NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly last week projected the salary cap for 2020-21 could rise to between $84 million and $88.2 million. The final total will depend upon the NHL Players Association triggering its annual escalator clause up to a maximum of five percent.
The Athletic’s James Mirtle doubts the cap will rise very much, pointing to the players’ preference to keep annual escrow claw-backs from their salaries as low as possible. That’s why they voted for a mere one percent escalator last season.
Other factors, such as the coronavirus and the recent drop in oil prices affecting the value of the Canadian dollar could also influence next season’s final salary-cap figures.
Nevertheless, Daly’s projection had to be welcome news to several cap-strapped clubs. Here’s a look at five that could benefit from an $88.2 million cap.
Believe it or not, the Coyotes are maxed out for cap space this season. With over $80 million committed to 17 players next season, they don’t have much wiggle room to re-sign pending unrestricted free agent winger Taylor Hall. If necessary, they can get $5.275 million in cap relief by placing permanently sidelined winger Marian Hossa on long-term injury reserve. Still, an $88.2 million cap could give them a decent shot at retaining Hall if ownership is willing to spend that much.
How the Blackhawks will manage with limited salary-cap space is almost an annual guessing game for NHL observers. They’ll have over $72 million invested in 16 players for 2020-21, with long-time starting goalie Corey Crawford an unrestricted free agent while forwards Dominik Kubalik, Dylan Strome and backup Malcolm Subban are restricted free agents. Crawford’s age (35) and Strome’s lack of arbitration rights could keep the cost of re-signing both under $9 million. Kubalik’s impressive rookie performance and arbitration rights could push his next salary as high as $5 million annually. A higher salary ceiling will provide the Hawks some much-needed flexibility.
St. Louis Blues
With over $73.7 million tied up in 17 players the defending Stanley Cup champions will need every buck they can find to keep pending UFA defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and RFA blueliner Vince Dunn in the fold. Pietrangelo will be the priority. The 30-year-old Blues captain remains an elite NHL rearguard, making him a costly re-signing. As arguably the best player potentially available this summer, Pietrangelo could command over $9 million annually on a long-term deal. Blues management would welcome a higher-than-expected cap.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs have nearly $77 million invested in 15 players for 2020-21. While all their core players are under contract for next season, they need sufficient room to re-sign or replace unrestricted free agents such as defensemen Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci and checking-line winger Kyle Clifford. It’s expected they’ll part ways with Barrie and Ceci, but their departures will leave gaping holes on their blueline. The more cap space they can get, the better their chances of addressing their defensive needs.
Paying hefty raises over the last two years to Blake Wheeler, Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine, Connor Hellebuyck and Josh Morrissey pushed the Jets’ 2020-21 payroll to over $73.5 million committed to 11 players. While all of their core players are signed for next season, the Jets will need every penny they can land their hands out to fill out the rest of the roster. A possible termination of Dustin Byfuglien’s contract would free up another $7.6 million, and an $88.2 million cap would provide the Jets with over $23 million. That could be enough to re-sign their affordable free agents and shore up their defensive depth. If Byfuglien’s contract isn’t terminated or bought out, the Jets will definitely need that higher salary ceiling.