Regardless of who wins the Stanley Cup Final, you will undoubtedly read how no team has won the Cup with a player carrying a $10m cap hit. It gets headlines, but is somewhat misleading. Tampa Bay has three players at $9.5m, and they are in the Stanley Cup Final. Again. Their six highest paid players have the second highest combined salaries in the NHL. Tampa’s highest paid players produce, and they have the perfect starting six in the NHL.
Let’s dig a big deeper and see if top-heavy salaries negatively impact teams.
Here is a look at NHL team’s top-six combined AAVs for the 2022/2023 season. I used six because teams start the game with six players on the ice and Tampa’s salary distribution among their top six is ideal. They have three forwards, two defence and one goalie among their highest paid players. They are also their best six players, which is why they are in the Cup Final again. The Rangers have three forwards, two D-men and a goalie in their top-six highest AAVs, and they just lost to TB in the Eastern Conference Final. Nashville also does, but they aren’t getting the same production from their forwards.
$53.63m: Toronto has Auston Matthews ($11.64m), John Tavares ($11m), Mitch Marner ($10.903m), Morgan Reilly ($7.5m), William Nylander ($6.962m) and Jake Muzzin ($5.625m). Is this the summer they trade one of their top salaries?
$51.6m: Tampa Bay has Andrei Vasilevskiy, Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov ($9.5m each), Steven Stamkos ($8.5m), Victor Hedman ($7.85m) and Ryan McDonagh ($6.75m). The perfect top six. When Hedman was signed he was top-three paid D, Vasilevskiy top-three paid goalies, Kucherov was top-five paid forward and Stamkos was top-six. They didn’t take huge discounts, so the state tax argument doesn’t hold much water for me.
$49.8m: New York Rangers have Artemi Panarin ($11.64m), Adam Fox ($9.5m), Mika Zibanejad ($8.5m), Jacob Trouba ($8m), Chris Kreider ($6.5m) and Igor Shesterkin ($5.66m). Rangers also have $3.428m of dead cap space from buyouts. The buyouts will force them re-sign one of Andrew Copp or Ryan Strome.
$48.637m: San Jose has Erik Karlsson ($11.5m), Tomas Hertl ($8.137m), Brent Burns and Logan Couture ($8m), Marc-Edouard Vlasic ($7m) and Timo Meier ($6m). And they have $2.416m in dead cap space from Martin Jones buyout. They are in cap hell.
$46.403m: Edmonton has Connor McDavid ($12.5m), Darnell Nurse ($9.25m), Leon Draisaitl ($8.5m), Duncan Keith ($5.538m), Zach Hyman ($5.5m) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins ($5.125m). Edmonton also has $4.16m in dead cap space from buyout/retained salary. The buyouts are a killer. Keith is only paid $1.5m in cash, but his cap hit isn’t ideal.
$46.3m: Chicago has Patrick Kane and Jonathon Toews ($10.5m), Seth Jones ($9.5m), Alex DeBrincat ($6.4m), Tyler Johnson ($5m) and Connor Murphy ($4.4m). Toews has one year remaining and Chicago seems poised to do a complete rebuild and are willing to trade Alex DeBrincat. He has one year remaining at $6.4m and needs to be qualified at $9m next summer.
$46.25m: Vegas has Jack Eichel ($10m), Mark Stone ($9.5m), Alex Pietrangelo ($8.8m), Max Pacioretty ($7m), William Karlsson ($5.9m) and Alec Martinez ($5.25m). Vegas also has four more players (Evgeni Dadonov, Jonathon Marchessault, Shea Theodore and Robin Lehner totaling $20.2m). They will need to shed some salary.
$45.95m: Washington has Alex Ovechkin ($9.5m), Nicklas Backstrom ($9.2m), John Carlson ($8m), Evgeny Kuznetsov, ($7.8m), TJ Oshie ($5.75m) and Anthony Mantha ($5.7m). They are skilled, but older.
$45.2m: Florida has Aleksander Barkov and Sergie Bobrovsky ($10m), Aaron Ekblad ($7.5m), Sam Reinhart ($6.5m), Jonathon Huberdeau ($5.9m) and Patric Hornqvist ($5.3m). They have $6.575m in dead cap space from buyouts. For a team wanting to compete for the Cup, the buyouts will crush them this season. It is hard to compete with Tampa when you have $6.5m less to spend.
$42.75m: Dallas has Tyler Seguin ($9.85m), Jamie Benn ($9.5m), Miro Heiskanen ($8.45m), Esa Lindell ($5.8m), Joe Pavelski ($5.5m) and Ryan Suter ($3.65m). (John Klingberg is a UFA, while Jake Oettinger is an RFA). Oettinger will get a raise, but only needs to be qualified at $971K. I do expect him to be higher than Suter and crack the top- six. Lots of money tied up in older players who are past their prime.
