The NHL playoffs will end in less than a month and many teams are already looking ahead to next season. The Atlantic Division remains as competitive as ever near the top and roster moves are bound to get interesting with the salary cap remaining flat at $81.5M.

Today’s analysis features the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, and the Florida Panthers.

Note – All salary cap data is based on information found at http://www.capfriendly.com.

Boston Bruins

Current Cap Hit – $67,069,036
Current Cap Space – $14,430,964

Forwards

The Boston Bruins have a couple of tricky contract negotiations to navigate despite having the greater majority of their core players locked up going into next season.

Their current roster already features 12 signed forwards with the only exceptions currently being Joakim Nordstrom and Jake DeBrusk.

DeBrusk only scored 19 goals and 35 points in 65 games this year after scoring 27 goals and 42 points in 68 games in 2018-19, so the Bruins may be able to save a bit of money.

He could end up signing a bridge deal, but perhaps Boston will opt for a longer-term contract with the hope of eventually having a bargain.

Defensemen

The defense needs a bit more work with both Matt Grzelcyk and Torey Krug due for a raise. Zdeno Chara and Kevan Miller also need new contracts.

Chara has clearly slowed down in recent years and should come at a more-than-reasonable price. Miller is coming off a season where he only played 39 games due to injury and he has yet to play in more than 71 games in a single campaign since breaking into the NHL in 2013-14.

Grzelcyk is certainly solid in his own end, but his offensive ceiling is somewhat limited so he shouldn’t be a player that breaks the bank.

Krug, on the other hand, may end up elsewhere depending on what Boston can afford to offer him. The loss of Krug would be great as he’s an important offensive catalyst. The only bright side would be the fact that he’s already 29, therefore it’s likely that a huge contract will eventually hurt the team that ends up signing him.

Goaltenders

Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak are both signed for just one more season, so that’s one problem that GM Don Sweeney can save for later.

Buffalo Sabres

Current Cap Hit – $48,291,667
Current Cap Space – $33,208,333

Forwards

The perennial disappointment of Buffalo Sabres’ fans has been well-noted over the course of the past decade. With only 10 roster players signed heading into next year, this off-season has become a huge opportunity for organizational change.

The only forwards who are currently under contract for the 2020-21 season are Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner, Kyle Okposo, and Marcus Johansson. The Skinner and Okposo contracts looked nothing short of disastrous this year and Eichel often has to put the offence on his back.

Notable RFA forwards include Victor Olofsson, Sam Reinhart, and Casey Mittelstadt with Dominik Kahun, Curtis Lazar, and Tage Thompson rounding out the group.

Olofsson had an impressive rookie year finishing third on the team in points with 20 goals and 42 points in just 54 games. Had he not been injured; he surely would have been in the Calder Trophy discussion.

At 25 years of age, he’s a bit older than the average rookie but he’s proven his worth and can certainly command above the $925K he made last season.

Reinhart is coming off a bridge deal with a $3.65M AAV but had a bit of an underwhelming season. He’s a player who should be able to regularly rack up 50-60 points so he should receive a raise.

Mittelstadt did not look ready for NHL duty early on in the season but excelled after being sent down to play with the Rochester Americans (AHL). He ‘should’ be a member of the big-league roster next season and will almost certainly be given a qualifying offer.

UFA forwards worth mentioning include Wayne Simmonds, Jimmy Vesey, Zemgus Girgensons, and Michael Frolik.

Simmonds seems likely to move on given the amount of interest he’s generating from other teams, whereas Jimmy Vesey will likely come back for a reasonable price if pursued.

Vesey was very underwhelming in his first season as a Sabre with just 9 goals and 20 points in 64 games, but perhaps they would like to take another look.

Girgensons has more than established himself as a bottom-six forward by now and will likely make similar money to the $1.6M AAV he made this season.

Frolik is a solid, well-rounded veteran who had a bit of an off-year by his standards. With that being said, he could be a good piece to keep for bottom-six duties if the price is right.

Defensemen

There’s a lot less to think about when it comes to the defense as the only players in need of a contract are Lawrence Pilut, Brandon Montour, and Matt Hunwick.

Pilut has already decided to go back to the KHL and looks to be unavailable for at least the next two seasons.

Montour is a young, right-shot defenseman who will certainly be checked in on by other teams and it would be in Buffalo’s best interest to try and keep him.

Matt Hunwick didn’t dress for a single game this season due to a neck injury and at 35 years old, it could be hard for him to find a taker in a flat-cap world.

Goaltenders

When it comes to goaltending, Carter Hutton is still signed for one more season. At 34 years old, he’s certainly not in his prime and hasn’t looked overly sharp on a consistent basis since joining Buffalo ahead of the 2018-19 season.

He was a great backup in the Western Conference for a handful of seasons, but that success simply hasn’t translated. Perhaps some of those struggles can be attributed to the defence but either way, he’s just not getting it done.

Linus Ullmark is an RFA and looks to be the superior option. The 26-year-old had a solid season posting a 2.69 GAA and a .915 SV% across 34 starts and is definitely in line for a raise.

It also wouldn’t be surprising to see Buffalo hunt for another goalie via trade or free agency.

Detroit Red Wings

Current Cap Hit – $46,825,000
Current Cap Space – $34,675,000

Forwards

The Red Wings are certainly thrilled to turn over a new leaf after finishing the season dead last in the division with a 17-49-5 record.

