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With the next NHL season around the corner, who is ready and who isn’t?

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Free agency trickled to a halt with several teams way over the cap and some with RFAs unsigned. Who is actually ready to roll?

Dallas Stars v Colorado Avalanche - Game Seven
The most London, Ontario photo ever taken.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

I recently looked over the full Toronto Maple Leafs roster, and found myself laughing at it all over again. It is comically overstuffed, and I want to personally apologize for ever suggesting the Leafs were lacking in goalie depth. They now have six goalies under contract.

As far as NHL contracts go they have 25 forwards, 17 defenders, and the aforementioned six goalies. They can, in other words, put out two entire teams without a single AHL-contracted player. They will come up a little short in forwards, since there are four of the 25 who are loaned to either junior or European teams, likely for the full season.

The Marlies actually do have some AHL-contracted players, although they’ve been slow to add many. There are zero goalies, two defenders and 11 forwards. That more than makes up for the slight deficiencies in the NHL roster, and we’re back to a total of about 57 players with no ECHL team to take up the slack on the bottom end.

This is further complicated by the fact that, given the salary cap and the Leafs salary structure on the top end, they will likely only have 21 players on the NHL roster at any one time. Leaving 36 guys to be the AHL squad.

Taxi Squad!! Taxi Squad!! Taxi Squad!!

Yes, yes, I’ve heard the taxi squad theories. That’s all they are.

I don’t see how the NHL can have one conversation with the NHLPA where they declare themselves so broke they need bigger escrow and salary deferral and then turn around and suggest every team be allowed 10 guys sitting on popcorn duty every night getting their NHL salary if they’re on a two-way deal. I swear that used to be a grievous sin, and not a neato idea, too.

A taxi squad is, in essence, a suspension of the salary cap upper limit that favours the teams while not providing the players anything beyond the right to take part in NHL practices. It worked in the playoffs because there is no salary cap in the playoffs.

Instead, I think they might make all players waiver exempt for this season, while allowing the games played and the pro season to influence future waiver exemption. You can’t claim a guy on waivers across the border anyway, so this solves two problems, and puts 36 guys on the Marlies, one way and another.

That’s the absurd Leafs, the weirdest team in hockey. What about the rest of them? Are they ready to roll?

To answer that question, I’m going to use the proposed divisional alignment that Greg Wyshynski tweeted back in November...

And then I’m going to look at all the teams, starting in the West.

Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks signed Kevin Shattenkirk. I’d forgotten that. They have enough players, and with Ryan Kesler on LTIR for $6.875 million, they have cap space for a full roster. They don’t look like they have a competitive one, however. They could sign someone from the remaining pool of “able to score” forward UFAs, and they might be considering that, given the scary state of their forwards. This team is hard to take seriously, though.

Arizona Coyotes

The Yotes look fully finalized and ready to compete for the hearts and minds of the remaining fans who think they might ever be good. They have a full roster, some LTIR space they only need half of to run a 22-man crew, and two actual NHL goalies paid over $4 million. They could swing a trade for one and get a decent forward out of it. The roster looks as weak as the Ducks’, however, with huge salaries paid out to very marginal players. Their front office moves have been better than their player moves this offseason.

Colorado Avalanche

The Avs have everyone signed except Vladislav Kamenev, and it’s hard to tell, but that relationship might be over, as he’s playing in the KHL now, and might stay. They have a tight cap situation, not quite Leafs-tight, but close. Adding Brandon Saad and Devon Toews was a very good offseason, and they should be okay on a short roster as long as they don’t get injuries to the wrong people. This is an excellent roster, however, well balanced, better than last year’s, and I’m sure they’d like the season to start now.

I’d add some goalie depth if I were them.

Dallas Stars

Dallas is sitting on a scrap of cap space and a 23-man roster. They look ready to go with almost the same team they just lost to Tampa with. They could conceivably move some players around and re-sign Corey Perry, and run it back exactly the same. How you feel about that largely depends on how good you thought they were last year.

Los Angeles Kings

The Kings have quietly done almost nothing (except draft Quinton Byfield) and they have over $13 million in cap space with only three or four roster spots to fill, one of which will go to Byfield. They can do whatever they want: add forwards, play the prospects, trade off some players at the deadline, take on a salary dump in a training camp trade. Anything is possible. They won’t be competitive, but they’re getting back on track.

Minnesota Wild

The Wild have enough cap space to add someone of mediocre quality, which won’t get the team above mediocre quality. Mats Zuccarello decided to wait until now to discover he needs surgery, so add $6 million in LTIR to that space. It would be criminal if they didn’t add some kind of scoring forward, and if they don’t, they’re destined for another year of meh. They likely still are, no matter what they do. Oh, and they have Cam Talbot as their starter. On purpose.

San Jose Sharks

The Sharks have a full roster and a little cap space that will grow at the deadline, but they also have a small problem. Martin Jones had a terrible year, so the Sharks got Devan Dubnyk, also terrible, to back him up. On paper this isn’t a bad team if their expensive defence is healthy and miracles happen in net. They aren’t great either, and I’d bet on no miracles and no playoffs if I were a gambler.

Vegas Golden Knights

Vegas is over the cap with only 21 men on the roster, but it’s not a tough problem to solve, and it’s also a smart problem to leave to the last minute. Training camp sometimes gives you some LTIR you’d rather not have, so there’s no need to be hasty. If Robin Lehner is healthy, and if Marc-Andre Fleury wants to be a starter somewhere else (a huge if) they can move him in camp. They also have this really good defender now that you may have heard of, name of Alex Pietrangelo? So moving one of their second or third pairing defenders out is an easy way to add a little space. They have four goaltenders below the NHL level, so my money is on them trying again to get Fleury to move. But they have flexibility and a really good roster. Are Vegas ready to roll? Vegas is always ready to roll.

Winning the West

It’s amazing how much tougher this division is than the Pacific. Colorado, Dallas and Vegas are just too good to give the rest of them a look-in though. If this is the arrangement that lasts all season, there’s really not a huge incentive for teams with front office renovations going on like Arizona and Minnesota to try to do much at the player level. Which is another good reason to just wait and put off worrying about anything cap or roster related until these divisions are finalized and a schedule announced.

Tomorrow we go a little bit east to the Central.