$42.5m: Colorado has Mikko Rantanen ($9.25m), Cale Makar ($9m), Gabriel Landeskog ($7m), Nathan MacKinnon ($6.3m), Erik Johnson ($6m) and Samuel Girard ($5m). Nazem Kadri, Val Nichuskin, Andre Burakovsky, Josh Manson and Darcy Kuemper are UFAs, and Artturi Lehkonen is a RFA, but they have cap space to re-sign the ones they want. MacKinnon will get a big raise starting next season, but Johnson’s $6m expires. GM Joe Sakic has cap room to be creative.
$42.125m: Montreal with Carey Price ($10.5m), Nick Suzuki ($7.875m), Brendan Gallagher ($6.5m), Jeff Petry ($6.25m) and Josh Anderson and Jonathon Drouin ($5.5m). Shea Weber ($7.875m) is on LTIR. They also have $833K in dead cap space. Price’s health will be a main factor in what they do this off-season.
$41.63m: Columbus has Zach Werenski ($9.58m), Jakub Voracek ($8.25m), *Patrik Laine ($7.5m), Gustav Nyquist ($5.5m) and Oliver Bjorkstrand and Elvis Merzlikins ($5.4m). They also have $441K of dead cap space from Alex Wennberg buyout. *Laine is a RFA and needs to be qualified at $7.5m. They are in a pretty decent cap position.
$41.55m: Los Angeles has Drew Doughty ($11m), Anze Kopitar ($10m), Jonathon Quick ($5.8m), Phillip Danault ($5.5m), Cal Petersen ($5m), and Viktor Arvidsson ($4.25m). Adrian Kempe is an RFA. He needs to be qualified at $2.5m, but after scoring 35 goals he will be getting a big raise and will move into their top six. LA is the only team to have two goalies in their top-six salaries. They have $1.06m of dead cap space from the Dion Phaneuf buyout. They have many good young players. Doughty was very good until he was injured last year. If he plays well again they should be in good shape.
$41.46m: Vancouver’s top six are Quinn Hughes ($7.85m), Elias Pettersson ($7.35m), *Brock Boeser ($7.5m) Oliver Ekman-Larsson ($7.26m), Tyler Myers ($6m), and Bo Horvat ($5.5m). *Boeser needs to be qualified at $7.5m and hasn’t signed yet.* They have $2.4m in dead cap space. What will they do with JT Miller? Does trading him make sense? Can they get good value in return?
$41.32m: Minnesota has Kirill Kaprisov ($9m), Jared Spurgeon ($7.575m), Zach Parise and Ryan Suter ($6.371m each and both are bought out), and Mats Zuccarello and Jonas Brodin ($6m). Crazy that two of their top-four salaries are dead cap space totalling almost $13m. Can they afford to sign RFA Kevin Fiala?
$41.31m: Nashville has Roman Josi ($9.06m), Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen ($8m), Mattias Ekholm ($6.25m), Mikael Granlund and Jusse Saros ($5m). They have $2m in dead cap space from the Kyle Turris buyout. Filip Forsberg is a UFA and will command around $9m. Duchene and Johansen had bounce-back years last season. Can they do it again? And how much will breakout rookie Tanner Jeannot get on his new deal? I’d wager he gets $3.5m, maybe more.
$41m: St. Louis has Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko ($7.5m), Brayden Schenn, Justin Faulk, Torey Krug and Colton Parayko all at $6.5m. Solid, but not spectacular group. They will remain competitive with Jordan Kyrou, Pavel Buchnevich and Robert Thomas all scoring 75 points last season.
$40.59m: Winnipeg has Blake Wheeler ($8.25m), Kyle Connor ($7.14m), *Pierre Luc-Dubois ($6.65), Josh Morrissey ($6.25m), Connor Hellebuyck ($6.17m), Mark Schiefele ($6.12m). *Pierre Luc-Dubois has to be qualified at $6.65m, but has yet to sign. With Bruce Cassidy signing in Vegas, is Barry Trotz going to Winnipeg? What direction are the Jets going? Will they trade one of their top guys this summer?
$40.767m: Philadelphia with Sean Couturier ($7.75m), Kevin Hayes ($7.142m), James van Riemsdyk ($7m), Ivan Provorov ($6.75m), Ryan Ellis ($6.25m) and Cam Atkinson ($5.875m). No one stands out in this group.
$39.785m: Boston has Charlie McAvoy ($9.25m), David Pastrnak ($6.66m), Hampus Lindholm ($6.5m), Brad Marchand ($6.125m), Taylor Hall ($6m) and Charlie Coyle ($5.25m). Patrice Bergeron is currently a UFA and undecided if he will play this season. If Bergeron retires can they find an adequate centre?
