Yesterday we learned that the league had released some preliminary numbers regarding the salary cap for the 2016-17 season. The number reported is a potential $74.5M, which is a $3.1M increase over this season's $71.4M ceiling. It is important to note that this is a preliminary number and that the final decision on next year's cap won't come until after this season. The NHL floated out a similar number last year, only to have it fall to the current cap number, so this is by no means set in stone, and could change dramatically. The strength of the Canadian Dollar is still weaker than the league would like, so the number is likely to settle at least somewhat lower than $74.5M. But the league has stated this is the upper-bound of where it believes the final number could land.
This year's cap has proven to be a challenge across the league, as 16 teams (over half of the league) is within $2M of reaching the cap. It has also affected some players who were looking for a job in the NHL, but their salary requirements forced teams to shy away and pushed the players to accept Professional Try Outs or even opt to play in other leagues across the globe, such as the ever-popular KHL. The NHLPA will be advocating the biggest increase possible in order to retain their players and continue to develop the earning capability of NHL players.
Knowing the upper limits of what we can expect for next year allows us to take a closer look and see how it could potentially impact the Wild and their ability to be active in free agency this offseason. The Wild currently have about $59M committed to 14 players currently on the NHL roster. Following this season, the albatross contract of Niklas Backstrom falls off the books and should create some room to retain or acquire a player or two. But the team also has several pending free-agents who may or may not return, but will need to be replaced as decisions about their future are made.
Headlining this year's class of free-agents are Restricted Free Agents (RFA) Jared Spurgeon, Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba. All three remain under team control but are at a point in their career in which it will be mutually beneficial for the team and player to do a multi-year contract rather than going through the arbitration process, which can be painful for the relationship between player and team. Of lesser concern, but still significant, are Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA) Justin Fontaine, Ryan Carter and Chris Porter plus RFAs Darcy Kuemper and Tyler Graovac. Separating the free agents from the players under contract leaves the Wild with 9 spots to fill. With $58.9M committed, this leaves the Wild somewhere between $13M and $15.6M to spend, minus the $1M or so buffer the Wild like to keep for roster flexibility. Let's take a look at the team's priorities heading into the offseason, and where the money might fall.
As mentioned above, Jared Spurgeon, Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba are the top priorities to be retained. Each are still under team control, but could command a large salary and cap hit through arbitration, making it also a priority to sign them for more than one year. These are core players that the team would like to keep, but there is a chance that one of the defensemen could be dealt due to team depth. Chuck Fletcher likely needs to find a way to use $9M AAV on this group of players, which could be a challenge.
UFA Justin Fontaine is likely a player that the team would like to keep as he will likely be undervalued by the league and accept a smaller amount to stick around. But his secondary stats may make him very desirable to another team and push his value up. UFA Ryan Carter may also be a part of this group as he has shown a fantastic ability to fit into his 4th line role, and will not command a large raise. RFA Tyler Graovac will almost definitely be retained, but also won't command a large raise and is under team control. GMCF will likely only get to spend around $1M each on these guys. Chris Porter will likely move on as he can be replaced from within the organization, but he could also be retained inexpensively if the team chooses to.
RFA Darcy Kuemper is likely on the move, whether he plays himself into a deadline deal this year or is moved in the offseason. His history in salary negotiations with the Wild and desire to be a #1 goalie mean that he is no longer a fit in Minnesota. Replacing Kuemper internally may be a challenge, as the Wild don't currently have a prospect that is quite ready to break into the NHL, but it may be possible for the Wild to replace Kuemper for less than they are paying for him. There is also the potential for the team to buy out one of its aging veterans in order to create some cap space. The two names most mentioned there are Thomas Vanek, who only has a year remaining on his contract but is having a much better season or Jason Pominville who has 3 years remaining on his contract. Buying out Vanek would result in a $2.5M cap hit and free up $5M for next season. Buying out Pominville would result in a $1.5M cap hit for three years and free up $4.1M per year. There are also numerous trades possible as the organization can deal from a position of depth in its defense and will likely pursue their biggest position of need at Center.
Take a look below at the team's salary cap status for next year. What would you do if you were GMCF?
|Current Roster Size||23||14|
|Estimated Total Salary||72,255,000||62,800,000|
|Estimated Total Cap Hit||70,418,842||58,843,591|
|Carryover Overage Bonus||0||0|
|* Potential Performance Bonuses||2,092,500||1,100,000|
|Estimated Cap Space||981,158||12,556,409||
The above information has been provided by CapFriendly.com