Because It’s The Cap: Where Each NHL Team Stands Heading Into The 2016 Offseason

Updated: June 24, 2016 at 3:33 pm by Cam Lewis

Over the past month, we at NHLnumbers have been analyzing each team’s roster and current cap outlook heading into the 2016 offseason, trying to paint a picture of what the team’s summer is going to look like in order for them to achieve their short- and long-term goals. Here are all thirty articles from the Because It’s The Cap series we’ve done with a quick primer on where each NHL team stands and what we can expect from (and hope for) from them heading into what should be a busy and exciting summer. 

Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks have just under $16 million in open cap room this summer but they operate with a strict internal budget, so don’t expect them to go ahead and spend all of that money. They already got their summer kicked off by dealing RFA Frederik Andersen to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and it’s expected that some others, like Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, and Josh Manson will be dealt before the Ducks risk losing them for nothing in the expansion draft. Of course, this isn’t all negative, as the Ducks will surely use their abundance of assets on the blue line to improve up front, as depth scoring was something they struggled with last season. 

Arizona Coyotes 

The Coyotes are one of the teams leading the charge in hockey’s analytics renaissance, as 26-year-old general manager John Chayka is set to navigate through his first summer at the helm of the club. And he’s going to have his work cut out for him, as the Coyotes have over a dozen free agents to deal with this summer and over $35 million in cap space. Chayka already made a major splash, acquiring defenceman Alex Goligoski’s rights and signing him to a five-year deal, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him make a couple more additions to help insulate the team’s highly skilled group of prospects as they slowly ease their way into the league. 

Boston Bruins

After a pretty ugly offseason last year, the Bruins will have a chance to redeem themselves this summer as they move into an offseason with more than $21 million in cap room. Whether they’re looking to compete now or not is somewhat in the air, as last offseason’s moves of selling Milan Lucic and Doug Hamilton suggested that they were, in fact, rebuilding, while their trade deadline strategy of buying John-Michael Liles and Lee Stempniak and keeping UFA Loui Eriksson proved otherwise. Also, whatever moves they do make this summer should also be done with Brad Marchand, a free agent in 2017, in mind. 

Buffalo Sabres

The Buffalo Sabres took a major step forward last season, pulling themselves out of the basement by winning 12 more games than they did in 2014-15 when they were aggressively tanking for the Connor McDavid sweepstakes. Buffalo has just under $25 million in cap room this summer, making the possibility of a major free agent splash (cough, Stamkos, cough) pretty doable. That said, the Sabres also need to be careful, as Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, and Evander Kane are all going to need new deals at the same time two years from now. 

Calgary Flames 

While last season was a disappointment hangover considering their miracle run in 2014-15, the Flames’ future still looks bright. They have a good core of young players, a great blue line, and a bunch of bad contracts coming off the shelf next summer. Their first task this summer, though, is going to be figuring out new contracts for both Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, which is going to be expensive, but worthwhile. After that, the Flames will use their remaining cap flexibility to make a major upgrade in net, as terrible goaltending was a major Achilles Heel for the team last season. 

Carolina Hurricanes 

It’s the dawn of a new era in Carolina as the team moves into its first season without captain Eric Staal around for the first time in over a decade. Carolina is looking to the future with a group built around Eric’s younger brother Jordan, and defencemen Justin Faulk and Noah Hanifin. They kicked their offseason off by grabbing Teuvo Teravainen, the most recent cap casualty of the Chicago Blackhawks, to add to a forward group that struggled to score goals last season. The Canes have over $25 million in cap room this summer, but it’s hard to imagine them spending too much of it based on their recent ownership struggles. 

Chicago Blackhawks 

Death, taxes, and the Chicago Blackhawks wild summer of trying to piece together an NHL roster under the cap ceiling. It’s been like this for years, and will continue to be this way for the Hawks, as this summer they’ll go through their annual cap casualty fire sale, which has already resulted in them dumping Teuvo Teravainen, and will likely see Andrew Shaw, Marcus Kruger, and others dealt to save money. But hell, does it really matter? The Hawks, ever summer, dump a third of their team, and they manage to find laundry to fill their roles adequately. 

Colorado Avalanche 

The Avs have a busy offseason ahead of them as Nathan MacKinnon, Tyson Barrie, and Mikhail Grigorenko are all in need of new RFA contracts. They have a talented group of young players, but a pretty unimpressive old boys club running the show, which makes it’s difficult to have much faith in this team moving forward this summer. 