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They may not have won the Alexis Lafrenière sweepstakes, but this draft is deep, and the fourth overall pick is nothing to sneeze at. Adding another top prospect to this up-and-coming core will make a big difference going forward.

Detroit currently has 7 forwards locked up going into next season. Notable RFA forwards include Tyler Bertuzzi and Anthony Mantha, while other RFAs of interest feature Brendan Perlini and Dmytro Timashov.

Bertuzzi finished second on the team in scoring with 21 goals and 48 points in 71 games. Coming off a 2-year $1.4M AAV bridge deal, he seems to be in line to sign his first long-term ticket.

Mantha continues to improve every year and did so this season despite dealing with injury problems. He was third on the team in scoring and put up 16 goals and 38 points despite only playing in 43 games.

His health has become a bit of a question, but he’s undeniably talented and will definitely make more than the $3.3M he made last year.

Perlini and Timashov have shown flashes of skills here and there, but both will need to show better consistency on short-term deals to have a chance at sticking around.

Veteran UFA forwards include Sam Gagner and Kyle Brodziak, neither of which would be a big loss.

Gagner may still have 30-40-point potential and they have the cap space should they choose to sign him.

Defensemen

The defense is thin and inexperienced right now and a pair of 36-year-olds – Trevor Daley and Jonathan Ericsson – are both UFAs and well past their primes.

Madison Bowey is the loan RFA defenseman as Dennis Cholowski and Filip Hronek both have another year on their ELCs.

Other questions loom as well including the fate of 19-year-old Moritz Seider. Is he ready for NHL duty? Even if so, is it wise to put him in a lineup that may suffer through another losing season?

Detroit has a few options on the back end, but they may opt to seek veteran rearguard help from the free agent pool as well. Especially if one or both of Ericsson and Daley do not return.

Goaltenders

Goaltending is an area of concern at the moment. Jonathan Bernier had an OK season all things considered posting a 15-22-3 record with a 2.95 GAA and a .907 SV% over 46 games (41 starts).

Jimmy Howard looks to be a fringe backup at the absolute best at this point in his career. Last season was a disaster as he lost 23 of his 27 starts with a brutal 4.20 GAA and an .882 SV% to boot. Ouch.

The Red Wings may follow the Sabres lead and go big game goalie hunting when free agency begins.

Florida Panthers

Current Cap Hit – $60,536,288
Current Cap Space – $20,963,712

Forwards

The Florida Panthers made the playoffs for the first time in four seasons and only managed to win one game in the qualifying round before being eliminated by the New York Islanders.

This franchise has suffered for quite some time. They’ve only made the playoffs five times since being swept in the Stanley Cup Finals by the Colorado Avalanche back in the 1995-96 season.

All of those losses have been in the first round, but the core is still young and promising so perhaps only minor re-tooling is required.

None of the RFA forwards are too notable with Henrik Borgstrom and Lucas Wallmark being the only ones worth mentioning.

Borgstrom has looked good for the Springfield Thunderbirds (AHL) but has yet to find his stride with the Panthers. He’s not even eligible for RFA II status meaning that other teams cannot offer-sheet him.

Wallmark remains a young bottom-six forward who will probably come back on a reasonable deal.

UFA forwards are a different story entirely with Evgeni Dadonov, Mike Hoffman, Erik Haula, and Brian Boyle all looking for a new contract.

Dadonov had a bit of a down year with 25 goals and 47 points after back-to-back 28-goal, 65+ point seasons in 2017-18 and 2018-19. He’s now on the wrong side of 30, but he will likely come back if both sides can agree on the right price.

Hoffman has been very important since coming over from Ottawa two seasons ago. In 151 games as a Panther, he’s racked up 65 goals and 129 points. Re-signing him should be a priority. Another thing to note is that he is also 30 and the organization probably views him and Dadonov in a similar light.

Haula has only played 7 games for the Panthers since coming over as a large piece of the Vincent Trocheck trade. They’ll likely wish to retain his services as he’s a solid, all-around player just two seasons removed from posting 29 goals and 55 points in 76 games.

Boyle, at the age of 35, is getting up there and may or may not come back depending on a variety of factors.

Defensemen

The defense is pretty well-solidified with only MacKenzie Weegar, Joshua Brown, and Mark Pysyk to sign. Their core four will stay the same barring a trade or major injury.

Weegar has proven to be a solid defender and may still have some potential to fulfill yet. He will likely make similar money to the $1.6M he made this season, with decent term.

Brown is a fringe roster player, but he’s been in the organization since being drafted in 2013 so perhaps they’re not ready to give up on him yet.

Pysyk is the only UFA of the three and has seen time at both forward and defense throughout his time as a Panther. Re-signing him is far from essential but there may be some interest there.

Goaltenders

Starting netminder Sergei Bobrovsky had the worst season of his entire career and will hopefully bounce back given that he’s in line to make $10M per year until 2025-26.

Chris Driedger was impressive during his stint in the crease, even though it was a small sample size. In 12 games (11 starts), the 26-year-old went 7-2-1 with a microscopic 2.05 GAA and a .938 SV%. He looks to be the answer at backup.

Samuel Montembeault has not looked the part of ‘professional goaltender’ in any of his three seasons split between the AHL/NHL.

His .918 SV% was decent for the Springfield Thunderbirds this past season, but with a GAA still at 3.00, there’s work to be done. The 23-year-old is an RFA but is still a year away from arbitration eligibility.

Up Next

Stay tuned for ‘Part 2’ of this article featuring a salary cap situation analysis of the Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

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