The National Hockey League salary cap figures to take a quantum leap next season after the single-season, post-lockout adjustment. Many ambitious teams will have money to spend.
That is noteworthy to the many players seeking to rebound from dismal campaigns during the “walk” year of their contracts. These guys have the most to gain from regaining their previous form:
MARIAN GABORIK, W, COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
Salary: $7.5 million
What went wrong: He played his way into coach John Tortorella’s doghouse last season and scored just nine goals in 35 games for the Rangers. The Blue Jackets rescued him but coaxed just three goals from him in 12 games. Last spring the Columbus front office seemed eager to discuss a contract extension, but right now neither side seems eager to rush into a deal.
Best case scenario: Gaborik, 31, stayed healthy in 2011-12 and scored 42 goals for the Rangers. He had an earlier 42-goal season in New York and a 42-goal season in Minnesota as well. But the Blue Jackets don’t have many playmaking forwards, so Gaborik could earn his next big contract by staying healthy and scoring 30 to 35 goals.
DANY HEATLEY, W, MINNESOTA WILD
Salary: $5 million.
What went wrong: The lifeless Heatley scored just 11 goals in 36 games last season, even though Minnesota spent lavishly to add Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to its power play. Heatley also suffered a season-ending shoulder injury during a crazy stick fight with Marc-Eduoard Vlasic. Had Heatley stayed healthy, the Wild could have used a compliance buyout to erase the final season of his six-year, $45 million contract. But his injury provided cover.
Best-case scenario: Twice Heatley scored 50 goals in a NHL season. As recently as 2009-10 he scored 39 goals in a season. If he somehow scored 30 goals this season, Heatley, 32, could earn one more decent contract. Teams are always on the prowl for scoring.
RYAN MILLER, GT, BUFFALO SABRES
Salary: $6.25 million.
What went wrong: Other than the 2009-2010 season -- when Miller posted a 2.22 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage – he has posted ordinary statistics. Last season his goals-against average soared to 2.81 as this big-budget team collapsed. Suddenly the low-cost Jhonas Enroth looked like a viable alternative as this franchise opted to retool.
Best case scenario: Miller, 33, has been a workhorse goaltender when healthy. He can shoulder a huge workload. If he plays well the first few months of this season, the Sabres might be able to move him to a team that develops a sudden goaltending need. That would give him a chance to prove he is worthy of one more deal..
MIKE CAMMALLERI, W-C, CALGARY FLAMES
Salary: $7 million.
What went wrong: He scored just 52 goals, total, during his last three seasons for Montreal and Calgary. His declining penalty minute total proves he has been less engaged. He can still finish around the net, but he needs skilled teammates to generate those scoring chances.
Best case scenario: Back in 2008-09, he scored 39 goals for the Flames. The next spring he scored 13 goals in 19 games for the Canadiens. Now he is back in Calgary toiling for an offensively challenged team. He can only hope the Flames trade him to a contender seeking another finisher to park on the power play. In the right situation he could still score 25 to 30 goals and earn another deal.
JAROSLAV HALAK, GT, ST. LOUIS BLUES
Salary: $4.5 million.
What went wrong: He didn’t come out of the lockout in the best possible shape. He suffered a groin muscle strain, then aggravated that injury. That allowed Jake Allen, then Brian Elliott to take over in goal. Halak got healthy in time for the playoffs but sat in favor of Elliott. This led to a tiff with coach Ken Hitchcock and plenty of off-season trade rumors. Given the glut of available goaltenders, Halak didn’t attract sufficient trade interest and the Blues held onto him.
Best case scenario: Halak, 28, stayed in St. Louis to stick with a strength and conditioning program. Hitchcock indicated he would enter training camp as the lead goaltender. Given the strong team defense in front of him, Halak could easily rank among the NHL’s goals-against leaders this season and earn a long-term contract.
ALES HEMSKY, W, EDMONTON OILERS
Salary: $5.5 million.
What went wrong: The Men of Oil were supposed to become an offensive juggernaut last season. They did not. Hemsky was especially disappointing, producing just 20 points in 38 games. His world class give-and-go skills did not mesh will all the speed and skill around him. He became the subject of constant trade rumors, but the Oilers could not find a taker for the final year of his contract.
Best case scenario: The addition of David Perron makes this emerging offensive cast even more dangerous. Hemsky, 30, could relieve his happier days in Edmonton when he scored nearly a point per game from 2005-11.
BRIAN GIONTA, W, MONTREAL CANADIENS
Salary: $5 million.
What went wrong: Between similar injuries (torn biceps muscle) on each arm, he scored 22 goals in 79 games the last two seasons. That would be fine for a supplemental scorer, but Gionta is getting paid like a former 48-goal scorer.
Best case scenario: Gionta, 34, is a ferocious competitor. He is well-respected around the league. But he must get healthy and score 25 to 30 goals this season to earn more than a one-year contract moving forward.
JONI PITKANEN, D, CAROLINA HURRICANES
Salary: $4.5 million.
What went wrong: Injuries limited Pitkanen to just 52 games and 26 games the last two seasons combined. His most recent injury was a broken heel suffered while racing for the puck in an icing situation. A more serious version of that injury ended the career of Washington Capitals center Pat Peake.
Best case scenario: He has reached the 40-point plateau four times in his career. Given Carolina’s firepower, he could do it again if he can get back to full speed and stay on the ice. That could translate into another long-term contract.
PAUL STASTNY, C-W, COLORADO AVALANCHE
Salary: $6.6 million.
What went wrong: Back in 2009-10, Stastny scored 79 points in 81 games. He slipped to 77 points in 119 games the last three seasons. He seemed like an obvious trade candidate with Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly capable of filling the top two center slots, but new coach Patrick Roy seemed eager to work with him.
Best case scenario: His dominant performance the World Championships of Hockey (15 points in 10 games) proved he still has point-per-game skills. If brings that out of him, Stastny could easily maintain his earning power.