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What We Learned: How the salary cap floor hurts the NHL

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Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

There is a new and supremely annoying trend in the National Hockey League.

As long as the salary cap keeps skyrocketing, teams that get themselves into serious payroll trouble can now simply offload unwanted players who make way too much on those who are struggling to reach the cap floor.

In the past, when the salary cap was relatively low (remember that time it was $39 million?), GMs who made severe missteps were punished for their bad contracts unless owners were willing to bury players in the minors.

But now, a healthy portion of the teams in the League — some would say as many as half — are nearly brawling to acquire overpaid, underproducing talent and bail out those who have guided themselves into near financial ruin. (Word on the street is Scott Gomez is available!)

And why? Because the salary floor has increased substantially along with the ceiling.

We saw it last summer when the Blackhawks had to gut their team, but still conned Atlanta and Toronto into taking on a number of contracts that ranged from so-so to mediocre as the latter struggled to keep up with league-mandated minimums.

It's easy to understand why the cap floor is in place. Without it, teams like Florida and Phoenix would spend next to nothing on player salaries in an attempt to just break even, rather than hemorrhage money like they always do.

While it's an unfortunate side effect of the current collective bargaining agreement — which both ownership and the players would likely say has been beneficial overall — it also portends something more dire, which could cause the entire current payroll system to go absolutely bonkers: Gross overpayment.

(Coming Up: A full list of the NHL Draft's winners and losers, from the picks to the trades; why NBC is happy with realignment talk; and Malkin to the Leafs.)

Cap Geek says that 16 of the league's teams are currently short of the salary floor of $48.3 million. Some of those, like the Canucks, Leafs and Rangers are close and will likely hurdle that with ease even before July 1. But there are seven teams currently below $40 million against the cap, and some of them are miles away from reaching the minimum.

Let's take Florida, just for example. Yes, they have a lot of guys to re-sign, but even after having taken on Brian Campbell's ridiculous contract, they're nearly $26 million below the cap floor.

What teams like Florida, or Colorado or Carolina ($18.8 million and $17.2 million under, respectively) might end up doing is overpaying for either their remaining restricted free agents or luring so-so those who have few other options with larger-than-market-value deals. Not because they want to, but because they have to. And, in an effort to guard against the ever-rising cap, they may also be tempted to extend those deals for a long, long time.

We already saw Philadelphia throw $5.67 million a year for the next nine at Ilya Bryzgalov. So what's to stop a team like Colorado, who could use a goalie and someone to gobble up some of its superfluous cap space, from tossing $7 million a year at Tomas Vokoun?

Why wouldn't Winnipeg re-up Blake Wheeler and Andrew Ladd at a combined $8 million a season? It's insane, but it's not impossible, or maybe even improbable.

And you might say that's their problem. If they want to keep signing bad contracts forever just to meet the salary floor, then who cares? But if Niclas Bergfors suddenly starts making $2.5 million a year, what's your team going to have to pay for a comparable replacement-level player when his contract runs out?

For a while it'll all be great. All this extra cap space to sign whomever you like! But when you realize most of it's going to go to either top-end guys who command near-league max salaries and guys who should barely be in the NHL because other mediocre players have gotten too-rich deals, the novelty will wear out in a hurry.

What We Learned (Draft Winners and Losers Edition)

Anaheim Ducks: Winners I guess. They got highly-rated goalie John Gibson in the second round thanks to Nashville going off the board to take Magnus Hellberg. Plus Teemu Selanne looks likely to come back next season.

Boston Bruins: Winners. Dougie Hamilton not only has the second-most Canadian name in history (behind Gordie Howe), but he's also a big and very good defenseman. One has to wonder, though, how good Chiarelli's going to look next year when he has to start using his own picks again.

Buffalo Sabres: Winners. They got Robyn Regehr and a second-round pick for peanuts, and first-round pick Joel Armia says he likes to "score goals," which I guess is helpful. The only negative this weekend is that Darcy Regier thinks Ales Kotalik can contribute at the NHL level. He cannot.

Calgary Flames: Losers. Got next to nothing back for Regehr because everyone in the league knew they had to offload salary, then engaged in a foolish but luckily unsuccessful pursuit of Ryan Smyth for some reason. They also signed a 31-year-old Alex Tanguay to a five-year deal with a limited no-movement clause. The Sven Baertschi pick, however, looks like it was a half-decent one.

Carolina Hurricanes: Winners. Not really sure how Ryan Murphy drops to No. 12, but he did, and the 'Canes got him. More good news, apparently, is that he was Jeff Skinner's junior teammate. Plus, Jimmy Rutherford has reversed his "We can't sign Joni Pitkanen and Jussi Jokinen" stance.

Chicago Blackhawks: Oh man, winners for sure. They got rid of Brian Campbell somehow (and got slightly-better-than-mediocre Rostislav Olesz back), and pulled a first-round pick for Troy Brouwer somehow. Maybe the biggest overall winners at the draft that picked outside the top 3.

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Colorado Avalanche: Winners. Can't go wrong picking second in the draft most years, and Gabriel Landeskog is the kind of player that had Avs scouts swooning like Civil War-era plantation owners' wives. Already drawing moon-eyed comparisons to Peter Forsberg? It's an Adrian Dater article about a Swedish forward playing for Colorado. What do you think?

Columbus Blue Jackets: Losers. Their big move, which I'm not counting as part of draft weekend, was getting Jeff Carter. If that counted here, they'd be easy winners. But their most noteworthy maneuver was giving up on Nikita Filatov, which even Scott Howson says was something he'd have preferred not to do.

Dallas Stars: Tentative winners. I like Jamieson Oleksiak a lot having seen him more than a few times in college this past season, but when Joe Nieuwendyk's main assessment is "Boy that kid sure is big," and "He gets around well for a kid who is the size of a glacier," eh, I dunno. Their real steal is probably second-round pick Brett Ritchie, who probably would've gone higher if he hadn't gotten mono this season.

Detroit Red Wings: Clearly the biggest winners of the weekend. After all, they selected a European player with their first pick so clearly he's a 14-time All-Star and first-ballot Hall of Famer in waiting. That's how good the European scouting is for… oh he played in the CHL this year? Okay, downgrade the kid to 12-time All-Star and borderline Hall of Famer.

Edmonton Oilers: Winners. Picking first overall will always look that way until three years down the line when Ryan Nugent-Hopkins falls in with a bad crowd and starts smoking cigarettes behind the convenience store after school. That Klefbom kid looks really good though.

Florida Panthers: Losers. New jerseys are better than the old ones but still not good. And no, Brian Campbell doesn't lend any "credibility" to your team just because he happened to be on a Stanley Cup winner that one time. I will say, however, that he'll look better playing against the Jets and Hurricanes six times a year each than the Red Wings.

Los Angeles Kings: Winners, even if they had drafted no people. Getting someone — anyone — to take Ryan Smyth's $6.25 million cap hit off their hands is some kind of magic. Between this and the Mike Richards trade, I'm starting to think Dean Lombardi has turned to blackmail after picking up a backwards K with the Kovalchuk fiasco last year.

Minnesota Wild: Losers. I know they got a bunch of stuff in return for Brent Burns, but Devin Setoguchi is probably going to languish in that system when he's not playing with Joe Thornton. Plus they made Setoguchi delete his Twitter account. That Jonas Brodin kid, to be fair, could be another Brent Burns.

(Ed. Note: According to Ryan Stanzel of the Wild, Setoguchi deleted his Twitter account during the playoffs and was not asked to do so by the Wild.

Montreal Canadiens: Winners, I think. At least they know what they want. But still, five defensemen out of seven picks sure is a hell of a lot.

