[Update 06/23: The NHL officially released a $71.4M salary cap today. this article has been updated to reflect the new numbers]
With the Red Wings' offseason having arrived sooner than the team and fans would have liked, we're left with many more questions than answers going forward to the 2015-16 NHL season. While we'll have to wait for those answers, we can at least look at the frame for the team going forward. Let's take a look at the Red Wings salary cap and roster situation as it stands right now.
Next Year's Salary Cap
The last update we got from Commissioner Bettman on the Salary Cap going forward said that the expected cap would fall somewhere around $72M.
We'll be basing our information off the assumption of a $72M cap next season. We're working off the $71.4M cap number.
The Current Roster Under Contract
|Pavel Datsyuk||Niklas Kronwall||Jimmy Howard|
|Henrik Zetterberg||Jonathan Ericsson||Petr Mrazek|
|Stephen Weiss||Kyle Quincey|
|Johan Franzen||Jakub Kindl|
|Tomas Tatar||Danny Dekeyser|
|Darren Helm||Alexei Marchenko|
|Justin Abdelkader||Brian Lashoff|
This list represents Red Wings players who are under contract for next season already and (aside from Mrazek) are waiver eligible. Here we have 10 forwards, 7 defensemen, and 2 goalies. The standard roster size is 23. Essentially what the Red Wings are missing is four forwards, but it's not quite that simple.
|Dan Cleary||Gustav Nyquist|
|Erik Cole||Tomas Jurco|
|Marek Zidlicky||Teemu Pulkkinen|
|Jonas Gustavsson||Joakim Andersson|
|Kevin Porter||Landon Ferraro|
|Andy Miele||Mitch Callahan|
Of this list, I think the only unrestricted free agents who may get another contract are Kevin Porter and Andy Miele, who have played well for Grand Rapids all season in their veteran depth roles. We can't rule out another year of Dan Cleary because I've already tried that twice and it turned out poorly. Erik Cole looks like his career is over, and I'm not sure Marek Zidlicky is going to warrant another deal. Jonas Gustavsson lost his backup gig and now faces a Wings team who currently has two goalies battling for the starting role. I think he's gone
On the restricted side, I think there's a good chance that the Wings tender qualifying offers to everybody. As a reminder, a player doesn't have to actually sign it, but if the team puts a qualifying offer on the table, then they retain rights to match an offer sheet he's given or accept draft pick compensation if he does sign elsewhere. Failing to tender an offer sheet would make any of these players an unrestricted free agent.
Things get interesting in the forward list because there are four slots on the roster for forwards and five forward RFAs who played for the Red Wings this season. Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Jurco, and Teemu Pulkkinen are no-brainers as far as re-signings. Joakim Andersson and Landon Ferraro are going to be thrown around a lot this summer in fan discussions about which one (if either) should have a place on the Red Wings' roster next season. Callahan is a fan favorite, but he and Aubry are essentially Griffins or gone.
For defensemen, Nick Jensen will be re-signed and will likely go back to the Griffins to keep developing. Brendan Smith won't be made a UFA. Nobody's quite sure whether they plan to have him with the team next season, but I'm confident the Red Wings aren't letting go of Brendan Smith for nothing.
Jared Coreau will certainly get a contract with the Wings as they continue to look for the future of their goaltending. Tom McCollum is currently starting games in the playoffs for Grand Rapids. He doesn't have a future in Detroit, but I can't say I'd be shocked if he were welcomed back to the Griffins.
Current/Projected Cap Space
If we factor in the Red Wings already under contract, then the Red Wings have just about $57.3M committed to those 19 players listed above. That gives $14.1M in cap space to fill four roster spots, or about $3.5M per spot.
However, not all roster spots are created equal and not all are guaranteed as-is. I think it's more reasonable to remove Brian Lashoff from the 7D slot and say the Wings have 5 slots to fill with $16M to play with ($3.2M per slot). I want to look at "wiggle room" for the club. Let's first fill the roster with assumptions and then see where we get.
If we use comparable players to estimate RFA deals, I think we can realistically look at about $5.5M split between the four forwards who would fill the gaps right now. Without a named solution for the defense, I'm going to take $2M and call that the #7 defenseman on the Red Wings. We'll name him Squishy. It's possible that Squishy turns out to be Brendan Smith, but I'm going to wait and see on that.
Now that we've filled the roster with $7.5M worth of Gustav Nyquist, Teemu Pulkkinen, Tomas Jurco, Landoakim Ferrandersson, and Squishy, we have a total wiggle room of $7.3M against a $71.4M salary cap for the Red Wings to make roster changes.
One of the bigger questions about what to do with the wiggle room hinges on the future of Johan Franzen. As Kyle wrote, Franzen is at a place where he could decide that the risks are too great to continue on and decide to take the Chris Pronger retirement. If that's the case, then $3.95M jumps into the pot, but the Wings are left in need of another forward. It's also possible that Franzen outright retires and the Wings are hit by cap recapture, but I can't think of a single reason as to why he'd willingly walk away from the $12M left on his contract after the NHL signed off on other players staying active-but-on-LTIR due to head injuries.
Stephen Weiss is another interesting case. The Wings have plenty of room to eat his $4.9M salary, but that's not exactly an ideal compensation for a guy who was essentially the team's 13th forward for much of the season. buying him out takes the $4.9M cap hit down to $1.067M this season and the next. However, that amount changes, as the following two years, his hit would be $2.567M before dropping back to $1.667M for the final two seasons of the buyout period. The immediate impact would be an additional $3.8M in cap space and another roster spot opening up among forwards.
Jakub Kindl and his $2.4M salary round out the contracts Detroit may want to be rid of. Kindl is an NHL-caliber defensemen, but he was the team's #7 guy for most of the year. You don't want to pay your #7 guy $2.4M, not when you've got Squishy back there at just $2M.
At forward, what the Red Wings need is exactly what Johan Franzen and Stephen Weiss are supposed to be: size and skill on the wing and strength up the middle. Sadly, if those two can't provide that Detroit will have to find a way to provide it. Unfortunately, the free agent pool is warmed-over garbage, so the Wings either need guys to step up or they need to find a trade partner.
On defense, I think it's nice that Squishy has tried so hard to be useful, but what the Red Wings need is a top-pairing defenseman who can eat big minutes and play both sides of the puck. The top of the defensive free agents list has Mike Green, Paul Martin, Christian Ehrhoff, and Andrej Meszaros. I'd almost rather have Squishy. Sadly, this is another place where the Wings are likely looking at the trade route to improve. Mike Green is the most-attractive option, but he's not exactly the fit the Wings need.
There's no cap crunch for the Red Wings this offseason. It's almost too bad with the timing here because the Wings have plenty of money to spend and just about nobody to spend it on. As a result, they're going to have to grow from within or they're going to have to part with assets for the privilege of spending money on players that other teams once promised them.
We'll have plenty of time for rosterbation as the summer goes on and we'll learn a whole lot more about the team as the draft approaches in June, but for now we don't have to worry about not having space.