As arbitration hearings get under way, it’s going to put teams limited on cap space in tighter situations, to the point where salary dumps are an inevitability. According to CapFriendly.com, there are 12 teams with less than $6 million in cap space and of those 12, seven of them have less than $3.3 million.
Currently brandishing the most cap space in the league, Ray Shero has been quoted saying he was going to remain patient and opportunistic in terms of making additions to his team. This alludes to possible deals with those aforementioned cap-strapped teams, from whom the Devils can benefit at the expense of their salary cap woes.
A trade can happen any time with (conceivably) any team. In the event the Devils wind up making a deal with a team in dire need of cap relief, here are five potential candidates who fit that profile.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Cap Space: $2.64 million
The Lightning were reportedly in talks to acquire all-star defenseman Erik Karlsson just a couple of weeks ago. With the Senators looking to shed as much salary as possible (along with the condition of having an extension in place, which is forecasted to have a similar AAV north of $11 million), the only way to make this deal work is incorporating a third team to help the Lightning clear cap space.
New Jersey was supposedly considered, and while talks appear to have gone quiet for now, they can pick back up at any time. What’s compelling about this scenario for the Devils is they’ll likely receive some compensatory package of quality draft picks and prospects if they take on an undesirable contract, or will wind up with a player capable of actually helping the team.
Potential Acquisitions: Tyler Johnson, Ryan Callahan, Anton Stralman
Los Angeles Kings
Cap Space: $2.15 million
While the acquisition of Ilya Kovalchuk is expected to help address their offensive shortcomings, the team is in a crippling cap situation. According to CapFriendly.com, LA has less than $3 million in cap space coming off in 2019 (for unrestricted free agents). Including Drew Doughty and his upcoming $88 million contract, the Kings also have seven players with AAVs over $5.2 million signed for at least three more seasons.
While I’m sure LA would love to unload someone like Dustin Brown or Dion Phaneuf, they would have to provide a trade partner (like the Devils) with extra assets for taking on those burdensome contracts. Aside from draft picks (in a salary dump trade with New Jersey), LA general manager Rob Blake could potentially inquire about some of New Jersey’s forward prospects to further supplement his team’s offensive depth.
Potential Acquisitions: Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin, Dustin Brown
Detroit Red Wings
Cap Space: $2.82 million
Despite any mixed signals that re-signing Mike Green and Thomas Vanek might send, the Red Wings are probably going to be very bad next season. Even if general manager Ken Holland genuinely believes his team is a playoff contender, he’s yet to re-sign Dylan Larkin, whose next contract’s AAV is guaranteed to exceed Detroit’s remaining cap space. There’s no shortage of players Detroit can potentially ship off, with eight having AAVs of at least $3.8 million.
Holland may prioritize unloading someone like Frans Nielsen, Darren Helm, or Jonathan Ericsson, which won’t happen without extra incentives for the other team. Considering the return he got in the Tomas Tatar trade, Holland is definitely capable of sweetening the pot, but may have to consider deals for some of his more attractive assets.
Potential Acquisitions: Niklas Kronwall, Gustav Nyquist, Jonathan Ericsson
Cap Space: $5.64 million
As of writing this, the Wild have a decent amount of wiggle room. However, that’s going to change after Jason Zucker’s upcoming arbitration hearing. Having posted career-high numbers last season in addition to scoring 21-plus goals for the third time in four years, Zucker will earn a substantial raise from his previous contract’s $2 million AAV. He could get up to $5.5 million in his next contract, which will take a massive chunk out of Minnesota’s remaining cap space.
In a trade scenario with the Devils, a Zach Parise return is highly unlikely, and the Wild aren’t in a rebuild, so I doubt Mikael Granlund or Mikko Koivu are going anywhere. Newly-appointed team advisor Chuck Fletcher will be very resourceful in any potential deal Shero pursues with the Wild, having spent the last nine seasons as their general manager. It’s also worth noting Fletcher’s successor was quoted saying he was open to shaking up his team’s roster.
Potential Acquisitions: Jared Spurgeon, Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle
St. Louis Blues
Cap Space: $3.28 million
The Blues were one of the busiest teams this offseason, having gone on a free agent shopping spree and trading for Ryan O’Reilly. Having said that, their transactions left them with very little cap space. They still have to sign restricted free agents Jordan Schmaltz and (more notably) Joel Edmundson, who’s probably looking for a deal with an AAV at least double of his previous contract’s $1.05 million.
As is the case with some of the aforementioned teams, St. Louis has players they would love to move (for the purpose of a salary dump) if they could—like Jay Bouwmeester, Robert Bortuzzo (former Shero/Hynes player in Pittsburgh), or Carl Gunnarsson—but they’re likely faced with a lack of interest and would have to throw in extra assets. One thing working in St. Louis’ favor is all three of those players are entering the final years of their contracts, which could make them slightly more appealing to potential trade partners.
Potential Acquisitions: Robert Bortuzzo, Jay Bouwmeester, Carl Gunnarsson