NHL team salary cap rankings: #24-17


Last week, we kicked off the salary cap rankings with a bang, identifying the eight worst money-managing teams in the league by the system I put in place to evaluate them. If you want to catch up on the list so far, you can read it here, and if you want to read up on the system used to evaluate, check it out here.

Also, it should be noted that with the rankings starting last week, any cap moves that have happened since Sept. 7 are not considered in this ranking. So extensions like Jordan Kyrou’s or signings like Evan Rodrigues aren’t factored in.

Last week saw a combination of teams in the midst of cap hell and teams on the way there, but we see a bit of a different mix this week. As we approach what would be the “upper bottom half” of teams 17-24, we do still find some veteran teams on their last limbs, but there are also teams that would normally be in the first section that have now found the light at the end of the tunnel and are about to turn things around. Basically, consider this the bubble of teams transitioning to the top half or the bottom quarter.

24. Anaheim Ducks

Good Contract Percentage: 32nd
Quality Cheap Deals: 15th
Contracts with No-Trade/No-Move Clauses: 13th
Dead Cap Space: 25th
Quality of Core: 17th
Cap Space to Skill Differential: 9th

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If you looked at the Ducks cap sheet a few years ago, it would probably make you sick with some of the contracts they had stuck in that system. The money they had tied up in Cam Fowler, Jakob Silfverberg, and Adam Henrique, along with the final years of Ryan Getzlaf and (bought out) Corey Perry’s twin $8.25 million deals, made for a rough situation that looked tough to get out of.

That hasn’t exactly resolved itself, as the first three of those deals are still on the books, but only Fowler’s is longer than two years. That said, part of what has Anaheim low is a league-worst good contract percentage, nailed home with having the fewest good contracts in the league. Those deals belong to Troy Terry, Kevin Shattenkirk, and newcomer Ryan Strome, although to make matters worse, the first two only have one year left. Combine that with more than $3 million in dead cap space from Perry’s buyout and John Moore’s buried contract, and it drags them down to this position.

But it’s not all bad, and this where we get to the “light at the end of the tunnel” section of this ranking, as their youth plays a huge role in bringing this team up a bit, particularly Trevor Zegras, Mason McTavish, and Jamie Drysdale. That young talent provides them with a decent amount of cheap deals, which also helps out with their cap space to skill differential. They also don’t have a ton of no-trade/no-move clauses, and while Fowler’s contract is bad, he’s still a top pair defenseman, which helps the quality of their core. It’s still not an ideal situation, but it’s a lot better than past seasons, especially with GM Bob Murray out of the picture in Anaheim.

23. Montreal Canadiens

Good Contract Percentage: 24th
Quality Cheap Deals: 3rd
Contracts with No-Trade/No-Move Clauses: 14th
Dead Cap Space: 17th
Quality of Core: 20th
Cap Space to Skill Differential: 24th

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The Habs are admittedly higher than they maybe should be, as having the third most cheap deals helps bring up their ranking. Also helping: swapping out Shea Weber’s albatross contract for a good contract in Evgenii Dadonov’s and with Carey Price’s even worse deal not counting against the cap this season and potentially for the rest of his career considering the state of his health. Otherwise, they invested too much in a core that made a surprise run in 2021, and while they were smart enough to change the coach and general manager, they still have to pick away at the mess the old regime left them.

What really hurts the team is the fact that they are tied for the second most bad contracts in the league, and find themselves right next to cap as a rebuilding team. Some of that is because the team as a whole played poorly under Dominique Ducharme, but they’ve also invested a lot of money into players that aren’t worth it at the moment, like Nick Suzuki, Josh Anderson, Mike Hoffman, Christian Dvorak, Joel Edmundson, and David Savard. The fact that Brendan Gallagher and Mike Matheson are the lone good contracts locked up long term hurts them even more, creating a recipe for disaster.

But on the bright side, that disaster is starting to turn around, especially under new management. They have a plethora of options as far as cheap depth that’s performed well so far in the NHL, with a few of those pieces being building blocks for the team’s future, like Cole Caufield and Justin Barron. But, they’ve still got plenty of work to do if they want to be competitive when that young core’s window starts to open.

22. Detroit Red Wings

Good Contract Percentage: 16th
Quality Cheap Deals: 15th
Contracts with No-Trade/No-Move Clauses: 9th
Dead Cap Space: 27th
Quality of Core: 26th
Cap Space to Skill Differential: 9th

As far as teams recovering from terrible cap situations go, I don’t think anyone had it worse than the Red Wings in the late 2010s. We’re starting to see the Yzerplan take action as the Wings slowly work their way up this list, although part of the reason the Wings aren’t higher is because of some of the moves Steve Yzerman has made, even as recently as this offseason.

