Bill Daly (left) and Gary Bettman (Photo by Kevin Light/NHLI via Getty Images)
The salary cap for the 2016-17 season could drop below $70 million if the NHLPA votes against using the five-percent escalator, which would signal a decrease of $1.4 million in the upper limit. The NHLPA has not voted against the five-percent increase since 2006-07.
Estimating the salary cap can be a tricky thing.
The early indications, back during the GM meetings in December, were that the ceiling could be rising as much as $3 million, but deputy commissioner Bill Daly’s comments earlier this week that the cap could remain “relatively flat” had some believing GMs might not have much extra room to work with come 2016-17. The outlook might be worse than that, though.
According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, there’s a possibility that the salary cap could actually decrease in 2016-17. The NHLPA has the option to use an escalator that would see the cap increase by five percent, but if they decide against using it, the salary cap could again drop to less than $70 million — a decrease of at least $1.5 million.
“The players were told this week when they met at the NHLPA meetings if they don’t vote to increase the salary cap by five percent, there’s a chance it could go down under $70 million next year,” Friedman said. “Not yet decided, but that’s potentially what they’ve been told.”
Even if that possibility is looming, though, it seems rather unlikely the NHLPA would choose to vote against using the growth factor. The players have only voted against raising the cap once since the salary cap’s inception, and that was all the way back in 2006-07 season.
If the inflator is used on a salary cap that dips below $70 million, the cap will not exceed $73.5 million next season. A five-percent increase on $69.99 million would see the cap limit set at $74.49 million. The cap rising $3.49 million — and that’s maximum — will still pose a serious problem for a few clubs next season.
Per CapFriendly, there are five teams with 2016-17 payrolls within at least $5 million of the current cap limit of $71.4 million: the current Stanley Cup finalist Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings, Chicago Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets.
It should come as no surprise that the team in the worst situation would likely be the Blackhawks, who have only 17 roster regulars from the 2015-16 campaign under contract for the 2016-17 campaign with only $4.4 million to work with under a flat cap. The team in the best position of those four? The Penguins. Of the players who have played in the Stanley Cup final, only Matt Cullen and Ben Lovejoy are eligible for unrestricted free agency, with Justin Schultz eligible to become a restricted free agent at season’s end.
With the budget’s lower limit usually set around $16 million less than the ceiling, a safe bet for the floor would be around $57 million. As it stands, 13 teams are below $57 million in projected cap hit for the 2016-17 season, with the Carolina Hurricanes and Arizona Coyotes both below $40 million. The Coyotes, at a projected cap hit of $34.4 million, would have significant ground to make up to get to the salary floor.