With $71.4 million set as the upper limit, the Sharks are swimming in cap space

Depending on how much they're willing to spend, the organization could have as much as $18 million to work with heading into free agency.

Just in time for the NHL's silly season to begin, the league announced this morning that the upper limit of its salary cap for the 2015-16 season is set at $71.4 million. That's bad news for cap-strapped teams like the Blackhawks and Bruins who were expecting a figure closer to the $73 million projection floated at a Board Of Governors meeting in December. It's good news for the Sharks, who will have nearly $18 million in cap space at their disposal if they're willing to spend it.

With Doug Wilson declaring last week the organization intends to "bounce back and be very competitive" after a disappointing 2014-15 campaign, the Sharks will have plenty of room to maneuver when trying to improve the team this summer. We'll explore some of the options they could pursue in the coming week but first let's take a look at the specifics of San Jose's salary cap situation heading into free agency, courtesy General Fanager.

Forwards (13): $36,539,164
Left Wing Center Right Wing
Melker Karlsson (RFA) Joe Thornton ($6,750,000) Joe Pavelski ($6,000,000)
Patrick Marleau ($6,666,666) Logan Couture ($6,000,000) Tomas Hertl ($925,000)
Matt Nieto ($759,166) Chris Tierney ($711,666) Tommy Wingels ($2,475,000)
Raffi Torres ($2,000,000) Ben Smith ($1,500,000) Mike Brown ($1,200,000)
Barclay Goodrow ($626,666) Joonas Donskoi ($925,000)
Defensemen (5): $15,329,166
Left Defense Right Defense
Marc-Edouard Vlasic ($4,250,000) Justin Braun ($3,800,000)
Brenden Dillon (RFA) Brent Burns ($5,760,000)
Mirco Mueller ($894,166) Matt Tennyson ($625,000)
Goalies (1): $1,600,000
Alex Stalock ($1,600,000)

Factoring in Burish's buyout and Jason Demers' retained salary and assuming Dillon and Karlsson's RFA deals come out to around a combined $4 million, the Sharks will have about $12 million in cap space to add a goalie along with two to three defensemen. And that's assuming they don't take full advantage of the fact that their AHL team will now be playing in the same building as them by going with a slightly smaller roster to which they can liberally recall players.

The possibilities for how to spend that money are endless. The Sharks could throw cash at one of the best crops of free agent defensemen in years, with names like Mike Green, Andrej Sekera, Christian Ehrhoff and Cody Franson set to hit the UFA market next week. Karlsson was a pleasant surprise on the Joes' wing as a rookie but the Sharks could really bolster that top line by adding someone like Phil Kessel or Patrick Sharp, both of whom are reportedly available via trade but carry hefty cap hits some other teams can't easily absorb. They could continue down the rebuild path by taking on problem contracts in exchange for draft picks from the teams unloading those deals. And, if they're able to recoup the 2016 3rd rounder they traded to Dallas for Dillon, they could even be players in the RFA offer sheet market, something they haven't shied away from in the past.

Hopefully Wilson's latest comments mean that the Sharks' designs on self-destruction have been scrapped and they're serious about trying to win again. Barring a precipitous decline from Joe Thornton, the team's core remains good enough to be a true contender as long as they're surrounded by the right pieces. When it comes to finding those pieces this summer, cap space won't be an obstacle.