Wednesday, January 25, 2023

What’s the best cap team you can build for 2025-26 using today's contracts?

Back in 2019, my readers wanted me to build the best possible cap-compliant roster I could assemble using existing contracts. That’s not an especially unique idea, and it’s not even all that challenging if you load up on entry-level contracts. So we added a twist: We were trying to look three years into the future, to the 2021-22 season. That meant we had to rely on long-term contracts, with no entry-level deals or other short-term bargains.

You can find that post here, and I eventually revisited it to see how it turned out. In short: I scored big with guys like Nathan MacKinnon, Elias Lindholm and Aleksander Barkov. I also whiffed on John Gibson over Connor Hellbuyck, and somehow Paul Byron ended up on the team.

All in all, I did OK. But I want another shot. So today, I’m giving myself one, as we revisit the concept in an updated attempt to build for the future. We don’t know what the cap will be in 2025-26, and the pandemic era made it tougher to guess. But we do have Elliotte Friedman’s report from a few months ago that the league was projecting $92 million, so we’ll go with that.

As a refresher, here are the ground rules:

  • We’re focused on the 2025-26 season here, meaning every contract we pick has to stretch at least that far. Extensions that are signed but haven’t kicked in yet are fine, but otherwise we can't use anyone whose current contract expires before then. Boston fans keep telling me that pending UFA David Pastrnak will take another hometown discount, and I’d never doubt them, but until that happens he can’t be on our roster.
  • We want the best team possible in 2025-26, not today, meaning we’re projecting ahead and age will be an important factor.
  • We don’t care about real dollars, only cap hit.
  • We need 12 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies. We don’t need to have any spares, although we can add some at the end if we have room, which we absolutely will not. We’ll try to balance centers and wingers and defensemen playing on their proper side, but we won’t obsess over it. After all, these guys have three years to adjust to new positions if we need them to.
  • We’re assuming everyone will be healthy in three years, with the exception of guys like Shea Weber who are already LTIR-retired.

There are 171 players with deals that run through 2026, ranging from Nathan MacKinnon’s $12.6 million cap hit to Paul Cotter’s $775,000. One of those players is better than the other. One is also more likely to end up on our roster, but we’ll get to that.

Let’s get started, building from the net out as all good teams do.


This was the toughest position last time, and it’s not much easier this time around. There are only 14 goalies in the league with deals that run through 2025-26, and one of them is Carey Price. Among the others, it’s a hard pass on names like Elvis Merzlikins, Philipp Grubauer, Jack Campbell and Sergei Bobrovsky. I won’t fall for John Gibson this time. And at a lofty $9.5 million, I don’t think we’ll be able to afford Andrei Vasilevskiy.

That leaves seven candidates for two spots, and here’s where things look a little brighter than they did a few years ago. This time, there are actually a handful of reasonably priced options, including apparent all-star Stuart Skinner at $2.6 million and Pyotr Kochetkov at just $2 million. There’s also two solid young options in Spencer Knight at $4.5 million, and Thatcher Demko at $5 million.

A few months ago, this would have felt like a slam dunk: Demko would be our starter. But he’s been awful this year, which makes me a little nervous. Knight hasn’t been much better, but at 24 in 2025-26 he should just be entering his prime. Of course, he may already have turned out to be a bust. I’m not sure I trust Skinner, and Kochetkov is in the AHL right now and could be yet another fake Hurricanes goalie that they bail on before the rest of us figure it out.

Even with all those reasonable doubts, I can’t talk myself into a more expensive option like Jordan Binnington or a 35-year-old Jacob Markstrom. So I’ll roll the dice on a cheap-ish combo that will free up money elsewhere. Give me Thatcher Demko and Pyotr Kochetkov as my duo.

Cap space spent so far: A tidy $7 million on two players, leaving us with $85 million for our 18 skaters, an average of $4.7 million each.

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