Mikhail Grabovski USA Today


Where will the top remaining UFAs end up?


So far the NHL offseason has been very exciting and eventful. As expected, a lot of faces changed sweaters as teams adjusted their rosters to the rules of the new collective bargaining agreement. Even though things have slowed down considerably following the July 5th insanity, there are still many players who sit on the sidelines waiting to sign a new contract for the 2013-14 season.


One challenge facing the remaining free agents is the fact that teams either have a limited amount of cap space remaining or are approaching their internal budget. This is the cap crunch that will force some players to take less money as a result of the salary cap dropping nearly 10% from $70.2 million to $64.3 million.


The remaining free agents (both unrestricted and restricted) will compete for the remaining dollars. Since teams typically take care of their own first, this could force several prominent unrestricted free agents to take a pay cut, sign overseas or retire.


The good news is that there is a possibility that your unsigned free agent becomes an excellent cap bargain for the next year or two. The bad news is that this same person could choose to spend a year in Europe before signing with an NHL team next summer. Those most at risk of defection are Europeans (obviously) but also North Americans who played overseas during the lockout and had a positive experience.


It is important to remember that for every player who leaves for Europe, a roster spot opens for another player to occupy. In fantasy hockey when dealing with most prospects we know that opportunity can make or break a player’s NHL future. Expect to see more new faces in the NHL than normal as teams turn to cheaper alternatives to fill out their rosters.


In order to get an idea of how much money is left, we can compare current team salary cap payrolls to those in 2011-12, when the cap ceiling was also set to $64.3 million. This will give us an indicator of how much each team spends on players. Here is the breakdown, with numbers coming from Capgeek:



2011-12 Cap Space

2013-14 Cap Space

Anaheim Ducks »



Boston Bruins »



Buffalo Sabres »



Calgary Flames »



Carolina Hurricanes »



Chicago Blackhawks »



Colorado Avalanche »



Columbus Blue Jackets »



Dallas Stars »



Detroit Red Wings »



Edmonton Oilers »



Florida Panthers »



Los Angeles Kings »



Minnesota Wild »



Montreal Canadiens »



Nashville Predators »



New Jersey Devils »



New York Islanders »



New York Rangers »



Ottawa Senators »



Philadelphia Flyers »



Phoenix Coyotes »



Pittsburgh Penguins »



San Jose Sharks »



St. Louis Blues »



Tampa Bay Lightning »



Toronto Maple Leafs »



Vancouver Canucks »



Washington Capitals »



Winnipeg Jets »




Many of the teams with a lot of remaining cap space have key restricted free agents to sign, for example Edmonton (Sam Gagner), Toronto (Nazem Kadri) and St. Louis (Alex Pietrangelo). Meanwhile, there are others who have some excess cap space and could look outside the organization for help. Here are four teams (bolded in table above) who will probably make a splash in the coming weeks to use its remaining cap space:


Colorado Avalanche

It is no secret that the Avalanche management is trying to make an impact this summer but their defensive unit remains a major weakness. The team has $10 million in available space with only Milan Hejduk to sign if he decides to return to the NHL. This is a great opportunity to use some of that cap space while many other teams have limited payroll flexibility. Unfortunately, the unrestricted free agent market is thin on blueliners so the team will probably have to go the trade route or sign a restricted free agent to an offer sheet.


Florida Panthers

The Panthers also have a ton of cap space (nearly $13 million) but historically have not been big spenders. However, the loss of Stephen Weiss leaves a gaping hole down the middle. Fantasy owners are dreaming of Aleksander Barkov being shot to the top of the depth chart and getting top-line minutes in his rookie season. But logic says that the team would be wise to explore the free agent market. Mikhail Grabovski is the only available centerman who fits into this role.


Meanwhile, the team left the door open to go shopping for goalie help after signing top prospect Jacob Markstrom to two-year contract including a two-way clause for 2013-14. Ilya Bryzgalov and Tim Thomas are the two logical possibilities for the Panthers.


New Jersey Devils

The loss of star forward Ilya Kovalchuk could not have come at a worse time. The Devils free up a lot of cap space but the best free agents are already signed leaving them with lesser alternatives. Obviously they need some help up front to replace Kovalchuk and are rumored to be signing Damien Brunner. Looking over their roster, they need help on defense too. With a lack of quality defensemen left unsigned, the Devils will have to go the trade route to find upgrades unless they want to play it safe and sign Ron Hainsey or Douglas Murray.


Washington Capitals

The Capitals just lost Mike Ribeiro and as of right now Mathieu Perreault appears to be the second centerman. With a bit of remaining cap space and only Marcus Johansson left to sign, the team is in a good position to dip into the free agent pool for help. Mikhail Grabovski would be the logical choice although his salary demands could be more than the Capitals can handle.


Previously from Daoust:

The Cap Value of NHL Goaltenders

Capped: The NHL's New Pension Plan

Give Eric a follow on Twitter (@DH_EricDaoust)


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