Desperate NHL teams and salary cap paralysis

There are four NHL teams that are abject disasters just over a month into the season: The Buffalo Sabres, the Florida Panthers, the Philadelphia Flyers and the Edmonton Oilers.

(Don’t look now, but the Columbus Blue Jackets are circling close to the drain, although they have the Nathan Horton Messiah thing to fall back on.)

Two of those teams have fired their coaches, and the other two fired theirs last season. One of them, the Buffalo Sabres, have already made a dramatic deal in sending Thomas Vanek to the New York Islanders; the other three are now talking about making significant changes.

For example: CSN Philly reports that the Flyers are talking to the Oilers about winger Jordan Eberle. It makes sense for both teams, in that Edmonton is about ready to blow up its young core and the Flyers go after offensive forwards like a Toronto mayor goes after … an NFL tie.

Eberle makes $6 million against the cap, and the Flyers have … no cap space, according to Cap Geek. Luke Schenn ($3.6 million) plus Sean Couturier ($925,000) at least gets you closer, but the numbers aren’t quite square.

Therein lies the problem right now in the NHL: There are 20 teams with less than $2 million in cap space, and 10 teams that have no cap space.

If it’s not complete paralysis in the trade market for most teams, it’s at least become increasingly unlikely that a team can make the money work.

You heard the frustration in Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon’s voice during his Kevin Dineen-turfing press conference, when he talked about all the trade calls he’s made with little to show for it.

Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill told us much the same thing on Marek Vs. Wyshynski this week:

“When you talk to teams, the first thing you talk about is player for player, but eventually you get down the nitty gritty and that’s when the money part comes in.

“It’s tough. If you have a $3 million a year player and the other team’s offering a million dollar player, it’s probably not going to be a fit,” he said.

“Even in this new CBA, it’s almost like you build your team over the summer and then when October and November hits, that’s your team. It’s hard to make these trades now. It’s dollar for dollar.”

I go back and forth on whether the salary cap makes for a more exciting league. It creates parity and forces teams into difficult decisions rather than just having the rich horde all the talent. But it does gum up the trade works, either in the “dollar for dollar” deals or by influencing long-term contracts that teams have to dabble in to bring their cap hits down.

The bottom line, at least until the cap goes up next season: There are far too many potential buyers that would need to clear space to help the sellers, who don’t necessarily want those problem contracts coming back to them. Hence, paralysis.