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Analyzing the Western Conference's Top Teams Salary Cap Situations
Time to start thinking dollars
6/20/16 - By Zach Bodenstein -

With many moves to be made by many teams due to salary cap and expansion reasons, we break down the top teams in the West as of June 20th 2016 looking towards next season.

Chicago Blackhawks

The Blackhawks were forced to make another deal that they did not necessarily want to make earlier this week, sending promising forward Teuvo Taravainen alongside Bryan Bickell to Carolina for draft picks as a salary dump in attempt to re-sign Andrew Shaw. The Blackhawks have had to make similar deals involving Patrick Sharp to Dallas and Brandon Saad to Columbus, amounting in very little returns for their respective values.

Chicago will most likely lose the majority of their free agents this summer, most notably Andrew Ladd. They are stuck overpaying multiple players for many years to come, so this is going to continue for the Blackhawks, especially when Artemi Panarin demands a raise when his entry-level deal is done after next season that will see his earn just over $800K. The Blackhawks struggled to put together a roster last year that had the depth to make a deep playoff run, and neglected their need for defenders at the trade deadline.

Granted, their core has been a key to their recent success and that same core is locked up for a long time, but the game has changed- and depth is parallel to success. The Blackhawks are going to have trouble putting together a deep squad this season, as they were shallow last year, and losing even more depth pieces up front and on the back end will hurt a ton.

Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks are in some serious cap trouble, and they are trying to make moves quickly before the free agent market opens. They just traded pending RFA Frederik Andersen to Toronto, and re-signed Sami Vatanen to a four-year deal with an AAV of $4.875M.

It is hard to imagine pending UFA's David Perron, Chris Stewart, Shawn Horcoff, Jamie McGinn, and Mike Santorelli will be back with the club, as they are up against the cap as a consequence of bad contracts in Kevin Bieksa, Clayton Stoner, and Ryan Kesler. They already have Nate Thompson ruled out for most of next season, and they still need to give pending RFA's Brandon Pirri, Rickard Rakell, and Hampus Lindholm raises.

They will probably find John Gibson's backup in a cheap veteran, but their cap troubles will really hurt their chances of putting together a team that is superior to last year's team that was bested in the first round. Their best bet is to find affordable role players in a very demanding market, which is not a good sign for Anaheim- a team that is bound to lose some key depth contributors.

Los Angeles Kings

Offseason drama is already surrounding the Kings after a second straight disappointing season, They replaced Dustin Brown with Anze Kopitar as team captain, and there is speculation that the Kings may buy out Brown, whom is brutally overpaid and under contract through 2022. The salary cap is currently an issue for the Kings, as they have tons of money invested in the aforementioned Brown and Marian Gaborik, making it tricky for them to have any breathing room. They are currently slated to lose Milan Lucic, Kris Versteeg, Luke Schenn, Jamie McBain, and Trevor Lewis to free agency on July 1st. The issue is that Dean Lombardi must be thinking ahead to next season, when RFA's to be Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson, and Nick Shore are bound to get big pay days, which may be trouble for Los Angeles next year as well.

After paying steep prices for Andrej Sekera and Milan Lucic only to lose them the following summer (potentially), Lombardi must focus on locking up his young guys that have been contributing already. The Kings are set to lose some good depth pieces that helped them in the regular season unless they can buy out Brown or Lecavalier, or find somebody to take a contract of theirs.

St. Louis Blues

Blues fans were confident that this was their year after defeating the Chicago Blackhawks and the Dallas Stars in the first two rounds of the playoffs, only to be stuffed in the Western Conference Final by San Jose. Now, they face a ton of questions moving forward. This year, they have David Backes, Troy Brouwer, Steve Ott, Kyle Brodziak, and Scottie Upshall as their unrestricted free agents. Obviously, those first two names are huge, and two major reasons why the Blues advanced as far as they did.

