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NHL Teams Under a Salary Cap Crunch



NHL salary cap Leon Draisaitl Valeri Nichushkin Mitch Marner

The NHL salary cap increased to $88 million for the 2024-2025 season, giving teams more wiggle room this offseason. After the initial flurry of free-agent signings and trades, several teams remain with unresolved cap issues. Evaluating these teams could hint at potential upcoming moves, whether they are a trade, demotion, or other forms of contract relief.

According to PuckPedia, the Washington Capitals, Vegas Golden Knights, Colorado Avalanche, Philadelphia Flyers, Edmonton Oilers, and Florida Panthers are still over the cap. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Nashville Predators are within a million dollars of the cap, which is not enough room to account for in-season transactions.

In evaluating these teams, a potential trade piece could be made available for a team still looking to improve, such as the Buffalo Sabres. Let’s look at these cap-crunched teams and how they may address their sticky situations.

Washington Capitals

Projected Cap Hit: $102.17 million

Projected Cap Space: -$14.17 million

After a very aggressive offseason, the Washington Capitals are in the most dire cap situation in the league. The Caps retained $3.9 million in salary on last season’s Evgeny Kuznetsov trade. They have some potential cap relief, as they have a long-term injury reserve candidate in Nicklas Backstrom.

Ethan Bear entered the NHLPA’s Player Assistance program last season, which could relieve his salary should he remain there to begin next season. That still isn’t nearly enough cap space, meaning a trade or two is in the works.

Backstrom and Bear combine for $11,262,500 in cap relief, leaving about $3 million to clear up before the season. Tom Wilson’s $6.5 million cap hit is on Washington’s books for the next seven seasons. That’s a tough contract to trade attached to a 30-year-old.

Other candidates include T.J. Oshie, Dylan Strome, and Trevor van Riemsdyk. Oshie carries a $5.75 cap hit for one more season but holds a 10-team no-trade clause. Trading Strome’s $5 million cap hit for four more seasons would help the cap situation but leave the Capitals thin at center. $3 million annually for two seasons remains on van Riemsdyk’s contract, which would be enough to get Washington in the green.

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Vegas Golden Knights

Projected Cap Hit: $91.64 million

Projected Cap Space: -$3.64 million

Long-term injury reserve has been Vegas’ friend in recent seasons, and they still have one candidate in Robin Lehner and his $5 million cap hit. This cap juggling would put the Golden Knights under the NHL salary restriction by about $1.36 million.

The Golden Knights are scraping for forwards already, so if they desire more cap room it’s likely a defenseman to go. The acquisition of Noah Hanifin last season created a roadblock for Nicolas Hague and Zach Whitecloud, who at one time looked like rising talents in the organization.

Hague’s cap hit is $2,294,150 next season before becoming a restricted free agent. Whitecloud has four years left on his deal, averaging $2.75 million per season. The Golden Knights are geniuses at managing the cap, so even if they don’t move someone they’ll find a way to be cap-compliant.

Colorado Avalanche

Projected Cap Hit: $89.34 million

Projected Cap Space: -$1.34 million

The Colorado Avalanche’s cap situation depends on the status of Valeri Nichushkin, who is currently in the NHLPA Player Assistance program. Nichushkin makes $6.125 annually, which makes nearly $5 million in cap space if he remains in the program to begin the season.

If not, the Avalanche must trade Nichushkin or work the long-term injury reserve with Gabriel Landeskog. That’s assuming, of course, that Landeskog’s status also remains unchanged after skating with the team towards the end of last season.

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Philadelphia Flyers

Projected Cap Hit: $88.83 million

Projected Cap Space: -$830k

Philadelphia’s decision to buy out Cam Atkinson saved them a little cap room, as the Flyers are still retaining salary from the Kevin Hayes trade. They’re also expected to save some room by burying Cal Petersen in the minors and designating Ryan Ellis’ $6.25 million to LTIR. All of this taken into account, the Flyers are still over the NHL salary cap by just under $1 million.

Philadelphia doesn’t have to make any deals to clear cap space, as Ryan Johansen’s $4 million cap hit next season is also expected to be buried in the minors. By rule, they’d save $1.15 million on the cap, putting them under the upper limit.

Of course, this doesn’t account for any roster improvements. The Flyers haven’t made any significant free-agent signings or trades this offseason. Their only change to the roster is the arrival of top 2024 draft pick Matvei Michkov.

Edmonton Oilers

Projected Cap Hit: $88.35 million

Projected Cap Space: -$354k

The Buffalo Sabres already took advantage of the Edmonton Oilers’ cap situation, by acquiring Ryan McLeod for prospect Matthew Savoie. The Oilers are slightly over the NHL salary cap while still having to sign restricted free agents Dylan Holloway and Philip Broberg.

While Leon Draisaitl’s name has come up because he’s entering the last season of his deal, the obvious contract to move is Evander Kane. Kane’s decline in recent seasons has been significant, and he carries a $5.125 million cap hit for the next two years.

Cody Ceci’s carrying a $3.25 million cap hit in a contract year, and could also be a casualty.

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Florida Panthers

Projected Cap Hit: $88.08 million

Projected Cap Space: -$83k

The Florida Panthers have a couple of options to become cap-compliant, including carrying fewer players at a time or burying Spencer Knight in the AHL again. They also could elect to go the trade route, as Sam Bennett, Carter Verhaeghe, and Aaron Ekblad have significant expiring contracts after next season.

Trading a prominent player probably isn’t in the cards for a team trying to run it back, but it’s an option on the table should they find the right deal to make.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Projected Cap Hit: $87.02 million

Projected Cap Space: $180k

The rumors of trading Mitch Marner and potentially breaking up the core have circulated since the Toronto Maple Leafs’ season ended. They still have shown no signs of a significant trade, but they have two restricted free agents to sign in Connor Dewar and Nicholas Robertson, and no cap room to do so.

The Leafs could explore trading another contract, such as Jake McCabe’s expiring $2 million cap hit since they have an influx of defensemen. Robertson is also reportedly looking for a new start, but an entry-level replacement wouldn’t be much cheaper.

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Nashville Predators

Projected Cap Hit: $87.40 million

Projected Cap Space: $596k

Dead cap hits from Ryan Johansen and Mattias Ekholm as well as the buyout of Matt Duchene are cap-strapping the Nashville Predators. General Manager Barry Trotz was still aggressive this offseason, adding Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Marchessault, and Brady Skjei.

A minor move could solve the Predators’ cap woes, such as a trade of Cody Glass, who is falling out of favor with the organization. That would clear up $2.5 million in space, making plenty of room. Luke Schenn and Dante Fabbro are other options, although they’re more essential to the team’s immediate success.

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