Columbus Blue Jackets 

For a team that isn’t very good, the Blue Jackets have a hell of a lot of money tied up at the moment. Boasting arguably the worst cap situation in the league, the Jackets are going to need to find a way to dump some contracts this summer so that they have the capacity to sign defenceman Seth Jones to a new contract, and, you know, make improvements to their underwhelming roster. 

Dallas Stars 

The Stars are easily the best offensive team in the league, but their mediocre defence and poor goaltending held them back from making it out of the second round in last year’s playoffs. They’ve already lost Alex Goligoski, their best defenceman, to free agency, and they’re likely to lose Jason Demers, another key member of their blue line too. They have some internal options to fill those holes, but the Stars are likely going to have to get creative and deal from a position of strength to improve their defence for next season. 

Detroit Red Wings 

It’s easy, and common practice, to say that the Detroit Red Wings will be okay because they’re the Detroit Red Wings, and, well, they always are, but this time, maybe it won’t work out that way. The Wings will be without Pavel Datsyuk next season, as he’s returning to Russia for family reasons, and their core is getting older (and not any cheaper) without many reinforcements on the way. This summer will involve the Wings looking to dump some contracts, including Datsyuk’s, and really should also be the beginning of some kind of rebuild. 

Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers already have a pretty full roster, so if they’re looking to make improvements this summer, which, uh, looking at their blue line, they really, really should be, it’ll have to be through trade. They have a whole wealth of good, young forwards, and surely one, or more, of them will need to be dealt in order for Edmonton to acquire that top pairing defenceman they’ve coveted for so long. We all know Peter Chiarelli  isn’t afraid to take a risk and make a big trade, which could be either excellent or terrible news for the Oilers. 

Florida Panthers 

After a breakout season last year, the Florida Panthers are really going for it. Free agency hasn’t started yet, and they’ve already moved Erik Gudbranson to the Canucks, and signed Keith Yandle via trading a draft pick for his UFA rights. With just under $17 million left to fool around with this summer, expect more for the Panthers as they look to finally, for the first time in their franchise history, create a consistent contender in Sunrise. 

Los Angeles Kings 

The Kings certainly aren’t in a rosy cap situation, but hey, what contending teams who have won two Stanley Cups in the last few years are? They’re still set up to win now with the group they have, so expect the Kings to make some minor tweaks to their roster over the summer to help them capitalize on their group while they can. In a few years, it’s going to look really, really bad, but they’re already invested, so there’s no sense in pulling out now. 

Minnesota Wild 

Did you know Minnesota was renamed Land of 10,000 Bad Contracts? The Wild certainly don’t have the greatest financial outlook heading into the 2016 offseason, which makes it difficult to fathom how they’re going to improve their roster and take a step next season from a mediocre, middle team to a legitimate contender. Buying out Thomas Vanek is a start, but the problems extend well beyond him. 

Montreal Canadiens 

Last season’s injury to Carey Price was somewhat of a blessing in disguise for the Canadiens, as they now (should) know that their roster is deeply flawed and that they aren’t actually a legitimate contender. Now, this summer, they can navigate through a re-tool and make moves that can help them capitalize on the window of opportunity that they have with the league’s best goaltender. And no, trading one of the league’s best defencemen isn’t going to help make the team better right now. 

Nashville Predators 

Smart cap management, bargain deals, and a burgeoning young core featuring players entering or at the apex of their primes years have put Nashville in a position to succeed. Management will now have the task of accentuating the positives of their current roster with the adequate depth and additional scoring ability needed to get the team over their hump. The Predators’ window of being a serious contender is open. Now it’s up to them to take the next step, which is doable, since they have $15 million in cap room to work with this summer. 

New Jersey Devils

Talk about cap flexibility, the New Jersey Devils only six players from last year’s roster signed into next season with more than $30 million in cap room. They’ve done a solid job acquiring young talent, and now, they have to bring in some veteran players to insulate them. 

New York Islanders

The Islanders are moving into a new ownership era, which should be a good thing for them, as new owners generally like to open up their wallets in order to immediately get a winner on the ice. Last year, they kind of left themselves in purgatory, not buying at the deadline, but also not selling assets like Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo before they hit the open market. Now, this summer, they’ll look to re-tool, and try to capitalize on John Tavares’ team-friendly deal before it comes to an end two years from now. 

