AP

Analysis: Cap management define 2022 NHL free agency

Jul 14, 2022, 1:20 AM | Updated: 1:22 pm

FILE - Philadelphia Flyers General Manager Chuck Fletcher pauses while speaking during a news confe...

FILE - Philadelphia Flyers General Manager Chuck Fletcher pauses while speaking during a news conference at the team's NHL hockey practice facility in Voorhees, N.J., on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. Before any of the top NHL free agents had signed, Fletcher declared the Flyers were out on them because of “the reality of our cap situation.” (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

Neither Nazem Kadri, Johnny Gaudreau nor John Klingberg could sign with the Flyers even if they had their sights set on Philadelphia.

Before any of the top NHL free agents had agreed to a deal this week, general manager Chuck Fletcher declared the Flyers out of contention for all of them because of “the reality of our cap situation.”

“We don’t have the cap space to pursue those high-end type of free agents,” Fletcher said. “It probably precluded us from looking at some of the more expensive options in the market.”

If that sounds depressing for Flyers fans, it is. But it was also the grim reality for a number of teams across the NHL grapping with a salary cap ceiling that rose only $1 million this year as the league rebounds from the financial impact of the pandemic. It was the first increase since 2019.

Being locked in salary cap jail prevented the Flyers from bringing home Gaudreau, the MVP-caliber star who grew up just across the river in New Jersey. Similar issues forced the Vegas Golden Knights to essentially give away six-time 30-goal scorer Max Pacioretty for nothing, and the New York Islanders were never able to really enter the Gaudreau sweepstakes.

Thing is, other teams navigated this landscape just fine.

Columbus got Gaudreau, New Jersey added two-time Stanley Cup champion Ondrej Palat and Detroit signed a handful of players by taking advantage of cap space. Some teams clearly did a much better job managing the tight market.

“If you didn’t have room or a potential to make room, you wouldn’t have this type of opportunities,” Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said Thursday while sitting next to Gaudreau, who signed a $68.25 million, eight-year deal with Columbus. “It’s not an easy world when you have good players. It’s a great problem to have if you have too many good players and then time comes, especially in these days when the salary cap’s been flat, that something has to give.”

Sure, that’s the case for the 2020 and 2021 champion Tampa Bay Lightning, who watched Palat and dependable defenseman Jan Rutta depart in free agency while extending three younger members of their core.

The Flyers, on the other hand, lack high-end talent and are burdened by big-money contracts despite missing the playoffs each of the past two seasons. Gaudreau’s desire to leave Calgary and play for the team he grew up rooting for seemed to make it a natural fit, and they even started clearing room by buying out fan favorite, 25-year-old cancer survivor Oskar Lindblom.

In the end, Philadelphia couldn’t shed the $7 million final season of James van Riemsdyk’s contract or make other moves to land Gaudreau.

“You’d have to move multiple contracts to be able to do that,” Fletcher said. “You have to have a team (willing to take them). In some cases, contracts are extremely hard to move.”

Based on the $9.75 million cap hit Gaudreau agreed to with the Blue Jackets, the Flyers would have had the room had they simply decided not to double down on underachieving defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen during the season by signing him for $5 million annually, or ink Tony DeAngelo last week for the same rate after sending second-, third-, and fourth-round picks to Carolina for his rights.

The Hurricanes gladly took that draft capital and pounced when cap-strapped Vegas needed to clear space to re-sign Reilly Smith. Carolina got Pacioretty and young defenseman Dylan Coghlan for “future considerations” because Vegas was in a bind.

“We needed to create some flexibility to sign some young players in our hockey club,” Golden Knights GM Kelly McCrimmon told reporters. “We identified this as being the best path.”

Montreal GM Kent Hughes put it this way: “Heck, Carolina, picked up two pretty good hockey players for very little.”

Pacioretty’s contract having the same cap hit and length as van Riemsdyk’s made the Flyers’ inability to clear the decks for Gaudreau, Kadri, Klingberg or another top free agent stand out even more, even if the players don’t have the same track record in terms of production.

