With the NHL regular season quickly drawing to a close, we begin to consider how the 2010-11 season could shape up. If the current top-heavy payrolls are any indication of how teams will fare next year, these five franchises could be in for long seasons.
5. Toronto Maple Leafs
As of right now, the Toronto Maple Leafs will pay defensemen $26.3 million in 2010-11—a whopping 46 percent of the entire salary cap. While it’s all but certainty that General Manager Brian Burke will find a suitable trading partner for Tomas Kaberle this offseason, the Leafs will still be left with three to five forward signings to make, not to mention the re-signing of rookie goaltender Jonas Gustavsson.
Simply put, Burkie may not have the cap freedom to effectively operate this summer. Looking ahead to next season, even if the Leafs are in the playoff hunt down the stretch in March 2011, they may not have the cap space to acquire a needed player at the deadline.
4. New York Rangers
Any team that pays a 32-point forward over $7 million will find themselves with cap trouble. That player is the Rangers’ second-line pivot, Chris Drury, but the issues don’t end there. Former offensive-defensemen Wade Redden and Michal Rozsival will collectively chew up $11.5 million next season.
To no one’s surprise, Marc Staal is posting career-highs in a contract year and will likely get a raise to somewhere in the $4 million range next season, which will severely cripple the Rangers’ abilities to go out and acquire some secondary scoring in the offseason.
However, the Rangers have a plethora of talented (and more importantly, cheap) young prospects in Evgeny Grachev, Derek Stepan and Bobby Sanguinetti, so the Rangers may rely on their youth.
3. Montreal Canadiens
When the who’s-the-most-overpaid-player discussion comes up regarding the NHL, Scott Gomez often find himself at the top of the list. He’s a great second line center at best, yet he’s being paid like a franchise superstar. The $7.4 million he’ll get next year is a cap killer, and the $5.5 million that defenseman Roman Hamrlik will get does not lighten the burden any.
Now add that the Habs’ best player this season, Tomas Plekanec, is leaving to free agency and that goaltenders’ Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price are each restricted free agents looking for a pay increase and you begin to understand why Bob Gainey relinquished his managing duties.
2. Boston Bruins
The Bruins cap troubles stem from the six forwards who are earning $3.5 million or more next season. While Marc Savard and David Krejci are worth their moderately hefty salaries, Patrice Bergeron, Michael Ryder, Marco Sturm and Milan Lucic have not played consistently well enough to warrant their current price tags. With Phil Kessel’s departure, they also lack a pure sniper.
Another problem area is between the pipes. With the emergence of Tuuka Rask as a prominent NHL goaltender, the Bruins have to pay last year’s Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas $5 million per year for the next three seasons, unless they can find a trading partner for Thomas’ services.
GM Peter Chiarelli will be busy this offseason trying to re-sign restricted free agents Blake Wheeler and Daniel Paille, among others. He’ll also need to find suitable replacements for veterans Mark Recchi, Miroslav Satan and Dennis Seidenberg—all this with just over $9 million in cap space.
1. Calgary Flames
GM Darryl Sutter has set the Flames up for a world of hurt next season. With approximately $53.4 million already tied up for 2010-11, Sutter will have very little operating room this offseason. With Vesa Toskala leaving through free agency this summer, Sutter will need to seek out a backup goaltender willing to play for the league minimum, while also finding several cheap forward options to replace unrestricted free agents Chris Higgins and Craig Conroy.
Ian White, arguably the most valuable player the Flames acquired in the “Dion Phaneuf trade” is a restricted free agent, but will command a pay raise from the $850,000 he made this year. Aside from Mikael Backlund, the Flames don’t have any top tier young talent that figure to make an impact at the NHL level next season, so Sutter may end up having to deal team captain and fan favorite, Jarome Iginla, just to make ends meet.