Where will the top remaining UFAs end up?
So far the NHL offseason has been very exciting and eventful. As expected, a lot of faces changed sweaters as teams adjusted their rosters to the rules of the new collective bargaining agreement. Even though things have slowed down considerably following the July 5th insanity, there are still many players who sit on the sidelines waiting to sign a new contract for the 2013-14 season.
One challenge facing the remaining free agents is the fact that teams either have a limited amount of cap space remaining or are approaching their internal budget. This is the cap crunch that will force some players to take less money as a result of the salary cap dropping nearly 10% from $70.2 million to $64.3 million.
The remaining free agents (both unrestricted and restricted) will compete for the remaining dollars. Since teams typically take care of their own first, this could force several prominent unrestricted free agents to take a pay cut, sign overseas or retire.
The good news is that there is a possibility that your unsigned free agent becomes an excellent cap bargain for the next year or two. The bad news is that this same person could choose to spend a year in Europe before signing with an NHL team next summer. Those most at risk of defection are Europeans (obviously) but also North Americans who played overseas during the lockout and had a positive experience.
It is important to remember that for every player who leaves for Europe, a roster spot opens for another player to occupy. In fantasy hockey when dealing with most prospects we know that opportunity can make or break a player's NHL future. Expect to see more new faces in the NHL than normal as teams turn to cheaper alternatives to fill out their rosters.
In order to get an idea of how much money is left, we can compare current team salary cap payrolls to those in 2011-12, when the cap ceiling was also set to $64.3 million. This will give us an indicator of how much each team spends on players. Here is the breakdown, with numbers coming from Capgeek: