NHL roster freeze lifts, flat cap prompts money-saving moves
Carolina traded its playoff starting goaltender to Detroit to avoid arbitration. Philadelphia sent a high draft pick to Arizona to take on a pricey defenseman. The New York Rangers gave a back-to-back Stanley Cup winner a contract reigning champion Tampa Bay never could have afforded.
The moves made Thursday when the NHL’s roster freeze for the Seattle expansion draft lifted were all consequences of the salary cap remaining flat at $81.5 million because of pandemic-related revenue losses.
“It’s a tough environment out there right now,” Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said. “It’s tough to move money.”
The Hurricanes dealt rookie goalie Alex Nedeljkovic to the Red Wings for the No. 94 pick in the draft this weekend and the rights to pending free agent netminder Jonathan Bernier. Detroit signed Nedeljkovic to a $6 million, two-year contract — just under what the 25-year-old might have been awarded in an arbitration hearing.
“It’s very, very valuable to have cap space,” Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman said. “Cap space gives you the opportunity to do things and go in a lot of different directions, whether it’s make trades to simply improve your team, sign free agents, or in this era bring on players and get assets from teams that need to create cap space.”
Nedeljkovic, who had a 2.01 goals-against average and .928 save percentage last season, gives the rebuilding Red Wings the young presence in goal they’ve been looking for. The Hurricanes can turn their attention to re-signing Petr Mrazek or finding help elsewhere.
The Flyers can now go free agent shopping when the market opens next Wednesday after paying the price of 2022 second- and seventh-round picks to dump defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere and his contract with the Coyotes. He counts $4.5 million against the cap for the next two seasons, which doesn’t work for Philadelphia after acquiring top-pairing defender Ryan Ellis from Nashville.
“Our reality was pretty simple,” Fletcher said. “We made the move we had to make.”
Gostisbehere, 28, could turn into a useful asset for the Coyotes either at the 2021 or 2022 trade deadline. GM Bill Armstrong said Gostisbehere “will be a solid addition to our blueline this season and will be a key power-play player for us.”
Forward Barclay Goodrow was a key penalty killer and grinder for Tampa Bay, playing a crucial role in winning back-to-back championships. The cap-strapped Lightning last weekend traded his rights to the Rangers, who on Thursday agreed to terms with Goodrow on a $21.6 million, six-year deal.
Among other moves, the Seattle Kraken traded forward Tyler Pitlick to Calgary for a 2022 fourth-round pick one day after taking Pitlick from the Coyotes in the expansion draft.
Of course, the cap moves won’t end for a while. Pittsburgh all but gave forward Jared McCann away to Toronto last weekend while hoping to shed another contract in the expansion draft, and the Penguins became cap compliant when Seattle also took Brandon Tanev off their hands.
“Cap space is really, really tough,” Fletcher said. “For the foreseeable future, the next two, three years, it’s not going to improve all that much and everybody’s pretty careful.”