So How Much Money is Out There?
So who out there has money to spend? Training camp is a few weeks away and perhaps another season will begin in October. So what has happened this off season and where do teams currently stand? Let us look at the Eastern Conference first. Here you will find the current team’s payroll using data from nhlpa.com, the RFAs remaining and the UFAs for each team, and potential players that may be used for trade plus an analysis of the team’s situation. The Fantasy GM category is what teams could do if money didn’t matter. But obviously money does matter these days. Boston Bruins
UFA: Murray, Green, McGillis, Slegr, Zamuner
Trade Bait: Lapointe
Analysis: Although they have money to spend and are almost always profitable, the Bruins will likely keep a low payroll. Much of their money is tied to a handful of players. I cannot see them going past $35 million as they are one of the top teams hoping for a hard salary cap. They do need a top forward and their best bet would be to resign Murray but that seems unlikely. He would be a good fit as he plays so well with Thornton. They could also use some depth on defence as over the past couple of season they have moved out guys like Jilsson, McLaren, Morrisson, O’Donnell. In all likelihood we will see many kids playing in Boston this year. Guys like Hilbert, Samuelsson, Huml, Boyes, Jurcina, Vernarsky will get lots of chance to make the team and play regularly. They could use a backup goalie as well or at least another NHL calibre goalie because if they dont resign Raycroft before the season starts they could be left with no goalies with NHL experience.
Fantasy GM: resign Murray, sign Jason York, resign Potvin.
Trade Bait: Afinogenov, Dumont, Satan, Miller
Analysis: It is a pretty high payroll for a team that was nearing bankruptcy a couple of years back. It is probably the reason why Zhitnik wont be back as they are likely maxed out on the payroll. But oddly enough they qualified Connelly who may not play at $1,364,275.00. Those Satan trade rumours will never die but how can the Sabres trade their top player yet again after moving Hasek and Peca? But at $5,250,000.00 his price may be too high to keep. They do need more grit up front as they have tons of speed and skill. It is rather odd the players they have as they dont seem to fit into the kind of style that Ruff likes to play which is defence first. The fact is, the Sabres are rather soft and losing Zhitnik wont help. They need one of their young D to step up in his absence. And which one of their blue chip young goalies step up?
Fantasy GM: trade Afinogenov for Jamal Mayers
RFA: Souray, Ryder
UFA: Dowd, Perreault, Kovalev
Trade Bait: Rivet, Brisebois, Hossa
Analysis: The Habs have needs but can they resign their own guys and get that top forward they need without busting the chequebooks? I cannot see them going over the $40 million barrier but they may have to in order to get what they need. The top forward is the main thing but it isnt as easy as resigning Kovalev because his asking price is high. They are also not quite big enough or gritty enough to go too far in the playoffs as we have seen. They are also breaking in 2 relatively young guys on defence joining a group that has some rather inconsistent performers like Brisebois and Rivet. It just leads to too much work for Theodore the franchise. I am not sure who they need more, a true PP QB or another stay at home dman. This team has tons of kids waiting in the wings but a) are they ready? b) will they get the chance?
Fantasy GM: sign Selanne. Trade Hossa and a 2nd for Georges Laraque
RFA: Havlat, Varada
UFA: Bondra, Leschyshyn, Simpson, Van Allen
Trade Bait: White, Smolinski, de Vries
Analysis: with 2 key RFAs to resign, it is unlikely that the Sens will have much money to spend after that even though they have a billionaire owner. $42-43 million is a likely target. They really need a scorer at LW and a defensive C who can win faceoffs. all their other positions are top notch and they addressed their biggest need, a frontline G. Their may be some adjustment period with a new coach and all but this is the top team in the East. And because they are very close to the cup, it wouldnt surprise me if Melnyk opened the pockets and let Muckler fill some needs.
Fantasy GM: sign Cory Stillman
Toronto Maple Leafs
UFA: Francis, Marchment, Kidd, Berehowsky
Trade Bait: Mogilny, Kaberle, Tucker, Antropov
Analysis: with their HUGE payroll, how can it be possible for any more acquisitions? They will need to dump some salary to do that, even with their supposed huge warchest. the combined salaries of Nolan, Mogilny, Sundin, Leetch and Belfour is more than the whole Habs team combined. I think this team is done despite the fact they have a great need for a big stay at home dman and more speed and youth at forward. now they also need a goalie with the uncertainty of Belfour. A team that spends this much money should not have so many question marks. but if healthy and that is a big if, they are one of the leagues top teams. This is the last kick at the can for this group. if they dont make it, sweeping changes will be coming soon after.
Fantasy GM: trade Kaberle and Ponikarovsky for Oneill and 3rd. Trade Mogilny to LA for 2 prospects. trade a 4th for Hurme. sign Zhitnik and Anson Carter.
