Prior to the NHL’s latest collective bargaining proposal this week, it was assumed the league would seek another rollback on player salaries as part of its effort to reduce the salary cap ceiling.
Under its latest proposal, however, the league instead suggested a combination of a significant increase in the percentage of escrow clawed back from players’ salaries and changing the definition of hockey-related revenue (HRR). The result would see the players receive roughly a 50-50 split of a smaller revenue pie.
The league also proposed to reduce the salary cap ceiling from the current $70.2 million to $58 million.
It remains to be seen if this is eventually implemented, as the NHL Players’ Association is against changing the current definitions of HRR and higher escrow clawbacks. Reducing the salary cap ceiling to $58 million without a significant rollback of player salaries would have major consequences for a number of teams.
Currently 16 franchises have payrolls in excess of $58 million. They are: the Boston Bruins ($68,867,976), Minnesota Wild ($68,848,867), Vancouver Canucks ($67,768,333), Calgary Flames ($66,668,332), Philadelphia Flyers ($66,643,373), San Jose Sharks ($65,241,667), Montreal Canadiens ($63,896, 976), Tampa Bay Lightning (63,246,916), Edmonton Oilers ($62,933,333), Toronto Maple Leafs ($62,873,333), Chicago Blackhawks ($62,445,128), Los Angeles Kings ($62,320,227), Buffalo Sabres ($61,542,023), Pittsburgh Penguins ($60,263,333), Washington Capitals ($59,627,905) and New York Rangers ($58,508,334).
Greg Wyshynski, of the Puck Daddy blog, suggested that could result in amnesty contract buyouts or a dispersal draft. He also pondered the unlikely possibility of contract renegotiation or recalculation of salary cap hits based on the withholding of escrow.
Other options could include demoting players to the minors or loaning them overseas (provided those provisions still exist in a new CBA), and, of course, trades.
Teams perched close to the current $70.2-million cap ceiling will have a more difficult time becoming cap-compliant than those closer to the proposed $58 million ceiling, yet each club’s situation is unique.
The Bruins, for example, could free up $9 million by placing concussed center Marc Savard on long-term injury reserve and suspending goalie Tim Thomas if he takes this season off or dealing his rights to another club. They would still have to shed another $1.9 million, but that would be easier to move than nearly $11 million.
The Canucks would be under considerable pressure to trade goaltender Roberto Luongo and his $5.3-million cap hit, particularly if they sign unrestricted free agent right winger Shane Doan.
The Flames would need to dump considerable salary, which could lead the trade rumors around defenseman Jay Bouwmeester ($6.7 million) to materialize.
If right winger Pierre-Marc Bouchard ($4.1 million) is still plagued by post-concussion symptoms, the Wild could place him on LTIR, but would still have to dump another $7 million to get under the proposed $58-million cap.
With defensemen Chris Pronger and Andrej Meszaros sidelined indefinitely, the Flyers would free up $8.9 million by placing them on LTIR. That would put them at just less than $58 million, but leaves no room to take on additional salary.
Defenseman Dan Boyle’s ($6.7 million) name would pop up again in trade rumors, as shedding his salary would be just enough to put the Sharks at that proposed lowered cap.
Oilers fans would campaign for goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin ($3.8 million) to be part of an amnesty buyout to put their club closer to cap compliance.
An amnesty buyout of center Scott Gomez’s contract (7.4 million) would put the Canadiens under the new cap, but a new contract for restricted free agent defenseman P.K. Subban would easily push them back over it.
The Sabres would have to factor in a new contract for RFA center Tyler Ennis before determining how much salary to shed. So would the Capitals with defenseman John Carlson and the Rangers with blueliner Michael Del Zotto.
Lightning defenseman Mattias Ohlund’s ongoing knee problems would land him on LTIR, freeing up $3.6 million, but the Bolts would still need to shed more. One wonders if they would be tempted to shed Vincent Lecavalier’s cap hit ($7.3 million per season through 2019-20) via amnesty buyout.
Most Maple Leafs fans would love to see defenseman Mike Komisarek’s $4.5 million per season disappear via amnesty buyout, which would put the club on the cusp of cap compliance.
Another amnesty buyout candidate is Kings winger Simon Gagne, as removing his $3.5 million for this season puts them $820,000 above the proposed cap ceiling.
The Blackhawks were forced to dump salary two years ago and would face that prospect again (about $4.5 million) under a cap of $58 million.
A reduced cap would effectively kill the Penguins’ plans to add another scoring winger or top defenseman, forcing them into salary-dump mode. Defenseman Paul Martin ($5 million) would be an amnesty buyout candidate.
Some teams sitting at less than $58 million in payroll could also face salary-dumping scenarios.
If the Detroit Red Wings follow through with their intention to add another defenseman or two, it would push their current payroll ($57,142,045) well over $58 million, plus they still have to re-sign center Justin Abdelkader.
It could have an effect upon the Colorado Avalanche’s contract negotiations with center Ryan O’Reilly. With $54,058,333 committed to 22 players, the Avs couldn’t afford to pay O’Reilly more than $3.5 million if they hope to leave some wiggle room under a $58-million cap.
If the Panthers ($53,740,333) were to acquire Luongo from the Canucks, they would still need to move about $1 million to absorb his contract and become cap-compliant.
A new salary of more than $4.37 million per season for RFA center Jamie Benn would push the Dallas Stars ($53,638,611) over the cap, forcing them to dump salary.
Of course, this is all hypothetical, and what’s ultimately contained in a new CBA could still be considerably different from the league’s latest proposal, thus having different consequences for teams with high payrolls.
Still, the eventual outcome will likely result in significant player movement in a condensed period of time.
Rumor Roundup appears Monday-Friday only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News, Kukla’s Korner and The Guardian, Charlottetown.