The free agent frenzy has subsided and now teams focus not only on filling out their rosters, but also on salary cap management. The cap for the upcoming season will be $56,800,000 and the minimum payroll for any club in the 2009-10 season will be $40,800,00. Now that some teams have committed huge dollars to free agents, the focus is on how teams currently stack up against the cap. Currently, three teams are over the cap for the upcoming season:
Chicago $4,559,374 over the cap
Ottawa $1,954,999 over the cap
Detroit $ 578,989 over the cap
Chicago has received the most publicity for their cap problems. New GM Stan Bowman must deal with the sizable contracts of Cristobel Huet and Brian Campbell as well as prepare to negotiate new contracts at the end of next season for RFA's Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Kane. The Hawks would probably be very willing to unload Campbell and his $7.1MM cap hit, but it will be difficult to find a team willing to take on that salary at this time. Ottawa continues to try to deal the disgruntled Danny Heatley, but his $7.5MM cap hit is daunting to most teams.
A general manager's job is complicated by the fact that he must not only build a roster for today, but also have room to sign young talent in their system as well as players that can plug holes in the roster. Philosophically, a team can make dramatic roster moves and attempt to win a Cup right now, as Chicago is apparently attempting. The history of the NHL is littered with teams that have tried that approach and failed. The other tack is to build a solid core of players that are under contract for several years and add any necessary pieces through trades and free agency. The second approach is not flashy, but is fiscally sound and certainly makes cap management simpler as well as providing the ability to keep the talent that is in the system. This is the approach the Predators have used for the majority of their existence.
Interestingly, much of the discussion during the recent free agent signing period was the effect that a player would have on the cap and less the attributes the player brought to the team. This is testimony to the necessity of managing the cap properly and the potential for teams to put themselves in a desperate roster situation should they not do so. The importance of this fact is emphasized by the fact that each NHL club has someone on staff that is dedicated to managing the cap, whether it is the GM or someone in the front office. From a long term perspective, the cap is expected to fall after the upcoming season, so the commitment to sizable long term contracts today can have an even greater negative impact in future seasons. This makes the management of the cap not a season to season process, but one that has to look ahead over several seasons.
Currently, the Preds have 17 players under contract with a total cap payroll of $39,625,833. The Preds also have the largest amount of free cap space, with $17,174,167 available. There is no doubt the Preds need additional scoring, and many in Pred nation have desired the team to go after a proven free agent to bolster the offense. So far that hasn't happened. As much as I would like the Preds to pursue this course, I would not expect them to deviate from their philosophy. As we look to the upcoming season, this means that the talent on the roster has to produce and some of the young guys have to step in to productive roles with the big club. Over the short term, this can be frustrating. Over the long term, provided the talent in the system produces, this can be healthy. While it doesn't energize the fan base, it certainly makes sound financial sense for a team like the Predators.