Salary cap dip could help financially-sound Red Wings in free agency

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — Many players can’t wait for their first venture into unrestricted free agency.

It’s their first opportunity to test the market, have the market dictate their worth, and decide where to play on their own terms.

And not through the draft, or trade, or waivers.

Torey Krug

For teams also, free agency can be a huge asset. It can turn around a franchise with one swift stroke, strengthening a lineup with a proven veteran player.

Signing that key free agent can be the final piece to constructing a championship roster, as the Red Wings showed during their Stanley Cup-winning years.

But this coming NHL free-agency period, whenever it’ll be this year, is marred with uncertainty because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Originally scheduled to begin July 1, after the NHL playoffs and Entry Draft would have been done with, free agency will take place much later now given that the season has been paused and the NHL is planning to resume it this summer.

But all the revenue that’s been lost, and will be lost, will drastically affect the NHL, its finances, and the salary cap. And through that, unrestricted free agency.

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The NHL’s salary cap for 2019-20 was $81.5 million. But in early March, deputy commissioner Bill Daly said at the general manager meetings he could see the cap rise to between $84 and $88.2 million for next season.

But that was before coronavirus. The season stopped on March 12, and there’s been no significant revenue coming into the NHL since.

And when play does resume, it’s very likely games will take place with no fans in the arenas — another significant blow to the NHL’s finances.

The NHL and the players’ association likely will work something out to at least keep the cap stable. But there’s a good chance the cap will drop several million dollars, causing havoc with teams strapped to the limit, and impacting prospective UFAs.

Defensemen Alex Pietrangelo (St. Louis), Livonia’s Torey Krug (Michigan State/Boston) and Tyson Barrie (Toronto), forwards Taylor Hall (Arizona) and Mike Hoffman (Florida), and goalies Robin Lehner (Vegas) and Braden Holtby (Washington) are among the big names available.

Some of those players will likely find a way to stay with their present teams. But some will hit the market. And the Wings could be one of the teams that benefits.

Few teams will be in better shape than the Wings to take advantage of the constrained market. Long having been riddled with expensive, long-term contracts, those are expiring, giving general manager Steve Yzerman much more financial leeway.

The Wings only have 11 players signed for next season for a cap hit of $46.2 million.

Now, restricted free-agent forwards Anthony Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi and Robby Fabbri, among 12 restricted free agents total, will take a bite of the available cap space. But it’s not going to be nearly so severe that the Wings wouldn’t be able to roam the UFA market.

The Wings will have $11.4 million off the books with defensemen Trevor Daley and Jonathan Ericsson, and goalie Jimmy Howard becoming unrestricted free agents and likely not being re-signed. Forward Sam Gagner has a $2.83-million cap hit, but the Wings might choose to bring Gagner back.

With holes in many spots in their lineup, the Wings could be active in the market.

Getting a defenseman such as Krug to return home and play for one of his former coaches — Jeff Blashill coached Krug in junior hockey — would be a big addition.

A goaltender to tandem with Jonathan Bernier would also be a need.

But many questions remain about the resumption of the NHL regular season and playoffs, and the exact financial impact because of coronavirus.

Twitter: @tkulfan