to play solidly last season, but the problem is that the defensemen make up a majority of that list. It’s just three forwards otherwise, making for a steep drop from last season. They also moved down significantly in dead cap space thanks to the retained salary for Jeff Petry and Edmundson, but that’s just the cost of doing business as a rebuilding team. And to cap it off, Mike Matheson leaving Montreal’s quality of core saw them drop in that category. Now just Brendan Gallagher is propping up a group of players that come out as at best second-liners in the system. A lot of this is easy to fix in the upcoming seasons, so a rebuilding team like the Canadiens shouldn’t be panicking just yet. But if Caufield and Nick Suzuki can’t live up to their contracts, it might be a bigger cause for concern considering those are the big pieces the Habs are building around.
23. Philadelphia Flyers (2022: 13th)
Good Contract Percentage: 22nd (2022: 22nd)
Quality Cheap Deals: 25th (2022: 2nd)
Contracts with No-Trade/No-Move Clauses: 7th (2022: 6th)
Dead Cap Space: 28th (2022: 1st)
Quality of Core: 23rd (2022: 26th)
Cap Space to Skill Differential: 6th (2022: 29th)
With a management overhaul well underway, incoming general manager Danny Briere has already started to work on shifting and improving the Flyers’ salary cap future as they appear to be committed to a rebuild. And yet, they drop down 10 spots from last season when their salary cap picture was arguably worse? Keep your pitchforks away for now Flyers fans, as it’s quite easy to see why.
The Flyers’ biggest culprit is the massive shift in dead cap space, going from being the only team in first last season due to a cap credit from Oskar Lindblom’s buyout to one of the worst teams this year due to the other side of the Lindblom buyout, Tony DeAngelo’s buyout, more than $1 million in bonus overages and, most significantly, more than $3.5 million from Kevin Hayes’ retained salary. That doesn’t matter too much for a team starting a rebuild, as that will all clear up by the time Philadelphia is aiming to be competitive, but the fact that their quality cheap deals also took a big drop is not as good of a sign. That’s due to a lot of their candidates last year either graduating to pricier contracts like Cam York, leaving the organization like Isaac Ratcliffe, or falling into replacement level territory like Nick Seeler. At the very least, it’s the start of the rebuild, so the Flyers don’t exactly have the franchise pieces set in stone yet, especially with Matvei Michkov in the KHL for a few seasons.
Other than that, everything stayed relatively similar to last season. Philadelphia sits in the exact same spot for good contract percentage, although they managed to exchange a couple long-term ones for some shorter deals. They also moved down a spot in no-move/no-trade clauses with the addition of Cal Petersen and Travis Sanheim’s new contract kicking in and see an increase in their quality of core with Nic Deslauriers and Scott Laughton’s contracts no longer qualifying for it (although Rasmus Ristolainen and Joel Farabee still drag that category down). However, the Flyers did see a big jump in their cap space to skill differential, largely thanks to no longer being well over the cap with a mediocre roster. If Flyers fans are worried that things getting worse is because of Briere, don’t be. He has a lot to clean up before things look better and this is also what teams just starting a rebuild usually look like.
22. Columbus Blue Jackets (2022: 29th)
Good Contract Percentage: 30th (2022: 27th)
Quality Cheap Deals: 9th (2022: 7th)
Contracts with No-Trade/No-Move Clauses: 17th (2022: 8th)
Dead Cap Space: 15th (2022: 15th)
Quality of Core: 14th (2022: 30th)
Cap Space to Skill Differential: 24th (2022: 32nd)
While it hasn’t been explicitly stated in conversations about the Blue Jackets this season, you get a sense from some of their moves this offseason that this may be Jarmo Kekalainen’s last stand in Columbus. The Blue Jackets have upgraded the blueline with the additions of Ivan Provorov and Damon Severson, hired a win-now coach in Mike Babcock, and will pray to the hockey gods that they don’t deal with as many injuries to try to make that happen. At the very least, the improvements have shown in their salary cap situation.