New York Rangers

Here we are, witnessing the decline of the New York Rangers right before our eyes. They boasted some of the worst possession numbers in the league last season, and, unsurprisingly, their PDO bubble burst and they were booted in the first round of the playoffs by the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games. Their core is getting older, and the team is plagued with bad prospects. But not all is lost! They still have a handful of good players and one of the best goaltenders in the league. The key for this team moving forward into the 2016 offseason will be realizing where their boat anchors are, and finding ways to get rid of them so that upgrades can be made in free agency, because at this point, they really can’t afford to just keep selling the farm for upgrades on the trade market. 

Ottawa Senators 

Three more years of Erik Karlsson at $6.5 million. Time flies, hey? The Senators are in a ring of torture, as their owner is too cheap to improve the team via free agency, but their management group, in the past, hasn’t shown much competence at either the draft or at making good trades. So while the Sens have some good players, including the league’s best defenceman, it’s hard to imagine them getting much better this summer. 

Philadelphia Flyers 

The Flyers have been the epitome of a team lodged deep in cap hell, but recently, they’ve done a good job at pulling themselves out of it. Of course, they still have a few terrible contracts to go along with other massive deals owned by Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, so they don’t have a hell of a lot of cap flexibility this summer to improve their roster. That’s okay, though, as the Flyers are moving forward through drafting and developing rather than major free agent acquisitions. 

Pittsburgh Penguins 

The Stanley Cup Champs will head into the summer with a difficult outlook ahead of them, as they’re already lodged right up against the cap ceiling. It isn’t like this team is in cap hell, or anything, as damn near all of their championship team will remain intact next season, but a few names, like Marc-Andre Fleury, for example, will likely be jettisoned to give the Penguins some breathing room. 

San Jose Sharks 

The Sharks are a team built on versatility up front and stability on defence. Their forward group is anchored by three first liners and a crew of middle six players who move up and down the line-up as necessary. Their defence features a tremendous top four with a bit of a mish-mash third pairing. This was the plan in 2015/16 and should continue to be the plan for 2016/17 as the team hopes to build on their Stanley Cup appearance and go all the way in 2016-17. This could possibly be their last major shot at the Cup for the next several years, so management is likely going to go all-in to reach that ultimate goal.

St. Louis Blues 

The Blues made it all the way to the Conference Final last season, which, while it was a major step for them, was still well shy of their ultimate goal of winning it all. Next season, the brunt of their group will be back again, but they’ll likely be without captain David Backes, who’s a free agent this summer, and defenceman Kevin Shattenkrik, who only has one year left on his deal and could be dealt before he’s able to walk for nothing. 

Tampa Bay Lightning 

See that image above? It could be the last time we ever see Steven Stamkos in a Lightning uniform. That’s the story of the offseason for Tampa Bay, as they have to decide what to do with their free agent captain, while also keeping in mind new contracts for Victor Hedman, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and more in the next year. 

Toronto Maple Leafs 

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ rebuild just had an excellent twelve months, but based on what they’ve already done this summer, they may already be looking to start moving forward. The Leafs acquired Frederik Andersen from the Ducks, then signed him to a pretty rich, long-term deal. Now, it’s expected they’ll use their massive amount of cap room to pursue Steven Stamkos, which is something Leaf fans have been speculating, and, well, salivating over since 2008. 

Vancouver Canucks 

Oh boy, it isn’t a fun time to be a Canucks fan. Jim Benning, man. He’s convinced that the Canucks can compete, and is operating as such, rather than moving the team into a rebuild. He dealt a nice prospect and a draft pick to the Florida Panthers for Erik Gudbranson, which, well, kinda makes evident what type of player they covet and how they want their team to look.

Washington Capitals 

The Washington Capitals are a really, really good team, and a second round loss to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions doesn’t change that. They have damn near all of their team from last year coming back for another go at it, so it’s hard to imagine them having a busy summer save for figuring out some new contracts for their RFAs. If they do look to make upgrades, the place to do so will be on the blue line, mainly because they have a couple of defencemen who have struggled with injuries in the past, and last playoffs, depth on defence became an issue as, err, Mike Weber found his way into games, unfortunately. Of course, the Capitals should be looking to sign players to one-year deals this summer, if anything, so they have the most space possible next summer to figure out new deals for T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov who are major keys to the team’s short- and long-term success. 

Winnipeg Jets

Overall the Jets have the talent and the means to significantly bounce back in the standings after last season. At forward they have impressive depth, which should only improve with the young core developing and the additions of Kyle Connor and the Jets’ second overall selection in the 2016 Draft (likely Patrik Laine). At defense they could use some skill and puck movement added on the third pair and on the farm team. In goaltending the answer is likely within simply a changing of the guard. Fix the Jets’ special teams and you likely have a team making some noise in one of the toughest divisions in the NHL.