$38.16m: Carolina has Sebastian Aho ($8.46m), Andrei Svechnikov ($7.75m), Jordan Staal ($6m), Teuvo Teravainen ($5.4m), Jaccob Slavin ($5.3m) and Brady Skjei ($5.25m). For my money Slavin is the best value contract among D-men in the NHL.
$37.04m: New Jersey has Dougie Hamilton ($9m), Jack Hughes ($8m), Nico Hischier (7.25m), Tomas Tatar ($4.5m), Damon Severson ($4.17m) and Jonathan Bernier ($4.12m). RFA Jesper Bratt led them with 73 points last season. He’ll get a major raise and could command $7m based on their internal pay scale. They have $2.25m in dead cap space. They need Hughes to stay healthy.
$36.92m: Calgary has *Matthew Tkachuk ($9m), Sean Monahan ($6.37m), Jacob Markstrom ($6m), Mikael Backlund ($5.35m), Milan Lucic ($5.25m) and Noah Hanafin ($4.95m). *Tkachuk is an RFA and yet to sign, but needs to be qualified at $9m. Johnny Gaudreau is a UFA and will command more than $9m. If he leaves Calgary, the Flames will have money to spend in free agency.
$36.9m: New York Islanders have Mathew Barzal and Anders Lee ($7m), Ryan Pulock ($6.15m), Brock Nelson ($6m), Adam Pelech ($5.75m) and Josh Bailey ($5m). They need more scoring. Desperately.
$36.68m: Ottawa has Brady Tkachuk ($8.2m), Thomas Chabot ($8m), Matt Murray ($6.25m), Drake Batherson ($4.975m), Colin White ($4.75m) and Nikita Zaitsev ($4.5m). Josh Norris is RFA and will be getting a big raise and will move ahead of Batherson, maybe even Murray. They have $2.187m in dead cap space from buyouts. A good young group of forwards, but can they finally start to win, rather than just play hard?
$34.6m: Pittsburgh has Sidney Crosby ($8.7m), Jake Guentzel ($6m), Jason Zucker ($5.5m), Bryan Rust ($5.12m), Michael Matheson ($4.88m) and John Marino ($4.4m). Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang are UFAs. If they re-sign they will be in the top-three and the Pens money in their top-six will increase significantly. They have $1.916m in dead cap space from the Jack Johnson buyout. If Malkin leaves could they entice Gaudreau to sign? If he makes it to free agency, I could see Brian Burke (who had him in Calgary) making a push.
$33.17m: Buffalo has Jeff Skinner ($9m), Kyle Okposo and Rasmus Dahlin ($6m), Ben Bishop ($4.92m), Alex Tuch ($4.75m), Casey Middelstadt ($2.5m). Bishop won’t play and will be on IR all season. The Bishop acquisitions says Buffalo is open for business to take on bad contracts and receive draft picks and prospects as compensation.
$32.89m: Arizona has Clayton Keller ($7.15m), Nick Schmaltz ($5.85m), Andrew Ladd ($5.5m), Bryan Little ($5.29m), Jacob Chychrun ($4.6m) and Shayne Gostisbehere ($4.5m). Little won’t play again, but they had him on IR, not LTIR last year as they weren’t close to the cap. They have $990K in dead cap. Bill Armstrong has made it clear he’s willing to take on bad contracts and receive more draft picks.
$31.67m: Seattle has Philipp Grubauer ($5.9m), Jordan Eberle and Jaden Schwartz ($5.5m), Yanni Gourde ($5.17m), Jared McCann ($5m) and Jamie Oleksiak ($4.6m). The Kraken can be a big spenders in free agency. But will top players go there knowing they are likely a few years away from competing?
$29.91m: Anaheim has Cam Fowler ($6.5m), John Gibson ($6.4m), Adam Henrique ($5.82m), Jakob Silfverberg ($5.25m), Kevin Shattenkirk ($3.9m) and Maxime Comtois ($2.04m). They have $2m in dead cap space from Corey Perry buyout. Crazy that a buyout is their seventh highest AAV right now. What is the plan in Anaheim?
$27.75m: Detroit has Dylan Larkin ($6.1m), Jakub Vrana ($5.25m,) Tyler Bertuzzi ($4.75m), Filip Hronek ($4.4m), Robby Fabbri ($4m), and Puis Suter ($3.25m). They have $4.18m in dead cap space. Steve Yzerman has loads of cap space. But overpaying for UFAs isn’t the best strategy. Will he make a big trade? I’m most intrigued to see what the Wings do this summer.
I don’t put much stock into the $10m salary not winning the Cup angle. If one of Vasilevskiy, Point or Kucherov made $500K more I still think Tampa would be damn good. The reason the Lighting are so good is because their best players are spread out across forward, defence and in goal. Their management team has wisely filled in depth spots with quality players the past few seasons, but their highest paid players are their leaders and most impactful players.
It is a winning combination.
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