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No rush to reach cap floor

7/3/2012
The Panthers acquired some pricey contracts in order to reach the cap floor last summer. Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Last year at this time, the Florida Panthers had wrapped up a shopping spree that invested millions in players such as Ed Jovanovski, Tomas Fleischmann, Scottie Upshall, Jose Theodore and Marcel Goc.

It was a crucial moment in the franchise's history because it marked the moment Dale Tallon stopped stripping down the NHL roster and started rebuilding it. It also gave the Panthers professional players ready to fill spots while their younger players developed within the organization. Without it, they don't win the Southeast Division this past season.

But the biggest accomplishment of Tallon's spending?

It got the Panthers to the salary-cap floor.

Without the necessity to get to the floor, there's no way Florida is as aggressive in handing out money in free agency.

This summer, the salary floor has been set at $54.2 million for next season. And yet, three days into free agency there's not a single franchise showing anything close to the urgency Florida showed to get to the floor.

The teams in the hunt for Ryan Suter and Zach Parise are teams like Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago and Philadelphia, teams traditionally near the top of the salary-cap range. Others that have spent aggressively so far in free agency include a Calgary team that trails only Boston in payroll for next season and other traditional spenders like Vancouver and Montreal.

Players are being snapped up in free agency, and still there are 17 teams currently under the projected floor (all numbers per CapGeek.com). It's safe to say many teams are betting that the floor won't look too much like its current form when the new CBA is settled.

"I don't believe teams are finished spending and expect we'll see a second wave of contract signings after Parise and Suter come off the board," said one prominent agent. "However, many teams are operating under an assumption that the lower limit on payroll will be reduced in a new CBA. As a result, they are not spending with the same sense of urgency and vigor as in previous years to reach the floor."

At least one free agent who switched teams this summer would have likely received a higher offer from his old team had they truly felt the salary-cap floor would wind up being close to $54 million. Instead, they shopped for a cheaper replacement.

There's another factor in the lack of urgency, suggested another agent. This year's class of free agents is so mediocre that teams would rather find other ways to get to the salary-cap floor. If it ultimately exists.

"The UFA market is so thin that teams are not throwing money at average players," he said. "A lot of teams are waiting on the Suter/Parise decisions, and then I expect both more signings and a bunch of trades."

The Nashville Predators have 16 players under contract and a payroll roughly $15 million shy of the current salary-cap floor. Half of that will disappear once Shea Weber signs and the Predators are waiting on a decision from Suter, who could come with an annual salary that pushes $7 million or $8 million. But if Suter walks, they'll have some money to spend. It's one of the reasons GM David Poile could spend so aggressively to retain Paul Gaustad.

The Coyotes are $14 million shy of the floor but are waiting on a decision from captain Shane Doan, whose cap hit of $4.5 million came off the books once he hit free agency. If he doesn't like where things are headed in the desert, he'll have no problem earning at least that amount elsewhere, leaving GM Don Maloney with some money to spend.

The Blues, Stars, Panthers, Ducks and Islanders all have a ways to go to get to the floor at its current level, which could mean some roster shuffling later in the summer.

"Some teams are in wait-and-see mode with respect to the spending parameters of a new CBA," said the agent.

Notes

• There's frustration among fans waiting on Suter and Parise to sign and, privately, some players and teams would probably prefer they speed up the process so the rest of the market can make a move. But according to former NHLPA executive director Paul Kelly, there's no pressure coming from within the union for those two to act.

"While I was at the PA, and I suspect that since I left it's the same, the union places no pressure on players or agents. We were very hands-off," he said. "We allowed the process to play out on its own."

But that didn't prevent some grumbling among players.

"There have been other circumstances in the past where we've heard those types of gripes where players held up other signing opportunities," Kelly said. "That's just an unavoidable part of the process."

Count Kelly among the group that believes Parise and Suter are facing a huge decision and shouldn't be criticized for taking their time.

"Both of those guys have earned the right to be careful and be deliberate and spend some time thinking about it with their agents and families," he said. "It's going to affect them for the next five or 10 years. They've made a lot of sacrifices."

• The Stars certainly aren't waiting for Suter and Parise to unfreeze the market. GM Joe Nieuwendyk has been aggressive in changing the look of his team in trading Mike Ribeiro and Steve Ott, letting Sheldon Souray walk and signing Ray Whitney and Aaron Rome. With centers at such a premium, he deserves credit for going out and landing Derek Roy and he also deserves credit for shaking things up with a team that has fallen short of success too much lately.

"Change is sometimes hard for people to understand, sometimes it's a necessity, too," Nieuwendyk said on Monday. "We are a team that has been real close the last couple years, we haven't made the playoffs in four years."

• The interest in Suter and Parise has been every bit as widespread as expected. Part of it is because they're great players, but there may be an attempt among the general managers in the league to get one last star player locked into a cap-friendly contract before the rules are rewritten. Some people expect that the next CBA will come with limits on contract length, although Kelly believes that won't be the case. He sees other limitations coming.

"The next CBA is definitely going to put some kind of control on it," he said. "They'll deal with the heavy front-end loading that's going on. There will be some type of formula that says there can't be much more than a certain percentage increase and decreased from one year or the next in the body of the contract." The bottom line? "I know the owners would love to cap it at five or six years," he said. "I know the union will resist that."