On Monday night, teams had to submit their opening day, cap-compliant rosters to the NHL. This deadline is not new, and normally requires a heightened level of detail vigilance -- along with some tough final roster decisions for the two or three clubs bumping their heads on the salary-cap ceiling.
This season is different, and is presenting challenges (and opportunities) that are unique and unprecedented since the adoption of the salary-cap system in 2005. There are three primary factors driving some of the contract gymnastics that led up to Monday's roster deadline, and they will continue to challenge NHL front offices.
The first is that the salary cap actually decreased for the first time in its eight-year history, and teams will have $5.9 million less to spend in 2013-14 than they did last season. Despite the nine months of preparation time that teams had to plan for this lower ceiling, almost half of the teams in the league are starting the current season with less than $1 million in cap room, and nine teams are exceeding the cap through "long-term injury" exceptions.
This new stop sign on the NHL roster roadway has a couple of new traffic laws in place that both close and provide new avenues for NHL teams to maneuver. In the past, when a team was faced with getting under the salary cap to start the season, it could make the financially painful, but roster-friendly decision to send an NHL one-way contract to the minors. This system loophole became a competitive advantage for large-revenue teams, because a club such as the New York Rangers could afford to pay Wade Redden $6.5 million not to play in the NHL, and instead use that cap space on other NHL options.
Under the new rules, that highway has been reduced to a bike path. For example, the Toronto Maple Leafs are eliminating only $925,000 (24 percent) of John-Michael Liles' $3.875 million cap hit by sending him to the minors.
The other new roster management wrinkle in place is the provision allowing teams to trade players at a discount by keeping up to 50 percent of that player's salary-cap charge. Let's use Liles as an example again. Had the Leafs been able to find a team willing to trade for him, they would have been able to create an additional $1.012 million of cap room after the trade, as well as potentially either giving up or getting additional asset(s) in return, as the case may be.
The downside to that move: They would have to be locked into a sizable amount of dead-cap money for the entire season. With the lower-cap squeeze in play, the first half of this season is likely to be the NHL equivalent of retailing's Black Friday, with numerous players available at discount prices.
That noted, here are five teams that these new dynamics will confront with either unique challenges or opportunities as they manage their rosters during the 2013-14 season (all salary-cap figures derived from capgeek.com):
Toronto Maple Leafs
Primary downside: Roster management