Asked about not being willing to part with a first-round pick to free up money, Fletcher said that in some cases it would have cost even more.

“I talked to a lot of teams over the last little while about maybe ways to get cap flexibility,” he said. “We looked at some different options, but the price of moving contracts is really expensive.”

More expensive in the long term might be a half-empty arena in a sports-crazy town that has become apathetic about its hockey team. The climb back to relevance is just beginning for the Red Wings, who shelled out contracts worth more than $60 million on Wednesday alone.

It’s something GM Steve Yzerman — who built up the Lightning before leaving to go back to Detroit — was able to do because he managed the cap so well. Three years ago, he decided not to spend a lot of money and picked his spot.

“We have roster spots, we have cap space — there were players there that we felt would help us and not really deviate from what we’re trying to do, but also not necessarily give maximum term and maximum dollar to players,” Yzerman said. “With the cap situation the last couple of years, it has had an effect on what some teams can do and some teams want to do.”

Or, more notably, what they might want to do but can’t. Kekalainen made sure the Blue Jackets were ready when Gaudreau was available.

“We had to crunch numbers and look at different things, and we all agreed that we just can’t pass on an opportunity like this,” he said.

___

AP Hockey Writer John Wawrow contributed.

___

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

___

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Associated Press

Ex-Packer Guion gets 1 year for domestic violence assault

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Former Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Letroy Guion was sentenced to one year in jail after pleading no contest in a domestic violence assault at his home last fall. Brown County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Walsh also ordered Guion on Tuesday to serve three years’ probation and complete a domestic […]

1 year ago

Joe Jarzynka...

Associated Press

Durant eager for Suns debut vs. Hornets after knee injury

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kevin Durant has been through quite a bit during his 15-year NBA career — but joining a new team midway through the season is a new one for the 13-time All-Star. The 34-year-old Durant doesn’t seem all that worried. Durant makes his highly anticipated Phoenix Suns debut on Wednesday night against […]

1 year ago

FILE - Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores stands on the sideline during the second half of an N...

Associated Press

Judge: NFL coach can press discrimination claims in court

NEW YORK (AP) — NFL Coach Brian Flores can pursue some of his discrimination claims against the league and its teams in court rather than through arbitration, a judge ruled Wednesday. The written decision by Judge Valerie Caproni in Manhattan was issued months after lawyers for the league tried to get the lawsuit moved to […]

1 year ago

Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Alex Stalock cools off in the first period during an NHL hockey game ...

Associated Press

Kane trade reinforces hard reality of Blackhawks rebuild

CHICAGO (AP) — After days of speculation, the harsh reality of the Chicago Blackhawks’ situation was reinforced by one move in a flurry of transactions ahead of the NHL trade deadline. Showtime is over, at least in Chicago, and a seemingly bright future is, well, way off in the distance. The reverberations of Chicago’s decision […]

1 year ago

FILE -  Yves Jean-Bart, president of the Haitian Football Federation, wearing a protective face mas...

Associated Press

Disgraced ex-Haitian soccer president announces he’s back

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haiti’s former soccer federation president whose lifetime ban from sport over sexual abuse allegations was overturned last month announced Wednesday that he is reclaiming his position. Yves Jean-Bart’s defiant announcement could lead to a standoff with FIFA, which already has appointed an emergency management committee to lead the Haitian Football Association […]

1 year ago

FILE - Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers walks off the field after an NFL football game against the ...

Associated Press

Rodgers says decision on future will come ‘soon enough’

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Aaron Rodgers says he will make a decision on his future “soon enough” as the four-time MVP quarterback ponders whether to play next season and if his future remains with the Green Bay Packers. Rodgers, 39, discussed his future while speaking on an episode of the “Aubrey Marcus Podcast” that […]

1 year ago

Analysis: Cap management define 2022 NHL free agency