Where the team really takes a hit is its dead cap space and the quality of its core. The dead cap space isn’t necessarily Yzerman’s fault, as almost $3 million of that is due to him having to clean up Ken Holland’s mess with the buyouts of Justin Abdelkader and Frans Nielsen, although I’d argue that Yzerman could have ridden those deals out a year or two more since he didn’t necessarily need the cap space. But what is his fault is the quality of core. The Wings have just two players locked up to long term deals, and both were 2022 free agent signings in Andrew Copp and Ben Chiarot. Part of that is because their actual young core is in a transition phase with their deals, with only Filip Zadina, Robby Fabbri, and Ville Husso locked up longer than two years. But if anything, that should be a sign that you don’t use cap space to sign players like Chiarot and Copp when you’re going to need that space in the next couple seasons.

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Not all of Yzerman’s signings this offseason were bad, though. Husso’s deal complements Alex Nedeljkovic’s for a solid duo in net, Olli Maatta and Mark Pysyk’s deals impress on the back end, and David Perron and Dominik Kubalik look great up front. The Wings also boast some solid cheap deals, although maybe not enough for a team on the up and up. At the end of the day, the biggest issues for the team are the uncertainty of their top players with their contracts up, as well as the fact that they currently have seven replacement level players signed for more than $1 million. There’s no question Yzerman has proven himself to be one of the smartest executives in the business, but he has a few blind spots in his rebuild in Detroit that might get in the team’s way in the future when they really look to be competitive.

21. Los Angeles Kings

Good Contract Percentage: 10th
Quality Cheap Deals: 15th
Contracts with No-Trade/No-Move Clauses: 9th
Dead Cap Space: 20th
Quality of Core: 26th
Cap Space to Skill Differential: 21st

As far as recoveries go, the Kings have done an excellent job of climbing out of the cap hell that they made while rewarding their veterans for their two Stanley Cups in the early 2010s. All that remains of that group after Dustin Brown’s retirement are Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, and Jonathan Quick, with those three making up almost half the bad contracts that surround an otherwise strong group of deals.

The Kings still have plenty of good contracts to make up for it, especially the team’s recent additions these past couple of seasons to boost the team into playoff contention. Kevin Fiala was the team’s blockbuster move this summer, while Viktor Arvidsson and Phillip Danault have proven to be useful for the Kings so far after a good season last year. Combine that with plenty of youth on cheap deals to build around, a steal of a contract in Alexander Edler’s league minimum deal, and their ability to hold back on no-move/no-trade clauses, and it makes for a bright future.

At this point, their biggest problems are the contracts of Doughty and Adrian Kempe. Both come out as replacement level, and they make more than $5 million, with Doughty at $11 million. Even with Fiala and Danault’s long term deals looking good so far, Doughty and Kempe’s deals make half of their “core” contracts bad according to my rating system and tank that rating. Doughty started to play better when he was healthy last season, but it’s still a big bet with five years left and will likely get in the way as that young core starts to need more and more money in the future.

20. Carolina Hurricanes

Good Contract Percentage: 16th
Quality Cheap Deals: 15th
Contracts with No-Trade/No-Move Clauses: 25th
Dead Cap Space: 2nd
Quality of Core: 26th
Cap Space to Skill Differential: 13th

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The Hurricanes make for what might be this week’s big surprise, with an elite Stanley Cup contender finding themselves just barely cracking the top 20. It’s not to discredit the team itself, as they actually came out as the top team in pure skill rating, but it’s what happens when a team sits near the bottom in two categories and the middle in three, with just dead cap space ranking near the top (and they’re tied with 12 other teams for second, so it doesn’t exactly give them an advantage).

Their biggest issues are the fact that they hand out a lot of no-trade and no-move clauses to their players (as they only have three players without them that are eligible for them), and the fact they have just two players locked long term. One of those players is Andrei Svechnikov, who only grades out in my system as a second liner because his defense drags him down quite a bit, so that isn’t a bad sign, but the recent extension of Jesperi Kotkaniemi is a puzzling one that yanks down the quality of core rating even more.

In the other three categories they find themselves in the middle of the pack, and the one that probably surprises the most is their good contract percentage. Part of the issue is that Svechnikov, Sebastian Aho, and Martin Necas all come out as “bad” contracts because of their defense drops them a tier below their contracts’ value, while Frederik Andersen’s deal looks less than ideal because his two bad seasons in 2019-20 and 2020-21 outweigh his amazing season in 2021-22. There are a few bad deals that aren’t as surprising, like Brent Burns’, Brady Skjei’s, Jake Gardiner’s, and Jordan Staal’s, and it adds up to make it harder to weigh out the good. Still, this a really good team overall, and aside from that Kotkaniemi deal, there aren’t any contracts that hamper Carolina in the long term.

