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Salary cap could rise to $74 million with ‘escalator,’ expansion to be determined by draft

Jared Clinton
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Steven Stamkos. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images) Author: The Hockey News

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Salary cap could rise to $74 million with ‘escalator,’ expansion to be determined by draft

Jared Clinton
By:

The salary cap could climb to $74 million if the Players’ Association uses their escalator clause, GMs learned Wednesday. The league also said expansion should be decided by June and further outlined how a potential expansion draft could work.

The salary cap could rise as much as $2.6 million next season, but any increase is going to require the NHLPA taking action.

At the third day of GM meetings Wednesday in Florida, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly offered up salary cap projections for the 2016-17 season. The outlook, Daly told ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, is little to no increase in the upper limit unless the NHLPA chooses to use their growth factor. If they choose to use the growth factor, often referred to as the ‘escalator’ clause, the cap could rise to as much as $74 million next season, but the players would then have to deal with an increase in escrow.

The $74 million projection with the escalator is actually below what the first proposed figure for the 2016-17 cap was back in December at the Board of Governors meeting, however. At that point, the belief was the salary cap could climb as high as $74.5 million, which would have been an increase of $3.1 million over the current $71.4 million cap.

The cap rising would be great news for teams such as the Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins, Minnesota Wild, Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers, each of which will have to clear some salary cap hurdles in the off-season.

A potentially increasing salary cap wasn’t the only news to come out of the third day of GM meetings, however. There was further news on expansion, as well as the potential for an expansion draft.

According to TSN’s Darren Dreger, teams should know whether the league has decided to grant teams to one, both or neither of Las Vegas and Quebec City by the 2016 draft, which takes place June 24-25 in Buffalo. Teams are to know by June in order for them to have a full calendar year — from draft to draft — to set their rosters up for a potential expansion draft in time for the 2017-18 season. Dreger added that “most GMs” have the feeling only one team will be granted, and that will be the Las Vegas franchise. The next step in the expansion process will be the executive committee of the Board of Governors making a recommendation on how the NHL should proceed.

As for the expansion draft, the potential rules appear to be set. Per Dreger, teams would be allowed to choose one of two options: 1) protect three defensemen, seven forwards and one goaltender, or 2) protect eight skaters of any position and one goaltender. Gone is the option to protect two goaltenders. One expansion team would mean the loss of one player, while two expansion franchises would mean two players would be plucked from each roster.

In addition, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported “(a)nyone with fewer than three years of professional experience is exempt. You don’t have to worry about losing them.” However, even a player who has the necessary experience in the AHL can be selected, so there’s potential for NHL clubs to protect minor-league players, if it comes to that.

However, still undecided is what will happen with players who have no-movement clauses. Friedman said the likely answer is they won’t be available for selection, but there’s no word whether that means teams must use one of their protection slots for each no-move clause or if the no-move clause would make protection redundant.

Because of the salary cap, though, any expansion draft would be different than those that have happened in the past. The NHL has thought about that, too, and according to LeBrun teams will have to “expose enough players which total at least 25 percent of previous season's payroll.”

That’s an interesting wrinkle, and one that could see some solid depth talent end up available at an expansion draft. Now all that’s left is to find out if Las Vegas and/or Quebec City will be plucking players to build their NHL rosters.

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Salary cap could rise to $74 million with ‘escalator,’ expansion to be determined by draft