The NHL offseason has begun. There have been numerous trades and re-signings already, not even a week after the conclusion of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final. With the NHL Draft coming up on Friday and free agency opening up on July 1st teams are beginning to make moves to prepare for the 2019 season. However, there are a number of teams that are in a cap crunch that is expected to be very busy in the next few weeks.
San Jose Sharks
The Sharks made moves in back to back days. Starting with re-signing star defenseman Erik Karlsson to an 8-year deal with an $11.5 mil AAV. After that move, the Sharks were left with around 12 million in cap space to fill out a roster that only has seven forwards under contract next season.
Tuesday the Sharks struck another move, this time a trade with the Philadelphia Flyers. In an attempt to create some cap space the Sharks sent right-handed defenseman Justin Braun to Philly for a 2019 second round pick and a 2020 third round pick. After the trade, the Sharks are left with $16.3 million in cap space.
The Sharks have six UFA’s and four RFA’s, eight of which are forwards. The two names that the Sharks should prioritize re-signing are RFA Timo Meier and UFA Joe Pavelski. Meier is coming off of his rookie contract and should be in line for a steep pay raise after scoring 51 goals over the past two seasons. Pavelski is coming off 5-year deal with a $6 mil AAV. The 34-year old has played with the Sharks his entire career.
Kevin Labanc is another RFA that the Sharks hope to re-sign. The 23-year-old had 56 points with the Sharks last season. Expect Gustav Nyquist to enter free agency. The Swedish forward was acquired from the Detroit Red Wings at the 2019 trade deadline. Joe Thornton and Joonas Donskoi are two other UFA’s that could sign elsewhere in free agency.
The Sharks made a trade to help create cap space as they are going to need as much as possible. Sharks GM Doug Wilson will need to get creative with the $16 million he has in cap space. The first priority should be to extend Meier, then go from there.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs enter the offseason with $8.7 million in cap space. Immediately that is an issue because Mitch Marner is going to cost more than that. In addition to Marner, the Leafs also have Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson as RFA’s that are both due to receive a pay raise from their performance this season. Both players were 20 goal scorers.
According to the rumors swirling around, the Leafs are looking to move Patrick Marleau, Nazem Kadri, and Garret Sparks. Marleau carries a $6.25 million cap hit for next season and Kadri has a $4.5 million cap hit for the next three seasons. Trading away those two would create almost $11 million in cap space which should be enough to re-sign Marner to an extension. That would leave the original $8 million for both Kapanen and Johnsson. The Leafs would also need to sign a defenseman as they only have five under contract for next season.
Marleau and Kadri are both expected to be moved. Whether that be Friday at the draft or in the next week or so. I also expect the Leafs to make a decision to keep one of Kapanen or Johnsson. It would take a miracle for them to keep both those guys along with Mitch Marner. Whatever Leafs GM Kyle Dubas decides to do, we should know by July 1st.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning’s season came up short after a first-round exit to the Columbus Blue Jackets. They enter free agency with a projected $6.8 million in cap space. The team has 10 forwards, five defenseman, and two goalies under contract next year.
Tampa has four forwards, and two defenseman who are looking for new contracts. Both defensemen, Dan Girardi and Anton Stralman should both be finding new teams next season. The four forwards are all RFA’s.
The most notable name of the four is Brayden Point who scored 41 goals this season. The other three are Adam Erne, Cedric Paquette and Danick Martel. If all three chose to come back it should be on fairly cheap deals. However, in order to re-sign Point, the Lightning will need to create some cap space.
Ryan Callahan is the most popular choice to be moved. Callahan carries a $5.8 million cap hit for next season but he has a modified no-trade clause. The 34-year old has struggled mightily the past few seasons. Other names that the Lightning could trade are J.T. Miller ($5.25 million) and Tyler Johnson ($5 million).
Another thing the Lightning need to consider is that goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy will be an RFA after this season and he will need to be paid more than the $3.5 million he makes now. I expect Tampa to figure everything out so that they can keep Point and the others. We are probably in for another season of total Tampa Bay dominance, at least in the regular season.
Vegas Golden Knights
Vegas enters the offseason in a very tough situation. They are the only team that is currently over the expected salary cap of $83 million for next season. They have 12 forwards, six defensemen and one goalie under contract for next season.
Unfortunately for Vegas one of their RFA’s is William Karlsson. The 26-year-old has scored 67 goals for Vegas over the last two seasons. He is due for a massive pay increase. However, that will be tough considering the fact Vegas is over the cap.
Another guy Vegas wants to sign is RFA Nikita Gusev from Russia. Gusev was very dominant in the KHL and now he is ready to take on the NHL. Between Karlsson and Gusev, Vegas is going to need to clear up a good amount of cap space for the upcoming season.
I see three guys that could find new homes for next year. The top name is Colin Miller. Miller is a right-handed defenseman who carries a $3.875 million cap hit for the next three seasons. He is 26 years old and would be a solid top 4 defenseman for just about any club. Cody Eakin has one year left on his deal and carries a $3.850 million cap hit for next season. The final guy is Erik Haula who has a $2.750 million cap hit for next season.
Moving those players could free up as much as $10.5 million which may or may not be enough to get both Karlsson and Gusev. Reilly Smith ($5 million) and Paul Stastny ($6.5 million) are other guys that Vegas could look to move.
Vegas is the team I expect to be the most active as the Draft approaches on Friday. GM George McPhee has some tough decisions to make in hopes to bring his team back to the playoffs for the third year in a row.
Chris Bugajsky covers the Dallas Stars, the NHL and the NHL Draft for Full Press Coverage. Follow Chris on twitter @CBugajsky14.