The biggest reason for that improvement is the big rise in the Blue Jackets’ quality of core. Part of that is due to the addition of Damon Severson, who grades out as a top-pair defender, but a bigger contribution is thanks to Erik Gudbranson, Boone Jenner, and Patrik Laine leaving that group this season. Gudbranson comes out as replacement level, while Jenner and Laine were only third-liner quality in my system, so keeping that group just to Severson, Elvis Merzlikins, and Johnny Gaudreau really helps Columbus there. They also saw an increase in their cap space to skill differential, largely thanks to no longer being right up against the cap.
The Blue Jackets did see a drop in their no-trade/no-move clauses thanks to the addition of Severson, along with Laine and Zach Werenski’s no-move clauses kicking in this season, but other than that everything stayed about the same. Columbus continues to have one of the worst good contract percentages due to being tied for the second-fewest good contracts and for the second-most bad contracts, with their two new additions in Severson and Provorov splitting those two categories respectively. And then the Blue Jackets continue to be in the middle in terms of their dead cap space and quality cheap deals, which isn’t a bad place to be if you’re looking to turn over your rebuild to be competitive. Will they be able to make a return to the postseason in 2024? They seem to still be a couple steps behind in a strong Eastern Conference, but there’s certainly room to surprise. And if it does all go wrong and the Kekalainen era comes to an end, at least their cap situation isn’t as bad as it used to be for whichever GM takes on the responsibility.
21. Los Angeles Kings (2022: 21st)
Good Contract Percentage: 10th (2022: 10th)
Quality Cheap Deals: 9th (2022: 15th)
Contracts with No-Trade/No-Move Clauses: 14th (2022: 9th)
Dead Cap Space: 20th (2022: 20th)
Quality of Core: 23rd (2022: 26th)
Cap Space to Skill Differential: 30th (2022: 21st)
As the Kings continue to make blockbuster additions to their roster every summer to improve their team in a competitive Pacific Division, their placement this year goes to show how doing so can be a double-edged sword. Last summer saw them swing for Kevin Fiala and extend him, and that contract has paid off well for Los Angeles. But this year, they did the same with Pierre-Luc Dubois, and it looks a lot more questionable. Between that, an older core getting overpaid for their past services and a group of young talent that doesn’t quite live up to their contracts yet, it’s easy to see why L.A. hasn’t moved up at all since last year.
The Kings’ worst offender was a significant drop in cap space to skill differential, largely due to being closer to the cap than they were at this point last season as the system sees this roster similarly to last year’s, a middling playoff team. They also still struggle with their dead cap space with the addition of Ivan Provorov’s retained salary to their cap sheet along with Mike Richard’s terminated salary still on the books for another nine seasons. L.A. did see some improvement in their quality of core with the Trevor Moore and Mikey Anderson qualifying for that category, as well as Adrian Kempe no longer being a part of that group, but it was still one of their weaker categories this season.
That said, there are just as many positives for the Kings, just none big enough to outweigh the bad. They did fairly well with their good contract percentage, particularly in net and in their forward group, although it’s still haunted by the contracts of Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty. Los Angeles still look very good in terms of their quality cheap deals thanks to that young core that hasn’t graduated from their ELCs, including some new additions with players like Brandt Clarke. The Kings also managed to sit in the murky middle with their no-move/no-trade contracts, which saw a slight drop with Fiala, Moore, Vladislav Gavrikov and Cam Talbot all either getting new contracts or finally entering their UFA years to earn eligibility. It’s certainly a good group, one that will be competitive this season, but a growing contingent of iffy contracts to older players may start blocking their young talent whenever they finally need to get paid.
20. Toronto Maple Leafs (2022: 11th)
Good Contract Percentage: 13th (2022: 10th)
Quality Cheap Deals: 25th (2022: 8th)
Contracts with No-Trade/No-Move Clauses: 31st (2022: 25th)
Dead Cap Space: 1st (2022: 2nd)
Quality of Core: 10th (2022: 19th)
Cap Space to Skill Differential: 24th (2022: 9th)
For years, the Maple Leafs sat near the top of this list, and it was needed for them to maintain competitiveness after the contracts of Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander took up a good portion of their cap space. For years with Kyle Dubas at the helm, Toronto was efficient at signing great contracts to surround them, including many at league minimum, while ensuring that the only players getting money and term were players they wanted to keep around.