New Jersey Devils
Trade Bait: Friesen, Kozlov, Gomez, Hrdina
Analysis: It is interesting to see that the Devils who have a history of not giving in to their free agents and a team that plays in front of empty seats have such a high payroll. But that is the cost you pay for being perennial contenders. In all likelihood the payroll wont change much. In fact it could decline as they could move out a veteran or two to make room for some of their young talent like Parise. They are deep at all positions led by Brodeur in goal (they could use a veteran backup) and arguably the best defence in hockey assuming Stevens returns. However they showed last year that they are not nearly big enough nor tough enough to handle teams with size. This team has seen Arnott, Holik, Stevenson, Rupp, McKay all leave town leaving the Devils with a rather small group of forwards. It is something that they need to have addressed especially if Stevens cannot return as they are not very intimidating to play against.
Fantasy GM: Trade Friesen, Hrdina, Kozlov for Tkachuk. sign Jason Allison
New York Islanders
RFA: Hamrlik, Dipietro
UFA: Czerkawski, Ronning, Snow
Trade Bait: Hamrlik, Parrish, Bates, Peca
Analysis: This poor team is saddled with that huge $10 million contract of Yashin’s. he makes about a quarter of the team’s payroll. in fact 5 players take up $25 million in salary leaving the team rather thin. With an old building that has no luxury suits and is not a money maker, the big millionaire owners have kind of cut back on spending since getting Yashin and Peca. This is the main reason why they have not been able to get that top winger to play with Yashin. That is the teams biggest need along with a big tough defenceman and some goaltending depth. A couple of veterans could be jettisoned for more kids in order to keep spending down, however if the team wants to get to the next level, they may need to spend a dollar or two to get that top winger they covet, and the UFA market has a few out there available that would fit their biggest need.
Fantasy GM: trade Hamrlik to Chicago for McCarthy, Radulov and a 2nd. Trade Peca and Papineau to FLA for Shvidki, Hagman, Mezei. sign Kovalev.
New York Rangers
UFA: LIndros, Messier, Mironov, Hlavac, McCarthy
Trade Bait: Poti, Dunham, Lundmark, Blackburn
Analysis: you have to commend the Rangers for sticking to rebuilding despite the fact there was such a large and talented crop of UFAs. They have pretty much cut their payroll in half and really built up a deep farm system. Hopefully it will pay off and some of the kids will turn out to be NHLers. and hopefully they will stick to their plan and not go back to their free spending ways. But the payroll still have some reminders of their bad habits. the combined salaries of Jagr ($11 million) and Holik ($8,850,000.00) take up about half of the teams payroll. stripping the team of most of their veterans has left them very shallow at the NHL level. Some of the kids better be ready now or else they could find themselves battling for last overall. Their deepest position is goal but still that position isn’t even a strength at the NHL level. They are very thin at left wing and their blueline does not have a big physical presence that can challenge the other teams top players night in and night out. And how well will their PP do without Leetch for the first time in over 15 years?
Fantasy GM: sign Rucinsky, trade Blackburn to PHX for Krys Kolanos and Brent Johnson.
UFA: Zhamnov, Malakhov
Trade Bait: Roenick, Leclair, Amonte, Burke
Analysis: They are kind of similar to Toronto with plenty of high priced veteran talent. This could cause them to stop spending and could result in the team losing it’s leading scorer (Recchi) their most skilled forward (Zhamnov) and their biggest Dman (Malakhov). with Leclair ($9,000,000.00) AMonte ($5,880,791.00) and JR ($7,000,000.00) having these huge contracts, it has left the Flyers in a bit of a bind. But they do have some kids on the horizon and a shrewed GM in Clarke who can make something happen. He did after all get his best player in Primeau to take a paycut and sign Knuble and Stevenson to cheap deals. They will need to upgrade their offence if Zhamnov leaves with Recchi already gone, and they are a bit small and soft on defence, and moreso if Malakhov goes.
Fantasy GM: Buyout Leclair. resign Zhamnov and Malakhov. Trade Roenick to Chicago for Yakubov and Vorobiev. sign Demitra
RFA: Kraft, Orpik
UFA: Lemieux, Buchberger
Trade Bait: Morozov
Analysis: the resigning of their owner and best player will likely bump the payroll to about $20 million. But I cant see the pens spending any more than $25 million. with an old building that is a money loser, bankruptcy problems and the only team with a player/owner, money isn’t something this team has lots of. there was some talk of them going after a big name free agent or two but i think Recchi at $3 Million is as high as they will spend. They were the league’s worst team last year and that was because their goaltending was too weak or too young, their defence was not mobile, soft and inconsistent, and their forwards were too soft, too young and just were not that skilled. and really not much has changed. Recchi and Lemieux being around full time will help scoring wise but this team is still very young and needs time to develop. Fleury will get another crack at no 1 but he could use a veteran mentor. The D could use a veteran too to help teach the kids and they really could use more skill up front. But they dont have money to throw around and will probably make do with more kids again and hope for the best. the playoffs may be a bit out of reach.