Jaden Schwartz and Magnus Pajaarvi are their RFA's. Schwartz is probably the priority in all of this, as he is 23 years-old and an offensive threat, so getting him locked up long-term should be at the top of Doug Armstrong's to-do list. Reports came out this week that captain David Backes will test free agency, as both sides cannot seem to come to an agreement. Troy Brouwer is also unlikely to stay, as many reports show that he and the Vancouver Canucks have a mutual interest, and the Canucks will probably pay him what he wants, something that the Blues cannot do. The Blues have trouble on the back end in terms of contracts as well, with Kevin Shattenkirk set to become a free agent next season. Shattenkirk carries a $4.25M cap hit and is a candidate to be traded this offseason. The Blues will most likely need to be blown away to move him, however.

The Blues are aware that they are set to pay Colton Parayko a ton of money after next season following a monster rookie campaign this year. Patrik Berglund and Alex Steen are both set to become UFA's after next year as well. It is up to Armstrong to decide whom is more important, the veterans or the youngsters moving forward. With the youngsters as the likely and more logical choice, the Blues will have no choice but to let these veterans go.

Dallas Stars

The Stars were known for their defensive vulnerability last season, and it looks like that trend will only get worse for Jim Nill and Lindy Ruff. The team already traded Alex Goligoski's rights to Arizona, one of their better defenders from last season, and are set to have Jason Demers, Kris Russell, and Jordie Benn to hit the free agent market.

Demers and Russell will almost certainly not return due to high demands. As a result, they must hope that guys like Stephen Johns and Patrik Nemeth can step up in a big way for them. Dallas is expecting to maintain a high-powered offense, but the potential free agent loses of Patrick Eaves, Vernon Fiddler, Travis Moen, and Colton Sceviour may tarnish their depth.

They have former first-round selection Valeri Nichushkin and Jamie Oleksiak as RFA's, both of which should be back in Dallas. After this season, Jamie Benn is going to get a massive raise, so decisions on UFA's to be Patrick Sharp, and Johnny Oduya will have to come after figuring out the numbers with their captain. With over $10M invested in their two subpar goaltenders- Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi- over the next couple of seasons, the Stars may be forced to buy one of them out or get a team to take one of their contracts. The inability to do any of these may restrict them from keeping their depth and having an even weaker blueline than last season's disaster.

San Jose Sharks

After falling two wins short of their first Stanley Cup, Doug Wilson has gained the trust of Sharks fans back after brilliant moves last season. With a pretty good cap situation, the Sharks are faced to make choices on pending UFA's Roman Polak, Nick Spaling, Dainius Zubrus, James Reimer, and Michael Haley. None of these players are expected to return to the Sharks, as they are relatively replaceable at their respective roles, especially with young and talented players knocking on the door, of which can very well be regulars this season. The Sharks' RFA's are Tomas Hertl, Matt Nieto, and Dylan DeMelo.

All of these players are going to return to the Sharks, with Hertl getting a big raise. DeMelo was very key to the Sharks' bottom pairing as he had much more chemistry with Brenden Dillon than Dillon had with Polak. DeMelo moves the puck well, reads plays, and has been used effectively in all situations. Tommy Wingels is the ideal trade candidate for Doug Wilson on the last year of his contract that sees him making a hair over $2.4M. Barclay Goodrow and Nikolay Goldobin will very likely play themselves into the already-deep lineup and are upgrades over their UFA's. Timo Meier is a darkhorse to make the lineup, although one year of seasoning in the AHL is not a bad idea for the Sharks' top prospect.

Questions will have to be answered after this season in terms of free agents, as Brent Burns, Joe Thornton, Melker Karlsson, Joonas Donskoi, and Chris Tierney will all need to be extended. This is probably Patrick Marleau's last year in teal if he even finishes it in San Jose, as I believe they could move him for the right price and still remain dominant. Mirco Mueller will probably be extended as well, but most likely has to beat out one of Dillon or DeMelo soon to establish himself as a good depth defender at the NHL level. As for the backup goaltender situation, I fully expect one of Mantas Armalis or Aaron Dell to take over as the backup to save some money. With all of the cap and free agency troubles between the above teams, the Sharks are expected to get even better than this year's Western Conference championship team and are a favourite to win it again.

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