Well, Dubas is gone now, and all it took was one summer of Brad Treliving to go from consistently good to mediocre at best. A big reason is a sharp drop in two categories, that being the Leafs’ quality cheap deals and their cap space to skill differential. The quality cheap deals were Dubas’ specialty, and while Treliving was able to bring in some hometown players like Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi on discounts, they weren’t like what Dubas did with Jason Spezza and Mark Giordano. In fact, the only of the Leafs five quality cheap contracts that was signed by Treliving was that of William Lagesson, who came out as a third-pair defenseman. Toronto’s cap space to skill differential also took a hit because they currently find themselves more than $2 million over the salary cap with a healthy roster.
The Leafs’ good contract percentage and no-trade/no-move contracts also saw a slight decline. The former is due to the system not being quite sold on Ilya Samsonov, the declines of John Tavares, Morgan Rielly and T.J. Brodie, as well as some new contracts like Max Domi, David Kampf and Ryan Reaves, all deals signed by Treliving. The latter comes from an addition of five new contracts with no-move clauses, including Domi, Kampf, Bertuzzi, John Klingberg and Jake McCabe, who wasn’t on the team this time last year. Toronto did see improvement in dead cap space, mostly just because no teams have a cap credit this year, as well as their quality of core thanks to Auston Matthews’ new extension giving it a boost, although Kampf’s four-year extension is the main reason why it’s not higher than that. It’s far from a disaster in Toronto at this moment, especially as the salary cap begins to rise, but their competitive window hinges on a small margin for error, one that even Treliving’s history of being about 50-50 in that regard might not be good enough for. Time will tell in the coming years if the Leafs made the right decision not giving Dubas more free will.
19. Washington Capitals (2022: 4th)
Good Contract Percentage: 18th (2022: 4th)
Quality Cheap Deals: 3rd (2022: 1st)
Contracts with No-Trade/No-Move Clauses: 20th (2022: 22nd)
Dead Cap Space: 7th (2022: 2nd)
Quality of Core: 28th (2022: 3rd)
Cap Space to Skill Differential: 27th (2022: 26th)
The Capitals have reached the point where they appear to be less focused on being competitive enough for a Stanley Cup, and more focused on being just competitive enough to get Alex Ovechkin a bunch of goals to break Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goals record. So while I can cut Washington some slack for dropping all the way from fourth place to the 19th spot considering that, the forgiveness goes away when one of those reasons is due to several bad contracts among their forward group – the one place you’d hope they’d be efficient in to get Ovi his goals.
The Capitals saw two categories fall from the top five last season to the bottom half of the league this year, and both are due to their growing cap problem up front. Their good contract percentage now sits in the middle of the league thanks to an aging core that is no longer worth the money they’ve been given. Tom Wilson, T.J. Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and even Ovechkin all fall into the bad category for Washington, with Ovi’s mostly being due to him not providing much value outside of his elite goal-scoring production. That’s in spite of their defense yielding four of Washington’s six contracts that grade out as good as well, so they could be doing better to surround Ovechkin at this stage. To make matters worse, the Caps doubled down on Wilson with a seven-year extension worth $6.5 million, so between that addition to the quality of core and Ovechkin no longer qualifying for it, that category also sees a massive drop, going from one of the best in the league to one of the worst.
Those two categories proved to be the biggest difference maker for the Capitals placement, as everything else stayed about the same. They’ve still done well in terms of their quality cheap deals thanks to prospects like Lucas Johansen and savvy signings like Max Pacioretty, and Washington has kept out of trouble with dead cap space outside of a bonus overage of only $20,000. And like last year, they still have plenty of no-trade/no-move contracts, with five of the nine belonging to that veteran forward group, and the cap space to skill differential lags again because the roster isn’t quite good enough to be over the cap. The Caps financial situation is exactly what you’d expect from a longtime contender on its last breath, so that’s not something they should worry about, but if they are gunning for that goal record, they could be a bit more efficient with their spending to make it easier for Ovechkin.