Nashville Predators: Losers. I know they develop goalies like nobody else in the league, but going off the board for Hellberg — cool name though he may have — high in the second round is questionable. Guys, you picked one of the best goalies in the league 258th overall. Try sticking to that plan.

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New Jersey Devils: Winners. Even though it probably didn't happen, I like to imagine Lou Lamoriello did a little dance when Adam Larsson dropped to them at No. 4. But the kid's favorite TV show is One Tree Hill? What is THAT about?

New York Islanders: Winners. Everyone seems to think Ryan Strome is going to be an absolute player in the league in the very near future. Plus look at their goaltending situation this season and tell me they're not picking in the top-5 next year.

New York Rangers: Losers. You know it's not a good thing when the team reads a player's name and he looks around like "Wait, really?" Then points to himself, blinking in disbelief, for 10 seconds. Then looks around to see if there's another J.T. Miller in the building. Then laughs because he thinks it's a prank. Then goes up and puts on the jersey tentatively because he thinks a big mechanical boot is going to kick him in the butt when he does. But you gotta say this for Miller, he card read good.

Ottawa Senators: Winners. Getting a talent like Filatov for very little investment is always going to be something that's worth the gamble, and just hearing Bryan Murray say "Mika Zibanejad" for the next little while is going to be worth the price of admission.

Philadelphia Flyers: Winners. People like Sean Couturier. Plus for some reason they have some issues with their organization-wide center depth all of a sudden. They made very good use of the eighth pick.

Phoenix Coyotes: Winners. They'll probably get to keep the team, and Connor Murphy seems like he could be a decent sleeper pick.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Probable winners. The Morrow pick seems like it might be a good one down the road because of the junior team he plays for and his lineage.

San Jose Sharks: Winners. Brent Burns is all of a sudden going to become a star in this league because he's now on a team that doesn't stink. Plus, anything that makes Mike Babcock say he's "pissed off," is a-okay by me.

St. Louis Blues: Losers, but only a little bit. When you're a team that didn't make the playoffs and don't have a first-round pick, that's probably not good. But they picked 32nd and then again at 41, so it wasn't all bad.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Losers. They took three Russians! There's no transfer agreement! This is madness!

Toronto Maple Leafs: Losers. The good news is that they got John-Michael Liles, who they wanted when they signed Jeff Finger (maybe the funniest story behind a bad signing ever). The bad news is people don't seem to love the Tyler Biggs pick. Oh well. They still have Phil Kessel.

Vancouver Canucks: Losers. Their first round pick was a kid whose favorite player is Peter Regin. Let that one sink in.

Washington Capitals: Winners. Getting Troy Brouwer for a late first-round pick helps their team, in some way, now, rather than doing so in a few years' time, if at all. But the thing is this: is he being brought in because Brooks Laich is leaving?

Winnipeg Jets: Losers. Get your own name. And the kid they drafted is already making "It's cold there" jokes. Gonna be a fun season.

Gold Star Award

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NBC just got way happier with the League.

Never mind that having two divisions in each conference, with an uneven number of teams, is quite stupid. I understand the League can't just play a balanced schedule and have a "top-16 teams make it," but this is all very clearly an attempt to weasel the Red Wings into the Eastern Conference so NBC never has to show a team from the West again.

Minus of the Weekend

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That being said, yes, this re-alignment plan is quite stupid.

Perfect HFBoards trade proposal of the week

User "magnet43" presents this as the first of three trades for the Maple Leafs:

To Pittsburgh:
Phil Kessel

Nazem Kadri
Joe Colborne
Jesse Blacker

TOR 2nd round pick 2012

To Toronto:
Evgeni Malkin
Rights to Maxime Talbot
PIT 6th round pick 2012

Where does Burke sign!?!

Signoff
We got a tip from a five-year-old that there's a dead Martian down there.

Ryan Lambert publishes hockey awesomeness rather infrequently over at The Two-Line Pass. Check it out, why don't you? Or you can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter if you so desire.

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