Fantasy GM: sign Stumpel, Odelein and Tugnutt
RFA: Kovalchuk, Heatley
UFA: Dafoe, Tremblay
Trade Bait: Stefan, Hurme
Analysis: Their payroll is nice and low but it is deceiving. It does not include their 2 franchise players. We could see the payroll jump another $10 million in all likelihood. this is not really a team that has alot of money to spend but they must at all costs keep Heatley and Kovalchuk. Because spending may be tight, we will see again more kids integrated into the lineup again this season. Lehtonen being the most prominent one as he should be a star in goal for years. But they do lack a centre who can win faceoffs, toughness on defence and on the wings and a big checking centre. Whether or not they can fill these needs depends on how much their 2 stars will cost and how much money it has leftover.
Fantasy GM: sign Perreault
Trade Bait: ONeill, BrindAmour, Hedican
Analysis: After getting to the finals in 02 with a veteran lineup, this team now is trying to get younger and cheaper. There will likely be not much difference in the payroll except that it may decrease some more. They have already gotten rid of Francis, Weekes, Hill, BOughner and Irbe. Unfortunately for them, BrindAmour, Hedican and Ward, 3 over the hill veterans, take up a third of their payroll, practically making them moveable and limiting them on what they can do. And since they play in a non hockey market, spending has been cut significantly. They have 2 young stud forwards to build around in Staal and Ladd and a top young goalie in Ward. However they are very thin on defence. Their blueline is old and slow and needs rebuilding. Their forwards lack consistency and grit to win enough close games. it is such a big struggle for the canes to score it puts too much pressure on the goalie and now they have an unproven starter in Gerber to hold down the fort.
Fantasy GM: Trade ONeill to Toronto for Kaberle and Ponikarovsky.
RFA: Berglund, Jokinen, Kolnik
UFA: Odelein, Trnka, Sheilds
Trade Bait: Weiss, Huselius, Hagman, Mezei, Biron
Analysis: This team has a low payroll, tons of young talent, a franchise goalie and a great coach. This is one team that has some money to spend and is flexible in terms of being able to make a trade or sign a UFA. resigning Jokinen will cost some but wont break the bank. They have addressed their biggest need and that was size, toughness and experience on defence. It may help them as they can potentially move some of their young defence to help add more scoring, size, grit and toughness up front.
Fantasy GM: trade Shvidki, Hagman, Mezei for Peca, sign Bondra
Tampa Bay Lightning
RFA: St Louis, Cibak
UFA: Stillman, Andreychuk
Trade Bait: Grahame, Modin
Analysis: so what do you do if you are the defending champs? try to win again. and the Bolts have a team that can do it. smart move by exchanging Prospal for Stillman as it does nothing to the payroll. having a long playoff run has given them more money to play with and they will need it as they still have their top player in St Louis to resign as well as their captain. But a team that is young and skilled with depth at all positions, youth at all positions and lots of talent everywhere, there not many needs to fill. however the loss of Cullimore makes them a bit smaller and softer on the back end but they have alot of depth there that it isn’t a huge loss. this team will compete again and has a good chance to repeat. a lockout will actually help them as it would give them a longer break and maybe break the Stanley Cup hangover that many teams get.
Fantasy GM: sign Baron
UFA: Berry, Battaglia, Miller
Trade Bait: Kolzig, Witt
Analysis: after cutting Jagr, Lang, Bondra, Grier Gonchar, Nylander, Konawolchuk there isnt much team left. But their payroll is nice and low and they have tons of kids coming so the future looks bright. but then again Kolzig is in his late 30s and time isnt on his side. He is the franchise now but will turn it over to Ovechkin who is the franchise for the future. I cannot see them spending very much money any more. The payroll will likely stay around 20 million. This team will likely play their kids rather than go back to signing veteran players. the do however need some veteran help on defence as they have only one good dman in Witt. They are set in goal but Kolzig cant do everything. they need someone who can score. yes Ovechkin has world class talent and will likely be a top scorer but they cant ask him to do that now. they must show patience. This is going to be another long season in Washington and only Kolzig will give them a chance every night.
Fantasy GM: sign Delmore and Bombardir
As we can see, there probably isn’t very much money to spend here in the East. I think most teams are pretty well maxed out. I am sure they have a set budget for 2004-05 and will probably not go too far from that. there are the big spenders who are likely done in Philly, NJ and Toronto, the rebuilders in NYRangers, Washington, Carolina, Pitt and the middle men led by the Sens and Bolts. If there are UFAs wanting to sign in the East there may not be enough teams willing to spend the dough they seek. And the spending will be even more restricted after they hammer out a new CBA deal because teams will not want to get tied down to big contracts if there is a cap in place. We’ll just have to sit back and wait to see what happens.