18. Tampa Bay Lightning (2022: 12th)
Good Contract Percentage: 21st (2022: 6th)
Quality Cheap Deals: 16th (2022: 23rd)
Contracts with No-Trade/No-Move Clauses: 25th (2022: 28th)
Dead Cap Space: 10th (2022: 2nd)
Quality of Core: 9th (2022: 12th)
Cap Space to Skill Differential: 21st (2022: 12th)
Much like the Leafs, the Lightning have long been the model of consistency for navigating the salary cap for a good portion of the last 10 years but have seen a bit of a drop off in that efficiency. Once great at knowing who to lock up and who to move on from, signing those players to great deals and surrounding them with quality cheap talent, they’ve seen those abilities falter in the wake of their two straight Stanley Cups, and it’s weakened the team overall as a result.
The Lightning’s good contract percentage takes the biggest hit as all of those years of bridging their core have started to catch up to them. Sometimes it’s because one of the players on newer long-term extensions like Anthony Cirelli, Mikhail Sergachev, or Erik Cernak hasn’t quite fit into it yet; sometimes it’s because one of the older players like Steven Stamkos or Victor Hedman are starting to age out of it; and sometimes it’s because the contract is plain bad like Nick Paul’s. Credit where it’s due, Tampa still knows who to sign long-term with a top 10 quality of core, but that still comes at a price, as they haven’t been able to accumulate as much depth and weakened the roster overall, as demonstrated by their 21st-ranked cap space to skill differential.
The Lightning have still managed to bring in a decent amount of cheap depth to compensate for it, but it’s not nearly as much as they need it to be considering how much the rest of their team is taking up the salary cap. They’ve also done a solid job of not adding on any dead cap space, with only $200,000 this season due to Patrick Maroon’s retained salary. That’s equally important when Tampa also has a lot of no-move/no-trade clauses on the books, making it challenging to move on from players when they need to, as demonstrated with Tyler Johnson a few seasons ago. The Bolts are still a great team with plenty of excellent talent that deserved the success it had, but the nature of the salary cap makes it difficult to keep everyone together forever, and they’ve learned that the hard way the past couple offseasons.
17. Winnipeg Jets (2022: 18th)
Good Contract Percentage: 15th (2022: 28th)
Quality Cheap Deals: 30th (2022: 7th)
Contracts with No-Trade/No-Move Clauses: 14th (2022: 14th)
Dead Cap Space: 21st (2022: 2nd)
Quality of Core: 14th (2022: 31st)
Cap Space to Skill Differential: 8th (2022: 8th)
With a potential overhaul of their core on the horizon, the Jets weren’t able to make as many moves to get ahead of it this offseason as they may have wanted to, but at the very least, they moved on from the weakest one in Dubois. As a result, the Jets find themselves topping off the bottom half of our rankings, a fitting place for a team that’s been in the murky middle between Stanley Cup and lottery contention ever since their 2018 run to the Western Conference Final.
Part of this middling ranking for the Jets is due to being in the middle in half of their categories. They’re the only team to sit at exactly 50% with their good contract percentage, a big jump from last season’s 30.77%. The Dubois trade helped with that, bringing on one bad contract in Rasmus Kupari while getting two good ones in Alex Iafallo and Gabriel Vilardi, and the additions of Nino Niederreiter and Laurent Brossoit over the past year have also helped there. Winnipeg’s also been somewhat diligent with handing out no-move/no-trade clauses, mostly reserving them for their elite forwards and their top four on the blueline – and Adam Lowry for some reason. The Jets also find themselves with a middle of the pack quality of core which consists of just Josh Morrissey, who was tiered as a second-pair defender after being replacement-level the previous season, a big testament to how good he was in 2022-23.
The Jets managed to rank in the top 10 in one category, with their cap space to skill differential staying exactly in eighth thanks to being one of the few playoff-caliber teams with more than $1 million in salary cap space. But they also saw two categories that ranked that high last season drop significantly, as they had some of the fewest quality cheap deals with just five in their system and also saw a big increase in their dead cap space due to Blake Wheeler’s buyout. Even with a lot of moving parts, Winnipeg continues to be a consistently middling operation on the ice and on the cap sheet, which, considering general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff’s reputation of making as few changes as possible, it might be exactly where they want to be.
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