19. Pittsburgh Penguins

Good Contract Percentage: 6th
Quality Cheap Deals: 7th
Contracts with No-Trade/No-Move Clauses: 28th
Dead Cap Space: 19th
Quality of Core: 13th
Cap Space to Skill Differential: 21st

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This might be the rare competitive team that finds itself in the bottom half of this ranking and would not care if informed about it. This offseason’s moves made it very clear that the Penguins are going all in on the final years of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang, no matter how ugly it gets when it’s done. And honestly, they should. Those three deserve it, even with three Cups already to their name.

At this moment, they’re still in a good spot. They rank sixth in the league in good contract percentage, and this is despite the fact that Sidney Crosby comes out as a bad contract (According to the system parameters. For the record, it’s because he’s a first liner making elite money, and the only reason he isn’t elite is due to the fact that one of the three years of stats I pulled saw him play a significant amount of time with Jack Johnson, thus tanking his numbers). Otherwise, they have great deals for both of their goaltenders, a good group on the blueline (with Brian Dumoulin as the lone bad deal), and a so-so forward group that weighs it down a bit, particularly the recent extensions of Rickard Rakell, Kasperi Kapanen, and Jeff Carter.

Another good sign for them is that they rank seventh in quality cheap deals, something they’ve had to excel at in the Crosby/Malkin/Letang era of the team to build Cup contenders, along with a 13th-ranked core quality, something that would be higher if not for the aforementioned Rakell deal. In fact, the only reason they aren’t further up the pack is because they have a lot of no-trade and no-move clauses, and the rating system indicating this group isn’t quite worth going over the cap for, and that mostly applies to the forward depth. And yet, it doesn’t really matter, because Crosby, Malkin, and Letang are worth it.

18. Winnipeg Jets

Good Contract Percentage: 28th
Quality Cheap Deals: 7th
Contracts with No-Trade/No-Move Clauses: 14th
Dead Cap Space: 2nd
Quality of Core: 31st
Cap Space to Skill Differential: 8th

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A slot of 18th is really a fitting place for the Jets, considering that it’s right in the middle of the highs and lows of the categories. The lows probably aren’t good for a team still looking to contend, and the highs don’t quite balance it enough to get them into the top half, making for a group that still has some work to do.

Let’s start with the lows, because those have a much bigger impact. For starters, the Jets don’t have a lot of good contracts. In fact, they only have four in Connor Hellebuyck, Dylan DeMelo, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Mark Scheifele. Probably not the most surprising group, but there’s likely some names that many will think are missing. The likes of Kyle Connor, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Blake Wheeler, and Josh Morrissey all find themselves with bad contracts, all thanks to the quartet consistently struggling defensively, dragging down their ranks in the tiers. It also doesn’t help that Connor is the lone player keeping their core quality out of last place by grading out as a second liner, with Morrissey and Adam Lowry coming out as replacement level and being the other two deals with term.

It’s not all bad, though, which is why the team finds itself almost in the middle of this ranking. The fact that the Jets have more than $5 million in cap space goes a long way to helping them, especially if they can use that space wisely, and they also have a good amount of quality cheap deals, along with no dead cap space. The fact that the group they want to build this team around doesn’t grade out too well with the system might be a sign that they should look to rebuild instead of retool, but their hands may be forced there with some of the rumors coming out of players looking to move on.

17. Arizona Coyotes

Good Contract Percentage: 30th
Quality Cheap Deals: 8th
Contracts with No-Trade/No-Move Clauses: 1st
Dead Cap Space: 18th
Quality of Core: 21st
Cap Space to Skill Differential: 13th

The Coyotes round out the bottom half of the cap rankings, and while it may be a surprise that team projected to be as bad as they are is this high, it speaks to how much this team is a graveyard of everyone else’s bad deals, and even then, that comes with the draft and prospect capital that the team is trying to accumulate.

Their biggest strengths are their lack of no-trade and no-move clauses, as well as a good total of cheap deals that basically allows a lot of flexibility for their future, which is the most important part of being a cap graveyard. The Coyotes are also surprisingly ranked 13th in cap space to skill differential, which is impressive considering the fact that they ranked 30th in team quality. It doesn’t give them a lot of leg room for that differential to come out positive, but the fact that they have the most cap space saves them.

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Their worst category by far is their good contract percentage, but that’s also kind of the point of them being a cap graveyard at the moment, with most of the money that they’re spending intended to help them hit the salary floor going to bad contracts. If there is a concern, it’s that not all of them belong to deals they took on for picks and prospects, with Nick Schmaltz, Lawson Crouse, Christian Fischer, and Karel Vejmelka all rating as bad deals coming from within the organization and the first two making up two-thirds of the core along with Clayton Keller’s contract (which is one of the few good ones). Regardless, it’s far from a bad situation for GM Bill Armstrong, and most of the real problems will be out of their hair when they finally become competitive.

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