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NHL Salary Cap: Where every team stands and how it could effect the Pens’ attempt to make a trade

We dive into the league to see who may be able to help the Pens, and who is all capped out.

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NHL: APR 04 Red Wings at Penguins Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Will a move for the Pittsburgh Penguins be fast and sudden or drag on towards training camp?

Pens general manager Jim Rutherford doesn’t seem to know, and doesn’t seem to worried about it at the moment, at least the way his comments to Josh Yohe read:

“We’re probably going to have to do something [making a trade to cut salary],” Rutherford said. “It’s just tough to say when it will happen because of the time of year. Sometimes, this time of year, things take a long time to come together. Other times, you don’t think you have anything, and then it happens very quickly. So we’ll see.”

It’s now August, which may mean teams hunker down and pass the last free month before training camp quietly. Or, like Rutherford said, transactions can still come together pretty quickly.

One thing I noticed though, is that the league-wide market for teams that need to cut a little salary is not unique to Pittsburgh. The Pens likely need a trade in the range of cutting salary in the $2.5 - 3.5+ million range in order to stay under the upper limit and have enough to sign still restricted free agent Marcus Pettersson. But the Pens are not alone in this regard of being too close to the cap (or over it).

Let’s check out the other team’s situations as well:

(You can click to make bigger, or just go to capfriendly)

Toronto: Will use long term injured reserve to become cap compliant. They still have to sign Mitch Marner, but they’ve already traded a first round pick away to dump Patrick Marleau, so their major salary hurdles have likely been cleared already.

Washington: Slightly over the cap per this look which includes 23 players, so they just won’t carry the maximum 23 players. They can waive or deal away some combo of Travis Boyd, Christian Djoos, Chandler Stephensen and they’re in business

Pittsburgh: Here’s the Pens, who have to deal someone with a salary. Still trying not to believe it will be Bryan Rust, but it’s tough to see how it isn’t going to be Bryan Rust since he fits being valuable and expendable more than most.

Arizona: A surprisingly high cap number for the Coyotes. This does include Marian Hossa and his sham $5.275 million hit that only costs $1.0m in real expense (and perhaps less with insurance) but AZ does spend a bit of money with a ton of new extensions kicking in recently.

Dallas: They are close to the limit but under it. With nine forwards making $2.2m+, surely they’d probably want to flip one for more space if the opportunity presented, but they look about OK as far as the cap goes.

NY Rangers: About the most painful thing they could have done would be to buyout Kevin Shattenkirk, so guess what they did..Yep. That pain comes in 2020-21 though for dead cap space, though this year is not much better. They still have to re-sign RFA’s Tony DeAngelo and Brendan Lemieux and have precious little space to do so. It would seem like they still need to make a trade to dump a player with a decent sized salary to finish up their summer.

Vegas: It took all of 24 months for George McPhee to turn a blank slate into a salary cap hell. The Knights have had to salary dump Erik Haula, Nikita Gusev and Colin Miller this summer, all for limited return. They’re cap compliant now (barely) with six defensemen on the roster.

Nashville: In good shape financially with $2.3m of cap space and all major business taken care of. However they don’t have enough space to take on anyone’s problems.

Florida: A little space and no major items left, good shape here

Edmonton: Ken Holland at least cleared out Milan Lucic, but otherwise doesn’t have much space to improve. The Oil have almost $5m in buyout/retained dead space on the books this season, so they can’t take on anyone either.

Carolina: Already used their cap space to add a first round pick for Marleau, and Haula for peanuts. Probably won’t be doing much more, but don’t really need to.

Buffalo: Took Miller off Vegas’ hands but don’t have much room to do more with arbitration cases for Jake McCabe and backup goalie Linus Ullmark likely to take up remaining room.

Chicago: Still have RFA Brendan Perlini to sign and space to do so, but nothing more of significance after that.

Montreal: About $4m of space and nothing to do puts them on the fringes of being able to be active in a trade situation.

*Detroit: The Red Wings have up to $10m in LTIR-able money in the ghost of Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen. They could be players in a trade, if new GM Steve Yzerman so wanted.

San Jose: $4.6m of space, but potentially with sign Marleau and/or Joe Thornton, so that space won’t be there for long.

Vancouver: $5m of space, but still have to re-sign RFA Brock Boeser. If anything, this is a team that needs to make a salary dump.

St. Louis: $5m of space and two depth RFAs that won’t break bank, but won’t allow a ton of flexibility either. Probably in good enough shape as they are.

Boston: $7.2m of space but still have RFAs Charlie McAvoy and Brendan Carlo to sign, so they also are in a crunch.

Calgary: At first blush, $7.7m seems great. But RFA Matthew Tkachuk is reportedly commanding more than that. They still have some trimming to do, even after recently buying out Michael Stone.

*Anaheim: No one left to deal with and $8.5m under the cap. This could be a prime place to send, say, $3.25m worth of a defenseman too :)

NY Islanders: Still have RFAs Anthony Beauvillier and Michael Dal Colle to sign, but plenty of space to do so.

*NJD: The Devils have already poached Gusev and P.K. Subban with their cap space, and they still have room to do more if they so choose with about $8.7m under the cap.

*Los Angeles: Another team well under the cap, big market, nothing left to do.

Minnesota: Well under the cap, but obviously their management is in shambles with the recent firing of GM Paul Fenton who was only on the job one year. Probably not players in the trade market for now while they sort out just what is going on up there.

Tampa: $11m in cap space sure to disappear soon with RFA Brayden Point still to get back.

Philadelphia: Flyers have a ton of room, but most will be eaten up by RFAs Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny. Still, gotta figure they’ll scrape the upper limit and might be able to take on more salary somewhere, but it won’t be through a trade with Pittsburgh.

Ottawa: The frugal Sens have schemed the system to get a $65m cap hit team while only paying $47m in actual salary. Hey, good for them. Not really sure they’ll be motivated to do much more (or take on 3-4 years of contract obligation in players like Rust and Jack Johnson).

Columbus: The mass exodus of top players out of CBJ is done, leaving a lot of cap space but still to be signed is cornerstone Zach Werenski.

Colorado: Avs are in a good spot with north of $16m available to spend, even if a large chunk will be eaten up by RFA Mikko Rantanen.

Winnipeg: $17.5m in space but still have to re-up Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor, which won’t be cheap.

So there you have it. Many teams still have important RFAs to sign and probably need to do that before considering a finishing touch type of trade.

I did put some stars by teams who are unencumbered though, and also have cap space. If I’m Rutherford teams like Detroit, Anaheim, LA and NJ seem like the best conversations right now to have to figure out what they may be interested in and how to accomplish what both sides are looking for. As of now, it makes the most sense for a trade to be made with one of those teams.

The timing of a trade might remain unknown, but it’s just something to consider on an August day as to which teams will be in the best positions to talk with.