July 5, 2013. That’s less than six months from now.
You can make a reasoned argument that anything that happens this season won’t influence the long term future of the franchise as much as what happens in early July.
Everyone needs to add new players. The salary cap for 2013-2014 is $64.3 million. Most teams will need deep cuts to comply.
Each team has two potential buyouts. They must be used this summer or next.
Sour faces will abound in NHL boardrooms because the choices are so dire. While cutting a player loose is financially devastating, keeping the player could beworse.
Take the Chicago Blackhawks.
It’s seems unthinkable that the Blackhawks can keep 31-year-old Patrick Sharpe at four more years and $5.9 million in cap carnage per year (all figures from CapGeek.com). It’s even more unthinkable to consider 33-year Marian Hossa who is due eight more years at an $5.2 million annual cap hit.
It’s the devil’s dilemma. Keep the player and be saddled with dwindling production and a share of the cap hit when the player retires before his contract expires. Ditching the player facilitates cap compliance but saddles the team with two thirds of the remaining money paid over twice its remaining length.
The outlier in all this is Roberto Luongo. Perhaps you’ve heard of him.
Luongo scenario is the perfect storm: the Canucks can’t keep Luongo while making Corey Schneider the number one gun. The Leafs are one of a few teams with an obvious need. The contract is nearly incidental to Luongo’s scenario.
Suddenly, the Rangers contract for Brad Richards (seven more years at $7.66 million) for a 32-year-old player looks potentially catastrophic. After this season Rick Nash will still have five more years left at $7.8 million. As it stands now, about one quarter of the team’s cap will be devoted to Nash and Richards. Henrik Lundqvist’s deal expires in 2014.
The Flyers will be looking at seven more years of Ilya Bryzgalov at $5.6 million per. Claude Giroux becomes a restricted free agent in 2013-2014. Pick your poison.
Right now, the Montreal Canadiens have $4.1 million available for 2013-14 and while they can amnesty the final year of Scott Gomez’s $7.3 million deal they will be taking on P.K Subban’s impending monster contract. They have 16 players under contract through 2013-3014.
The Boston Bruins have $6.9 remaining as of today. They seem destined to amnesty Marc Savard. In Tampa, Vincent Lecavalier will have seven more years at a cap hit of $7.27 million as of July 1. Steve Stamkos can become a free agent in the summer of 2017.
But wait, there’s more.
Two prime-time free agents, 27-year-old Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, become unrestricted free agents on July 1. For once the usual suspects, Detroit, Philadelphia and the Rangers are hamstrung.
Want a character forward? How about the Devils David Clarkson? Can’t get Luongo? Phoenix goalie Mike Smith is scheduled to hit the market, July 5.
With $22.7 million in uncommitted salary, the Leafs stand 22nd in committed salary for July 5.
In Joffrey Lupul the Maple Leafs, meanwhile, have one significant player whose contract expires at season’s end. Should they let Lupul walk, he will enter free agency in the worst possible year. A deal struck this season seems far more likely.
The Leafs are by no means alone. Eight teams have even more to spend including Canadian competitors Ottawa and Winnipeg as well as Phoenix and Anaheim.
The money changes should Luongo arrive and no matter what, the right personnel choices have to be made. There is no rule saying players the Leafs want must sign here.
That said, the few teams that can match the Leafs cap space have no real history of big buck free agent signings. Some, the Coyotes come to mind, operate in markets that struggle to be sustainable without any uptick in salaries.